A Tuesday radio appearance by Chicago Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips made clear just how important RB Matt Forté is to the team, and how much Phillips likes coach Lovie Smith.
Phillips told ESPN 1000 radio in Chicago that he would like to work out a long-term deal with Forté but would also consider placing the franchise tag on him, a proposition the Bears' running back already indicated he might demur to. Forté told ESPN 1000 on Jan. 19 that "people probably wouldn't know where I was" if the Bears slapped the franchise tag on him. Still, Forté's comments aside, Phillips made clear that the Bears intend to keep Forté one way or another.
"We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market," Phillips said. "We'll sit down with him privately, (GM) Phil (Emery) will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise-tag date."
Forté rushed for 997 yards on a career-high 4.9 yards per carry and posted another 490 yards on 52 receptions in 2011, before missing Chicago's final four games with a sprained right knee ligament. Forté has been with the Bears for four years and has missed only four games during that span. He's been remarkably consistent during that stretch, averaging more than 900 rushing yards and 450 receiving yards in every single season since he was drafted in the second round out of Tulane. According to Sportac, Forté earned just $938,250 in 2011, the final year of his four-year, $3,781,000 contract.
Phillips also explained that the team changed general managers this offseason because "it was time to have a new, fresh look at our team," but said that the team retained Smith because the players played hard for him until the end and never lost their respect for Smith.
"He's kept them playing hard," Phillips said. "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."