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Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery described the recent signing of running back Matt Forte as a "win-win" for the player and team Tuesday, adding that the willingness of both sides to remain engaged in the negotiations resulted in "both parties finally (getting) to the point where we found common ground."
Forte avoided an expected holdout and reported to camp Tuesday at Olivet Nazarene University after recently signing a four-year contract worth $31.4 million with escalators, a deal which also contains more than $17 million in guarantees.
"Never got anxious about (the negotiations)," Emery said. "It was just a day-by-day, step-by-step process. In the end it was successful. I'm not one that ever felt there's never a distraction. Life is like that. There's always something, always some type of roadblock to overcome and move forward from. I think that's what makes people great, and that's what great teams do: They overcome obstacles and move forward."
The club's ability to strike a deal with Forte eliminated the prospect for a training camp holdout that would have become one of the distractions Emery discussed as the team prepares to try to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign in which the Bears missed the postseason.
"Am I excited that Matt got done before camp? Absolutely," Emery said. " I think he's fully focused. I think he would have been fully focused one way or the other, but it's great to have him in. It's great that he has that security, that contract, (and) that we as a team have that security."Forte was also excited to rejoin the team in time for the start of camp. "Very important just to get back and be part of the team," Forte said. "It's very important to be back here and it feels good to be back and see the guys. People look different know (since) I haven't been here in like six months. Haven't seen the guys so it's nice to see them."
Bears coach Lovie Smith also expressed excitement about the return of Forte, but also pointed out that Forte missed the club's conditioning program, organized team activities and minicamps. Forte faces a minimal learning curve with the new offense once the team takes the field. But his strength and conditioning won't be in question as the players take physicals on Wednesday along with a conditioning test."I mean I've been working out the whole time. It's not like I've been sitting on the couch watching everybody on television," Forte sad. "It's the same exact running game as last year maybe with a few little different nuances. The main thing is to get in tune with the passing game and the protections. That won't take a lot of time to get used to. So I'm ready for that too." Smith is excited to see his top running back ready for camp but is also looking forward to seeing Forte pair with offseason acquistion Michael Bush.
"We have good depth at the running back position, seeing he and Michael Bush together along with that offensive line we talked about should be pretty good," Smith said.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler also isn't concerned about Forte getting up to speed.
"Learning the playbook and being in the right spot has never been something Matt has struggled with," Cutler said. "I think after this week one install he's going to be fine."
The Bears had placed their franchise tag on Forte in March, and the sides had until 4 p.m. ET July 16 to reach an agreement. Without a long-term deal, the Pro Bowl running back would have had to play the 2012 season under the $7.749 million tender or sit out the season.
A five-year veteran, Forte averaged a career-best 4.9 yards per carry in 2011 on the way to earning Pro Bowl recognition for the first time after compiling 1,487 yards from scrimmage, including 997 yards rushing. Forte missed four games with a sprained right medial collateral ligament after a hit from Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson in a Dec. 4 loss at Soldier Field, but was leading the league in yards from scrimmage at the time of the injury.
Since entering the league in 2008, Forte ranks sixth with 6,218 yards from scrimmage and is the only player in NFL history to gain 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons. Forte is also one of four Bears to gain at least 4,000 rushing yards (4,233) and 1,500 receiving yards (1,985) in his career.
"I think we just kept working," Emery said of the negotiations, "and both parties didn't feel like they were losers in it, but they were both winning. Both (sides) worked very hard toward the goal of signing Matt and him being a member of our team now and in the future."Emery may have thought the process involved a lot of hard work, but Forte used a different word to characterize the negotiations. "Long. One word: long." ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.