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Bears place franchise tag on running back Matt Forte

Bears running back Matt Forte loosens up during the pre-game warmup prior to the Chicago Bears 31-20 win over the San Diego Chargers Sunday November 20, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

The Bears have assigned the franchise tag to Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, the team announced Friday night.

The deadline to make the move was Monday afternoon.

‘‘It is not a surprise at all,” agent Adisa Bakari told the Sun-Times in a message. ‘‘Matt’s a phenomenal running back, whether as a ball carrier or receiver. There are few players who share his skill set.”

New Bears general manager Phil Emery also offered a glowing statement about Forte.

‘‘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. ‘‘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.”

The franchise tag for a running back is worth $7.7 million – more than a $7 million raise for Forte from 2011. Forte and Bakari have been pushing for a long-term deal that would give him security and more guaranteed money.

Forte was highly productive throughout his four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract after the Bears selected him in the second round of the 2008 draft. Forte turned 26 in December and turned in a Pro Bowl season despite missing the last four games. His current backup, Marion Barber, made $2.25 million in 2010, and his previous backup, Chester Taylor, walked away with $7 million because the Bears terminated his four-year deal after just one season in September.

Forte, who said before the Super Bowl that he wanted to remain a Bear, had been frustrated with former GM Jerry Angelo, who resisted negotiating with Bakari on a fair-market contract extension. Still, Forte showed up to training camp on time and asserted himself as one of the best running backs in 2011.

The Bears and Bakari still can work toward a long-term deal until July 16.

Emery’s previous team, the Kansas City Chiefs, signed one-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles to a five-year, $32.5 million contract that included $13 million in guarantees. And in Atlanta, where Emery worked before the Chiefs, the Falcons signed Michael Turner to a six-year, $34.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.

The market has since jumped. At the high end is the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, who signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with $36 million guaranteed. At the low end is the Carolina Panthers’ DeAngelo Williams, who signed a five-year, $43 million deal with $21 million in guarantees.