Matt Forte decision looms for Bears

Updated: February 1, 2012, 8:56 AM ET
ESPNChicago.com

New Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery has plenty of issues to address as he gets to work at Halas Hall. With three weeks to decide whether to apply the franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, Emery's boss said Tuesday that the Bears won't let the Pro Bowl running back reach free agency.

"We'd like to (work out a long-term deal with Forte)," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "But as Phil pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

Forte missed the final four games of the regular season after he suffered a sprained right medial collateral ligament during the Bears' home loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4. He finished the season with 1,487 yards from scrimmage, good enough numbers to earn Forte his first-ever spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

Forte, who played in Sunday's Pro Bowl, turned down a contract offer from the Bears before the season with $13 million to $14 million in guaranteed money, ESPNChicago.com reported.

Earlier this month Forte hinted at the possibility of a holdout if the Bears decide to place the franchise tag on him.

"I wouldn't say holdout, but people probably wouldn't know where I was," Forte said Jan. 19 on "The Carmen, Jurko & Harry Show" on ESPN 1000.

In his introductory press conference on Monday, Emery would not discuss the Forte situation at length, citing a reluctance to give away a "competitive advantage."

A decision on Forte will be up to Emery as will the future of coach Lovie Smith beyond the 2012 season. Phillips said the new GM will have the same authority as his predecessor Jerry Angelo, including the final say on his head coach.

Phillips said he hopes Smith's Bears future includes a contract extension after a successful 2012 season.

"We feel Lovie is a top coach and obviously you read everything that has been written and fans want wins. And so do we," Phillips said. "It was a tough decision to let go of Jerry, but I think it was time to have a new fresh look at our team and how it gets built. But Lovie has never lost the respect of the players. He's kept them playing hard. He's got a good coaching staff and we think he can be successful.

"That's the whole goal, to make him successful, not to make him unsuccessful. The goal of bringing a GM in here is to make the club successful. What we want to have happen is Lovie Smith has a contract extension after this season because he's doing a hell of a job."

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