Bears RB Matt Forte Not Planning on Being at Teams Workout Program

Bears franchise running back Matt Forte does not plan to report for the team’s offseason workout program starting next Monday unless the club signs him to a new long-term deal before then according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

Forte actually cannot participate unless he signs his franchise tender and he has shown no inclination to do so. So, barring a breakthrough, Forte will be a high-profile absence as the Bears get going.

That’s not necessarily a reason to fret. For starters, the key word for players in the offseason program is “voluntary.” The only mandatory period for them is one full-squad minicamp.

The Bears have not announced it, but their minicamp will be held in early June, about two months from now. Forte cannot attend that either if he’s not signed, so it’s only “mandatory” for players under contract.

The good news is that, without an offseason program due to the 2011 labor strife, Forte reported to training camp in the best shape of his life last year. He then enjoyed the best season of his career until a minor knee sprain in Week 13 put him on the shelf. Forte led the NFL in yards from scrimmage at the time of his injury, and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He also led the team with 52 receptions — 15 more than any other player.

The key date isn’t next Monday or the first day of minicamp or training camp. It’s July 16. That is the deadline for the Bears to reach a multi-year agreement with Forte. If no deal is in place by then, he has to play 2012 for the franchise tag amount.

So, a holdout after that date might show the team how upset he is, but it’s not going to result in any negotiating leverage for him.

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