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NFL Free Agency 2012, Matt Forte: Franchise Tag Decision Must Be Made by March 5 Deadline

The Chicago Bears and star running back Matt Forte have not yet been able to agree upon a long-term extension yet, but the team still has $20 million in cap space and a new general manager at the negotiating table. Forte has been extremely productive since joining the Bears, but investing heavily in a 26-year-old running back that has taken many hits and put plenty miles on his legs may not be the wisest decision for the organization.

The Bears have not been shy about their willingness to use the franchise tag if Forte refuses another extension offer, and the 15 day window for applying the franchise tag tender offer starts on Feb. 20 and runs up to 3 p.m. on March 15. If they to extend the franchise tender to Forte -- who would then join Lance Briggs as the only other player in franchise history to receive the tag -- there would then be the opportunity to work out a deal up until July 15, as pointed out by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

As teams around the league have shied away from giving big money to running backs, the franchise salary figure at the position will decrease to approximately $7.7 million in 2012. If the parties still cannot agree to an extension, the Bears could always re-apply the franchise tag in 2013 at somewhere around $9.24 million. In essence, the Bears hold the cards in this situation. They control Forte's right for the next two years and didn't keep on the team without committing long-term money at a position where injuries often take their toll quickly. To get a multi-year deal done, Forte would likely have to take a discount in salary if he wants the Bears to assume any additional injury risk.

The next three weeks should reveal just how far apart the two sides are on the issue.

Stay tuned to SB Nation Chicago for more information, and for in-depth analysis on the Chicago Bears be sure to visit Windy City Gridiron. Visit SB Nation NFL for more news and notes around the league.