Matt Forte was not in uniform for OTAs with the Bears. He was not there for the three-day minicamp last week. And he is still realistically a longshot to be in Bourbonnais when the Bears begin actual practices on July 26.
But Forte, appearing at the EA Sports Madden 2013 Pigskin Pro-Am in Chicago on Friday, did not rule out signing the 7.74-million franchise tag prior to the start of the season and told Comcast SportsNets Pat Boyle that the contract gap between the Bears and himself has narrowed.
I cant really speculate about signing the tag right now, Forte said, adding that as far as training camp itself, I want to be there, obviously. Its a matter of what happens in these next couple weeks leading up to July 16.
July 16 is the NFL deadline for a long-term contract. After that, Fortes only option is the guaranteed tag pay rate.
For complete coverage of Pats conversations with Forte and linebacker Lance Briggs, tune into Chicago Tribune Live and SportsNet Central Friday on Comcast SportsNet.
Forte reiterated that he is not seeking to become the NFLs highest-paid running back.
I just want to get market value, Forte said, citing the deals LeSean McCoy signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arian Foster did with the Houston Texans, both of which guaranteed the players slightly more than 20 million over five and four years, respectively.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has been among those who cannot see a 2012 season or even training camp without Forte, but the running back would prefer to be his own spokesman.
I dont know. It depends on how negotiations go, Forte said. Thats why it looks bad when other people speak for you...
Forte avoided discussing specifics beyond saying that talks are worlds apart from last year, a clear indication that the gap between the sides has narrowed from the impasse of the past year.
Forte said that he talks frequently with teammate Lance Briggs, who was in a similar franchise-tag situation in 2007 and eventually reached a long-term deal.
Pay the man! Briggs declared, expressing unqualified support for Forte and his position. "Hes done what hes had to and everybody on the team knows it.
Forte has generally maintained an outward air of calm through the stalemate times and is not getting any more emotional about any sense of progress that may be occurring.
I stay even-keeled about it. I dont get too high or too low about it, Forte said. If it happens, then thank God that its going to happen.
Everybody knows I want to be with the Chicago Bears and play for them, Forte said, at the same time asking for understanding. If it comes to the point where Im not going to be and have to make a business decision for myself, everybody should understand that.