INDIANAPOLIS -- While the Chicago Bears could still decide to slap the franchise tag on free-agent running back Matt Forte before the March 5 deadline, coach Lovie Smith believes the two sides will ultimately agree to a long-term contract extension.
"Matt is going to play his football for the Chicago Bears, you start with that," Smith said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. "In time, hopefully we can get an agreement in place that suits Matt and we feel comfortable with. I think it's just a matter of time. That will happen eventually."
Talks between the two sides stalled last summer after the Bears offered Forte a deal that contained $13-$14 million in guaranteed money, according to a source. With the hiring of new general manager Phil Emery, there is a renewed sense of optimism Forte and the organization will be able to find common ground during negotiations.
Forte was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 after he led the team with 1,487 yards from scrimmage despite missing the final four games of the season due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
The 2012 franchise tag figure for running backs is $7.7 million.
"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte, at all," Smith said. "I think we are on record to how important Matt is to our organization. Just him in the community for what he and his wife will do, and what they mean to us ... just him as a football player."
In addition to Forte's situation, the Bears must deal with perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who went public last year with demands for a new contract or to be traded. Briggs currently has two seasons left on a six-year contract he signed on March 7, 2008.
Smith said he spoke with Briggs last week at the funeral services held for the wife of ex-Bears defensive lineman Tommie Harris and is hopeful the situation with the weak-side linebacker will improve.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.