Tailback Matt Forte wasn't happy to be approaching the expiration of his contract, while linebacker Lance Briggs and safety Chris Harris had each requested trades. But the Bears were 3-3 at the time and, at least in the case of Forte and Briggs, there appeared to be no connection between their production and financial issues. Three days later, the Bears improved to 4-3 with a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London.
Yet as the Bears emerge from their bye and prepare for a Monday night game with considerable playoff implications, the heat appears to have risen a few degrees. Harris was released in a surprise move last week, and Forte reacted viscerally Tuesday to reports the Bears would use the franchise tag to pay him about $7.7 million in 2012 rather than include some $20 million or more in a presumed multiyear extension.
Briggs has supported Forte publicly on a number of occasions, and on Tuesday he took to Twitter to "applaud" Forte, presumably for continuing to play hard and well despite his contract situation. Briggs: "[E]very down he is out there is a risk to injury. in football tomorrow is not guaranteed. ask chris harris."
It's not often that you see playoff-bound teams speaking so openly about their dissatisfaction with front-office decisions. So in this critical juncture, one that will include games against two teams -- the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions -- who figure to be in the wild-card race next month, let’s establish where we stand.
For our "Have at It" feature this week, tell me if you think this situation will impact the Bears' playoff run. Will it serve as motivation to perform at a higher level? Will it swallow them up? Or is it a non-issue until the offseason?
Forte made clear that he appreciates the loyalty of his teammates. He doesn't feel the same way about the organization, but he said: "That doesn't keep me from going out on the field and putting my best out there."
Forte also acknowledged that public discussion of the issue "gets kind of old." It isn't likely to dissipate anytime soon, though. As ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt points out for the National Football Post, a franchise tag in 2012 further reduces the chances the Bears will ever reward Forte with a lucrative long-term deal.
Let me know your thoughts below. I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.