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Time for Bears to ante up, give Forte his big payday

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It has been said that repetition is the key to learning.

In that case, here’s a message to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo.

Sign Matt Forte.

Pay Matt Forte.

Sign and pay Matt Forte.

Any questions?

Thanks to Forte’s dazzling skills on offense and a four-pack of interceptions on defense, the Bears escaped with a 24-18 win Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at London’s Wembley Stadium. They improved to 4-3 heading into a bye in Week 8, which is precisely where they stood a year ago at the same point.

As soon as the team flight touches down at O’Hare, Angelo should get to work.

By the time the Bears line up against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 7 for a “Monday Night Football” showcase, Forte should have a long-term deal in place.

No excuses.

No maybes.

No wait-and-sees.

Forte, the Bears’ fourth-year player out of Tulane, carried the offense en route to a crucial win against the resilient Buccaneers. He ran the ball 25 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and added two receptions for 38 yards as the Bears’ do-everything man out of the backfield.

“Matt Forte – just a great player,” Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters in London after the game. “He’s proven that every time he’s played all year.”

What more does Angelo need to see?

Forte’s 183 yards from scrimmage against the Buccaneers gave him an absurd, NFL-leading 1,091 yards from scrimmage through seven games. He became the first player since 2004 to crack the 1,000-yard mark before the season’s halfway point.

At this pace, Forte will gain 2,493 yards from scrimmage this season. That would be 16 yards shy of the NFL single-season record, which Tennessee’s Chris Johnson set in 2009.

Ever heard of that Marshall Faulk guy? The Hall of Famer?

He’s No. 2 all time with 2,429 yards from scrimmage in 1999.

The Bears took a cautious approach when Forte lobbied for a contract extension during training camp this summer at Olivet Nazarene University. Forte was about to enter the final season of his rookie deal, which will pay him a base salary of about $550,000 in 2011, and he wanted a pay increase on par with his production.

Elsewhere around the league, comparable running backs such as Carolina’s D’Angelo Williams ($21 million guaranteed) and San Francisco’s Frank Gore ($13.5 million guaranteed) received lucrative deals to stay with their teams.

Mega-stars such as Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson ($36 million guaranteed) and Johnson of the Titans ($30 million guaranteed) also earned monster paydays.

Yet for some reason, the Bears wanted to play hardball with their 25-year-old star. Angelo reportedly offered about $13 million in guarantees before the season, and after Forte declined that offer, Angelo announced that the team would not negotiate during the season.

It’s not too late for the Bears to correct their mistake.

Angelo, Forte and Forte’s agent have a bye week to get down to business. The Bears will conduct practices Wednesday and Thursday before parting ways for a long weekend, which should leave plenty of quiet time for the group to negotiate upstairs at Halas Hall.

Sure, the Bears could place a franchise tag on Forte for 2012 instead of allowing him to test the free-agent market. Yet that could cost the Bears north of $10 million and strain relations with Forte, who wants something more than a short-term solution.

Besides, if the Bears are willing to spend $10 million for a one-year deal, why not guarantee something in the neighborhood of $15 to $20 million for a four- or five-year deal?

After the Bears’ win, Jay Cutler was asked about a quick pass to Forte that turned into a 36-yard gain along the right sideline in the fourth quarter. The play helped set up a field goal by Robbie Gould, which extended the Bears’ lead to 24-18 with 1:55 to go and forced the Bucs to go for a touchdown (unsuccessfully) on their final drive.

“Matt did a great job as he’s done all year long,” said Cutler, who signed a two-year extension in 2009 that included $20 million guaranteed. “We just have to find creative ways to keep giving him the ball because he’s such a dynamic player and he’s doing so many things right for us.”

Now, it’s time for the Bears to do right by Forte.

• Tom Musick is the Northwest Herald’s Bears beat writer. Write to him at tmusick@shawmedia.com.

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