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Bears’ cap room could be good news for Matt Forte, Greg Olsen

Bears' Matt Forte escapes grasp Green Bay's Clay matthews during fourth quarter NFC Championship Sunday evening Chicago. | Michael R.

Bears' Matt Forte escapes the grasp of Green Bay's Clay matthews during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Sunday evening in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 27, 2011 4:59PM



Sidelined and muzzled for months, NFL executives and scouts burned up the phone lines Monday night, hours after owners and players announced a 10-year labor agreement.

The first permissible order of business was undrafted rookie free agents. But lessons were learned during that process, and discussions between teams and agents about veteran free agents that officially started at 9 a.m. Tuesday weren’t as fast-paced as some had expected.

There were plenty of rumored dalliances Tuesday, but there wasn’t much traction because veterans can’t sign contracts until Friday. So the most significant players who agreed to deals remained with their teams or committed to mid-level contracts.

Defensive end Charles Johnson agreed to a six-year, $76 million contract with the Panthers that includes $32 million in guarantees, according to Pro Football Talk. Receiver Santana Moss and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda will remain with the Redskins and Ravens, respectively.

The most substantial deal agreed to by a player leaving one team for another was safety Quintin Mikell, who left the Eagles for the Rams reportedly for a four-year, $28 million deal.

The Bears, meanwhile, didn’t make an immediate splash like last offseason, when they locked up the most coveted free agent, defensive end Julius Peppers. Despite being $34 million under the salary cap, their approach is measured, and they can let the players and their agents come to them.

There’s plenty working in the Bears’ favor. They have salary-cap space, they’re the defending NFC North champs and they have a coaching staff and a roster that are largely unchanged.

The most glaring holes are center and punter, and the Bears are expected to re-sign Olin Kreutz and replace Brad Maynard with Steve Weatherford. Indications are the latter is further along than the former, but the Bears also had discussions with several of their players. Linebacker Nick Roach had breakfast with coaches, including Lovie Smith, according to agent Josh Wright.

It’s also believed that the Bears might be considering a contract extension for running back Matt Forte, who is slated to make $550,000 this season, roughly half of what backup Chester Taylor will collect.

Needing to spend 99 percent of the $120 million salary cap, the Bears could opt to sign players such as Forte and tight end Greg Olsen to long-term deals to eat up space.

But there will be plenty of new faces in Bourbonnais. The Bears have 47 players under contract, and they added another 26 undrafted rookies Tuesday. A team can have 90 players at training camp under the new CBA rules.

The Bears are interested in defensive end Jason Babin, who had 12½ sacks for the Tennessee Titans last season. But they might be trying to gauge his market value, which should become clearer with Johnson’s deal Tuesday.

It’s unclear what the Bears’ intentions are with defensive tackle Anthony Adams, safety Danieal Manning and cornerback/special-teams ace Corey Graham. But the Vikings might be considering Adams, and the Vikings or Lions are considering Manning.

Adams repeatedly has said he wants to remain with the Bears.

“I love it here, man. Hopefully, I am back here,” Adams said earlier this month. “But we just got to see what happens. Maybe they’re thinking something else. I don’t know.’’

One reason teams are having some reservations is that veterans can’t officially sign until Friday. During the signing of undrafted rookies, some agents — knowing that a deal wasn’t official until Tuesday morning, at the earliest — shopped offers to other teams and got increases.

Two team executives said there’s a wariness to make a solid offer to a player this early in the week because it could mean a competitive disadvantage. In addition, team executives still are trying to get a handle on the new CBA rules, including how to sign rookies.



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