Contract negotiations between the Chicago Bears and running back Matt Forte have heated up to the point where the team has extended a contract offer worth $13-14 million guaranteed, a Bears source said Thursday to ESPNChicago.com.
Sources had said Wednesday that the offer approached the neighborhood of $15 million. The potential total value and length of the deal weren't disclosed.
Given recent statements by general manager Jerry Angelo and with the clock ticking on regular-season opener, it appears negotiations are likely coming to a close whether or not Forte agrees to the deal.
The Bears source said the sides are coming into the home stretch and that the organization remains optimistic about consummating the deal before the Sept. 11 start of the regular season.
Escalation of the Forte talks coincide with San Francisco running back Frank Gore's recently signing a three-year, $21 million extension, which included $13.5 million guaranteed. While there is no indication that Gore's deal has affected the talks, the numbers certainly line up.
According to NFL sources, the Bears initially used the six-year, $32 million ($10 million guaranteed) contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles as the baseline for a potential Forte deal. But it's believed the guaranteed portion of the Bears' actual offer to Forte is worth less than the guarantee received by Gore, which brings up an interesting conundrum for both sides.
Players of Forte's age, 25, stature, and health (no major injuries), not to mention the fact he's only been in the NFL three years, typically don't sign short-term deals like the three-year pact signed by Gore.
Furthermore, Forte has been more productive, which begs the question as to whether the running back deserves a more lucrative contract than the deal signed by Gore. Gore touched the ball 699 times total over the first three years of his career, producing 3,405 yards. Over the last three years Gore's touches and yardage increased to 806 combined rushes and receptions for a total of 4,240 yards.
Forte, by comparison, touched the ball 982 times through his first three years, gaining 4,731 yards.
It's also worth noting that Gore is older (28) than Forte, has undergone multiple knee surgeries dating back to college, and suffered a hip fracture in Week 12 of the 2010 season. In fact, Gore has played all 16 regular-season games just once over a six-year career. Forte, meanwhile, has played in all 16 games every season since coming into the league.
So does it make sense for Forte to sign a deal so similar to Gore's? That's a question Forte has to ponder, and likely the reason he hasn't yet agreed to terms.
Since entering the NFL in 2008 as a second-rounder out of Tulane, Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (4,731) behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and St. Louis' Steven Jackson.
Negotiations between the sides began at the end of the NFL lockout, and it appears there has been a substantial gap between what the team is willing to pay and what the running back seeks.
Less than two weeks remain before Chicago's Sept. 11 opener at Soldier Field against the Atlanta Falcons, and both sides have stressed a desire to consummate a deal before that date. Based on Forte not agreeing to the club's latest terms, it's becoming more and more likely negotiations might be coming to an end.
Angelo said earlier in training camp the team wanted "to do the right thing by Matt."
The question now is whether a deal somewhat similar to Gore's meets the criteria.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.