The Chicago Bears waited until Friday evening to announce the team has placed the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte.

That means Forte will earn approximately $7.7 million this season unless the Pro Bowl running back receives a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.

The Bears attempted to sign Forte to a long-term extension before last season began. When they couldn’t get a deal done, former general manager Jerry Angelo suspended talks because he didn’t want it to become an in-season distraction. The hope was, though, that the sides could close the gap and find a deal.

Now, it’s one of the top priorities for new general manager Phil Emery as team president Ted Phillips has publicly said the club would like to sign Forte to a long-term deal.

“Matt is an important part of our football team and we chose to utilize the franchise tag to ensure he remains a Bear,” Emery said in a statement released by the club. “We believe in Matt as a player and a person. 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.”

This is just the second time in a decade the Bears have used the franchise tag. They placed it on linebacker Lance Briggs in 2007.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune