- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- While Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson benefitted financially last summer thanks to a lengthy holdout, he still serves as a cautionary tale when it comes to tailbacks boycotting training camp over a contract dispute. A 2,000-yard rusher in 2009, Johnson posted career lows last year in rushing yards (1,047) and rushing touchdowns (4) after he inked a four-year extension that reportedly included $30 million in guarantees.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte could be headed down the same path in terms of a holdout unless he agrees to a new extension before the July 16 deadline for teams to lock up franchise tagged players to long-terms deals. Unlike Johnson, who negotiated last summer with two years left on his original rookie contract, Forte would be unable to sign a new deal with the Bears after July 16 and be forced to play this upcoming season for $7.74 million when he officially signs the franchise tag tender.
The fear would be that a lengthy training camp absence would cause Forte's on-field performance to dip in a similar fashion to Johnson's, a scenario Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher describes as unlikely.
"I don't know Chris Johnson, I don't know what type of workout (routine) he has," Urlacher said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "But I know one thing about Matt Forte: Matt Forte will bust his butt until gets there. He'll be in great shape. He'll be ready to play. That's what I know about him. I can't speak for Chris Johnson, but I can speak for Matt Forte and say he'll be in football shape ready to play football.'
"That's not going to be an issue for him. Whether he misses training camp or not he keeps himself in great shape, he's one of the (best) conditioned guys on our team. He takes care of his body. He'll (report) in great shape. Whenever he gets there, he'll be ready to play football."
If, as many expect barring a new deal before the deadline, Forte is a no-show when the Bears officially begin training camp on July 26, Urlacher believes the all-purpose back will join the team by the start of the regular season.
"I would be very surprised if he wasn't playing for the Bears on September 9 (against Indianapolis)," Urlacher said. "That would surprise me. But if he misses training camp ... he's a veteran who knows how to take care of his body. He'll figure the offense out and I don't think he'll lose any of his running skills by not being at training camp.
"The faster you learn it's a business the better off you'll be. We're a veteran team so we realize it's a business. Matt is going to do what he has to do. The Bears are going to do what they have to do. It's a game, we know that. There are no hard feelings either way, at least not from me."