Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler views the contract situation concerning Matt Forte "purely as business," but in the end would be "shocked" if the running back doesn't sign his franchise tender before the NFL's July 16 deadline and report to training camp on time.
Appearing on ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" on Friday to announce his own upcoming weekly radio show on the station, Cutler said that for the Bears "to get to where we need to be, we need Matt Forte. He knows that. The Bears know that."
Realistically, however, that's still an uncertainty.
Franchise-tagged back in March, the 26-year-old Forte explained on NFL Network on Wednesday that he's not looking to become the highest-paid back but seeks a long-term deal commensurate with his standing among some of the other top players around the league at his position.
Despite working to negotiate a new contact since last summer, the sides haven't been able to reach common ground.
"Maybe it's just the business side of the league," Forte said. "It's unfortunate that when an organization does treat it as business (but) when a player does, he gets frowned upon. You have to do what's best for you and your family."
"I just want to be given a contract where I rank among some of the top running backs; not the top paid or highest paid or anything like that.
I just want to be recognized as one of the best."
Teammates have voiced support for Forte in his efforts to receive a new contract, while the organization has remained largely silent -- although it did, according to sources, reach out to the running back to continue talks, with the caveat of that hinging on him signing the franchise tender.
Cutler said the new offense under coordinator Mike Tice hasn't changed much in terms of the running game, but "there's some passing game stuff (Forte is) gonna have to learn and catch up with."
Cutler visited with Forte approximately three weeks ago, he said, and the running back appeared to be in top physical condition.
"He was huge, all ripped up," Cutler said. "I was like, 'What do you do?' (He said,) 'All I do is go to the weight room. I've got nothing else to do.' I think he misses being there, misses the camaraderie. He's got to do what he's got to do, and we'll get him when we get him."
Forte missed four games in 2011 with a sprained MCL in his knee, but he still rushed for a team-high 997 yards, in addition to catching 52 passes for 490 yards.
If Forte and the Bears don't reach a long-term agreement by the deadline, the running back must play under the franchise tag, which will pay approximately $7.7 million. Should Forte decide to hold out, which appears to be a definite possibility, Cutler is confident that free-agent acquisition Michael Bush is capable of filling in effectively.
"Mike's great. He's a smart guy, always in the right place, runs hard, catches the ball well. (He's) not quite as explosive as Matt is, but Mike, he'll get the job done if need be," Cutler said.
Cutler doesn't expect things to come to that, however.
"I think he's gonna be fine," Cutler said of Forte. "I don't know what's going (on) up in the front office. I'd be surprised if he didn't sign the tender, didn't show up ready to go to work."