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Sunday Playbook: Bears should hold on to RB Matt Forte

Bears RB Matt Forte. (AP)

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is great and all – a surefire Hall of Famer — but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is just fine with what he has. He’ll stick with Matt Forte.

“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody else,” Cutler said. “I know he’s a three-down back. He does so much protection-wise. He does so much in the passing game. You can line him up in all different scenarios for us, all different sets. He gets the job done. He’s kind of a security blanket for us.”

Cutler may not have meant to do it, but it’s appropriate that he used the word “trade.” The NFL’s trade deadline is 3 p.m. Tuesday, and it’s no secret that the Bears, with a new coach and general manager, are willing to listen.

It’s possible that a trade partner with the right amount of salary-cap room and the right draft pick emerges over the next two days, and the Vikings game at Soldier Field on Sunday becomes Forte’s last with the Bears.

But it shouldn’t be.

The Bears should hold out hope that common ground can be found with Forte’s camp and that a new deal can be reached keeping him here past this season.

That would seem to be in the best interests of both sides with Forte saying he wants to retire a Bear and the team not exactly having a guaranteed replacement behind him.

The Bears are looking to have considerable salary-cap room this offseason, enough to keep Forte and receiver Alshon Jeffery and to pursue others. But Forte’s camp should know a long-term extension isn’t coming. A two-year deal, with competitive base salaries and plenty of incentives, should be something to strongly consider.

It’s uncertain what the free-agent market will hold for Forte, who turns 30 in December. There will be suitors lined up, but Frank Gore’s three-year, $12 million deal with the Colts, which included $6.5 million guaranteed, might be viewed as a starting point.

Gore is older, at 32, but since 2008, no player has gained more total yards than Forte’s 12,129. That hefty production might be viewed as a detriment, even if Forte’s fitness regimen is exceptional and he still produces at a high level.

The Bears, meanwhile, have reasons to keep Forte, who’s fourth in yards from scrimmage this season with 698 (507 rushing). They may have drafted Jeremy Langford in the fourth round, but he hasn’t earned the coaching staff’s complete trust. Langford’s 15 snaps against Detroit were a season-high, but there were 80 snaps on offense in the wild game, and Forte was on for 85 percent of them.

“You keep trying to find ways to just give him a rest and get those other guys involved,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “Obviously, Jeremy does bring something to the table, and that whole running back room, we really feel like is a great group. But at the same time, you’re taking an elite guy off the field.”

If Cutler and Gase return in 2016, wouldn’t it be best to have Forte around, too? That’s an option the Bears should keep on their table past Tuesday.

“The age thing for him, I don’t even know if it’s relevant,” Gase said. “He’s playing at an elite level. He was leading the league in rushing there for a minute. We’ll see what happens in these next 10 games, but I’m pretty sure people know we’re going to try to get him the ball.”

That should be the next 10 games with the Bears.

WATCH LIST

QB Jay Cutler

His offensive line isn’t healthy, but his receivers finally are. In his career, Cutler has a 91.5 passer rating against the Vikings.

LB Christian Jones

The second-year linebacker will be handling the defensive calls for the second game in a row with Shea McClellin sidelined by a left knee injury.

DL Eddie Goldman

The rookie looked up to Jeremiah Ratliff, and now he’s in a big spot after his idol’s infamous departure. Goldman will play plenty on Sunday.

VIKINGS

QB Teddy Bridgewater

A solid pass rush by the Bears could rattle the second-year quarterback, who has been sacked 19 times for 156 yards lost this season.

RB Adrian Peterson

Stopping the Vikings starts with stopping Peterson, and the Bears have historically struggled to do that. Will Vic Fangio be the difference?

LB Eric Kendricks

The second-round pick was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month in October. He’s an interior-blitz threat with four sacks already this season.

COACH’S COMMENT

“I’ve been very impressed with him. He runs good routes. He comes out of breaks and has good transition. He’s got good deep speed. He’s a guy that’s gotten better every week.”

UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT

Matt Slauson / Left guard / No. 68

The Bears can’t say enough good things about the 29-year-old veteran. He’s a steady presence at left guard, and he might be called on to play center Sunday against the Vikings if Hroniss Grasu can’t go.

“[Slauson is] a true pro,” line coach Dave Magazu said recently.

And a tough one at that.

Slauson was limited by knee and shoulder injuries in every practice before the Vikings game. But he won’t be missing it.

That’s great news for the Bears because their offensive line could be lost without him.

“I’m not sure how many years—what has he got? Eight, nine years in the league?— and you’re an offensive lineman and you play the style that he plays, your body takes a beating,” Magazu said. “I saw him go down [against the Detroit Lions] and my heart dropped because he’s the leader in our room. He kind of gets everybody together and keeps us solid as one unit. And he’s really nicked up right now.”

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Email: ajahns@suntimes.com