The Pro Bowl running back is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, but before that day arrives, the Bears will either have given him the security of a multi-year deal or tagged him as their franchise player, guaranteeing him a $7.7 million salary for 2012. Teams have until March 5 to assign the franchise tag and the Bears have reportedly begun contract negotiations with Forte's agent Adisa Bakari.
"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte at all," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the Scouting Combine. "I think we're on record of how important Matt is to our organization. Matt's going to play his football for the Chicago Bears. So you start with that. In time, hopefully he can get an agreement in place that suits Matt and we feel comfortable with. I think it's just a matter of time; that will happen eventually."
With the NFL relying more heavily than ever on throwing the ball, the status and value of running backs appears to have dipped around the league.
"I wouldn't say that in Chicago; maybe other places," Smith said. "The running back position will always have value for us. With the (weather) elements and all the things we want to get done, just our basic philosophy, there will always be a premium placed on the running back."
Forte was having the most productive season of his four-year career in 2011 when a sprained knee ended his season after 12 games. At the time he was leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 997 yards on the ground and 490 yards on receptions. His 4.9-yard average per carry last season is a career best.
Wide receiver: There is no No. 1 receiver on the roster. The most productive member of the group, Johnny Knox, is slowly rehabbing from a devastating hit late last season that necessitated back surgery. Devin Hester regressed for the second straight season. Earl Bennett is a reliable possession receiver, but he missed five games with a chest injury. Roy Williams showed why very few other teams were interested in him last offseason with an inconsistent and unimpressive campaign. He clearly was not the big, field-stretching wideout that the Bears crave.
Offensive line: Every position on the line could be upgraded, but left tackle is probably the most pressing need, given the lack of protection provided by J'Marcus Webb last season. But there is one school of thought that says Webb isn't as bad as he was made to look last season by Mike Martz's preponderance of seven-step drops and the lack of help he received from tight ends.
Pass-rushing defensive end: Free agent Israel Idonije is a solid run defender, but he had just five sacks playing across from right end Julius Peppers, who drew constant double-teams. The Bears' defense is based on getting solid pass-rush pressure from the linemen, but they did not get that consistently last season, even though 3-technique tackle Henry Melton had seven sacks.
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