The Bears likely will open their offseason workout program without disgruntled running back Matt Forte on Monday at Halas Hall.
Coach Lovie Smith is prepared to start the offseason program without Forte, who has hinted he would skip the voluntary workouts and maybe the start of training camp if he hasn’t signed a long-term deal. He became a free agent after completing his four-year rookie contract in 2011, but after the Bears placed the franchise tag on him, his only option is to sign the their 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 before 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 all players, with rare exceptions, are expected to volunteer. Most absences are considered job actions, though Forte’s absence likely would have the tacit support of teammates and Smith.
This is a situation to monitor this offseason. The Bears signed Michael Bush to be Forte's backup, but he will also serve as insurance in case they can't get a deal done. Forte was irked by the Bush signing and, at the moment, things don't look very good.