- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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No news might serve as a sliver of optimism regarding Matt Forte's prospects for signing a long-term contract extension with the Chicago Bears prior to the league-mandated Monday deadline for teams to apply the franchise tag to players.
The Philadelphia Eagles -- 11 days into the 15-day window -- became the first team to designate a franchise player on Thursday, applying the tag to receiver DeSean Jackson, thus taking a potential target of the receiver-starved Bears off the free-agent market.
While sources said that representatives for Forte spoke with the Bears at the NFL Combine last week, it's unclear where the sides stand in consummating a new deal. But the fact the Bears didn't tag Forte on Thursday might mean the sides remain in serious discussions, and a move -- whether it's the franchise tag or an announcement of a new deal -- could be coming soon.
Exactly one week ago, Bears coach Lovie Smith seemed confident the sides would come to an agreement.
"Matt is going to play his football for the Chicago Bears, you start with that," Smith said from the NFL Combine. "In time, hopefully we 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."
Negotiations between the sides skid to a halt over the summer when the Bears offered betweent $13 and $14 million in guarantees, according to a source. Surely the team's initial offer will increase to near the $20 million range in guarantees with the running back coming off his first selection to the Pro Bowl. The club's acquisition of Phil Emery as the new general manager also seems to have generated optimism that the sides can come to an accord.
"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte, at all," Smith said. "We are on record [as] to how important Matt is to our organization."
Forte gained 1,487 yards from scrimmage, and led the league in that category before a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee sidelined the running back for the final four games of the season.
The deadline for the team to apply the franchise tag -- which will be $7.7 million -- is Monday, but it's not out of the realm of possibility the sides could reach a long-term deal before then.
Given the team's myriad needs and the fact that free agency and the draft are on the horizon, the Bears surely would like to reach a deal with money already set aside for Forte so they can move forward with other plans with no uncertainty.