Hours before an NFL deadline, the Bears and Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte are finalizing a four-year contract worth about $32 million, according to a source close to the situation.
The two sides had until 3 p.m. CST to work out a long-term deal or else Forte would have had to play the 2012 season under a franchise tag worth $7.742 million. Instead, he'll get more than $18 million guaranteed, according to the source.
The guaranteed money is less than what LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster received earlier this offseason. But those players signed five-year deals, with $20.7 million guaranteed.
"I'm proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years," Forté said. "I'd like to thank my family, my agent and the Chicago Bears. I've been working hard this offseason and am looking forward to joining my teammates at training camp next week. I'm glad the business part is done and we can all turn our attention to football and our goal of winning a championship."
The Bears confirmed the Sun-Times report by announcing that he passed a physical and signed the four-year deal.
"We're very pleased that we were able to come to terms on a four-year extension with Matt," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We're excited to get him on the field and continue working towards our goal of winning a championship."
The deal is a relief to Forte, a second-round pick who had outperformed his four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract. Backups such as Chester Taylor and Marion Barber made more than him the last two seasons, although Forte hadn't missed a game until the final four of 2011 because of a sprained MCL.
Before that injury, though, Forte led the league in total yards from scrimmage, and he earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. With a base salary of $550,000, Forte was a finalist for Vizio's "Top Value Performer" in 2011.
In March, the Bears were among an NFL record 21 clubs to utilize its franchise tag. Several clubs appeared content not to work toward a new contract with the players they tagged, but new Bears general manager Phil Emery backed up comments he made in a statement in announcing the team's use of the franchise tag.
"Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond," Emery said in the March statement.
In recent days, quarterback Drew Brees and safety Tyvon Branch signed long-term deals with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders, respectively. Brees signed a six-year deal that included an NFL record $60 million in guarantees.