Bears could target players besides Matt Forte for extensions

The Chicago Bears have not been able to find common ground with running back Matt Forte yet on a long-term contract extension.

If they can’t, it means he’ll almost certainly return in 2012 under the franchise tag, that will pay running backs $7.7 million next season.

But the Bears are more than $18 million under the salary cap and have 15 other players with expiring contracts, meaning nearly one-third of the roster will be unrestricted following the season. Do the Bears plan to start working on contracts for some of those other players?

"We do," general manager Jerry Angelo told the Chicago Tribune. "It's part of the plan for the money. The money is also reserved for injuries and the other thing we don't talk about, back sides of contracts. That's what people don't know. What the backsides are, the likely to be earned and not likely (incentives), that money has to be carved out from the money that you have. But saying what you said, yes."

The Bears did only two contract extensions during last season, but could do more this time around. Wide receiver Earl Bennett, center Roberto Garza, defensive end Israel Idonije and cornerback Tim Jennings could fit into future plans. Ditto defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who seems to have found a home. Then there are younger players with contracts expiring after 2012 that could be targeted. Nickel cornerback D.J. Moore, defensive tackle Henry Melton and wide receiver Johnny Knox could potentially be targeted for early deals.

But Angelo points out it could be a buyers’ market in free agency again this coming year.

“I think 50 percent of the guys that were out there (after the lockout ended) signed one-year deals," Angelo said. "There is going to be another windfall of players so we're not alone in having a lot of guys up.

"The other thing too is we have a $120 million cap. We have to see how that settles. It will take a full year."

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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