The Bears hope the third time is a charm.
For the third time in as many seasons they have signed a free-agent running back who they hope will be a competent complement to Matt Forte or, in a worst-case scenario, a replacement for their featured ball-carrier.
Former Raider Michael Bush, who rushed for a career-high 977 yards last season, agreed to terms with the Bears Thursday on a $14 million, four-year deal that includes $7 million in guaranteed money.
In the 6-1, 245-pound Bush, the Bears have an every-down back who has the size and power to be effective in goal-line and other short-yardage situations. He has 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons and also caught 37 passes for 418 yards last season, both career highs.
Bush was originally a fourth-round draft choice out of Louisville in 2007, but he spent his rookie season on injured reserve, continuing to rehab a leg injury from his final season in college that dropped his draft status. He has missed just three games in the four years since then and has 19 starts, including nine last season, and has career totals of 2,642 rushing yards on 632 carries for a 4.2-yard average.
Bush, who will be 28 in June, appears to have the best chance for success after back-to-back flops by Chester Taylor in 2010 and Marion Barber in 2011, and he may get the best opportunity.
Forte has yet to sign his one-year $7.742 million contract tender as the Bears' franchise player. His agent, Adisa Bakari, and the Bears continue to work toward a multi-year deal the four-year veteran is seeking, but no progress has been reported.
"We continue to work with Matt and his agent in that effort," Bears general manager Phil Emery said last week. "We continue to work with each other to find common ground. We feel good that we've talked, and we'll continue to talk. Obviously, we want Matt to be a Bear for the long term. We're excited about him in 2011 and beyond."
Forte wants more than the $13 million-$14 million in guaranteed money the Bears reportedly offered last year. The two sides have until July 16 to work out a long-term contract.
It's possible that the 26-year-old Forte could boycott the Bears' offseason program, training camp and part of the regular season in protest. He was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season when he suffered a season-ending sprained knee early in Game 12. Despite missing almost five full games, Forte rushed for 997 yards last season and averaged a career-best 4.9 yards per carry. He also has more than 50 receptions in each of his four seasons with the Bears.
The Bears hope Bush provides them with more dependable insurance than their last two free-agent running backs, especially if Forte stays away for any length of time.
Barber signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal just before the start of training camp, and although he led the Bears with six rushing touchdowns, he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. His mental and physical errors were instrumental in the Bears' 13-10 overtime loss to the Broncos on Dec. 11. If he is cut, as expected, the Bears would save $2 in salary-cap money, including his $1.9 million base salary.
Barber was a bargain compared to Taylor, whose 2.4-yard average per carry in 2010 came after he signed a $12.5 million, four-year deal that paid him $7 million in guaranteed money in the first year. Taylor was released prior to the start of last season.
The Bears also have three-year veteran running back Kahlil Bell, who filled in after Forte was hurt last season and outperformed Barber, rushing 79 times for 337 yards and a 4.3-yard average per carry.
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