No signed deal, no Forte at workouts

Not surprising, but Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte likely won’t attend the start of the club’s voluntary offseason conditioning program starting on April 16 due to the stalemate between the sides in contract negotiations.

Designated the team’s franchise player, Forte received a tender from the team worth $7.7 million for the 2012 season. But if he doesn’t sign the tender or ink a long-term pact with the club in the next seven days, Forte won’t be in attendance for the voluntary workouts.

Bears coach Lovie Smith remains upbeat about the situation, saying just last week that he thinks the deal “will get done eventually.”

Although the sides don’t appear to be making much progress in working out a long-term agreement, the Bears continue to express optimism publicly. Forte’s representation, meanwhile, has remained silent in recent weeks.

“Contracts are a very individual matter and a very private matter,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said last week during a conference call with season-ticket holders. “So I’m not going to get into specifics. I will just say that we’re both working in a positive direction to come to a positive conclusion for everybody.”

Smith pointed out the fact Forte “hasn’t missed anything that we’ve ever done,” recently at the NFL owners meetings, adding that “I don’t think we need to get too caught up in it.” But given the lack of progress in negotiations, it appears Forte is poised to miss the start of the offseason conditioning program.

Since the program is voluntary, Forte’s potential absence shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Besides that, Forte usually trains in the offseason at Bommarito Performance Systems in Florida, a group that last year helped him get into the best shape of his career despite the lack of any team-organized workouts because of the NFL lockout.

That paved the way for Forte to put together his best season as a pro -- before it was cut short by a knee injury -- en route to earning his first Pro Bowl nod.

The perceived lack of respect from the Bears during negotiations also appears to be a motivating factor for Forte that could cushion the blow should he miss a significant chunk of the team’s conditioning program. The same day he drew criticism for his reaction to the Bears' signing of backup Michael Bush, Forte indicated his plan is to be even more productive this offseason than last year.

That day, teammate Tim Jennings (@HennOrJenn26) tweeted that, “My dogg @MattForte22 [is] just gonna come back bigger and faster [because] he [is] the weight room right now.”

Forte’s response: “U must know me lol.”

While the $7.7 million tender represents a significant increase from Forte’s 2011 salary of $600,000, the franchise designation is only a one-year contract. Forte seeks the security of a long-term deal worth market value.

But the issue is the sides disagree about that market value.

The only mandatory team function Forte would be required to attend this offseason is minicamp, which is typically held in June. But if Forte hasn’t signed the tender or worked out a long-term deal with the team by then he wouldn’t be eligible to attend minicamp because he wouldn’t be under contract.

Since wholesale changes aren’t anticipated with the rushing attack moving forward, Forte likely wouldn’t fall very far behind the rest of his teammates by missing the majority of the team’s offseason.

The key date for Forte remains July 16, the NFL’s deadline for teams to sign franchise players to multi-year extensions. If a new deal isn't done by then, Forte would have to play under the franchise designation or possibly sit out of regular-season games, which isn't likely considering the financial ramifications of missed game checks.

“You look at it different ways. Matt has been here a long time,” Smith said. “He doesn’t feel good about his contract situation. He voiced that. I don’t make too big of a deal about it. I’ve been in Chicago a long time. I’ve seen a lot of contract situations. In the end, if you know the person normally you can come to a good understanding at the end. That’s what we’ll do.”