The Bears likely will open their voluntary offseason workout program without disgruntled running back Matt Forte on Monday at Halas Hall.
''The word is that he's not going to be [there], but that's just rumors,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday on ''The Silvy & Waddle Show'' on WMVP-AM. ''I know it's going to be hard for Matt to not be there. I think he's pretty disappointed at how things have gone. But it's a business for both sides. The Bears have to do what's best for them in the long run. Matt has to do what's best for him in the long run.''
Bears coach Lovie Smith is prepared to start the offseason program without his dependable running back. Forte has hinted that he would skip the voluntary workouts and maybe the start of training camp if he has not signed a long-term contract. Forte became a free agent after completing his four-year rookie contract in 2011. But after the Bears placed the franchise tag on him, Forte's only option is to sign the Bears' one-year offer of $7.7 million for 2012.
''I tell the guys if you have an issue with your contract, [the offseason] is the time to work on those things. That's what Matt is going through right now,'' Smith said Tuesday prior to a luncheon at Maryville Academy to honor linebacker Brian Urlacher as the Bears' Ed Block Courage Award winner. ''We start up Monday. Hopefully he'll be there. If he's not, we're going to go to work with the players we have.''
The offseason program technically is voluntary but with rare exceptions, all players are expected to volunteer. Most absences are considered job actions, though with all things considered, Forte's absence likely would have the tacit support of not only his teammates but Smith.
While the Bears are playing by the rules in applying the franchise tag, nobody doubts that Forte has earned a long-term contract. Before he suffered a season-ending knee injury, Forte was third in the NFL in rushing (997 yards, 4.9 per carry), and third among running backs in total yards from scrimmage with 1,487.
''We have a lot of time,'' Smith said. ''The offseason is the offseason. Last year we didn't have an offseason [because of the lockout] and we put a pretty good product on the field. So that will work itself out.''
Cutler said he didn't think it would be problematic for Forte to miss the offseason program. But it also would benefit him to be there because the Bears, who ranked 24th in the NFL in total yards and 17th in points last season, are expecting a significant upgrade with the addition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the return of right tackle Gabe Carimi and the more Cutler-friendly coaching duo of coordinator Mike Tice and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
''I hope to see him at some point this summer,'' Cutler told ''Silvy & Waddle.'' ''I now we're going to be putting in a lot of good things for him offensively. He's a smart guy. If he doesn't come in ... in training camp, I think he'll pick it up pretty quickly.''
Urlacher echoed that sentiment.
Michael Bush will have a lot of reps [if Forte is absent], and he'll get to know the offense pretty well,'' Urlacher said. "Matt takes care of himself. He knows the offense. He's a smart guy. He's always in shape. He's the least of my concerns.
''He'll be at training camp when he needs to be. Either way he's under contract whether he's franchised or he gets a new deal, he'll be there, so I'm glad we got him back. He's a big part of our offense, probably the best player on our offense besides Jay, so I'm excited to get him back.''
With or without Forte, there is added anticipation for the offseason program -- or anything that gets the Bears closer to the 2012 opener -- since Phil Emery replaced Jerry Angelo as general manager and Tice replaced Mike Martz as offensive coordinator.
I'm excited,'' said Urlacher, prior to receiving the Ed Block Award on Tuesday in Des Plaines. ''It's been a long off-season -- what is it, 3½ months we get off? So I'm excited to get back around my teammates again and get back in the locker room and working out with them. I've been working out on my own, so it'll be fun to get back around them and joke around and screw around all that good stuff.''