Forte, Rice ink long-term deals with Bears, Ravens

Bears running back Matt Forte runs against the Chargers at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., Nov. 20,...

Bears running back Matt Forte runs against the Chargers at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., Nov. 20, 2011. (JEFF HAYNES/Reuters)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:33 PM ET

The Chicago Bears finally have rolled out the welcome-back mat to Matt Forte.

And the Baltimore Ravens needed the two-minute warning to do likewise with Ray Rice.

Forte and Rice, two of the NFL's premier running backs, hit paydirt in the final hour before Monday's 4 p.m. EDT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term deal.

The Bears and Forte agreed on a four-year contract. It's worth $32 million, with $18 million guaranteed, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Ravens and Rice agreed to a deal just minutes before the deadline. According to reports, Rice signed a five-year, $35-million deal, $24 million of which is guaranteed, per ESPN's Andrew Brandt. And the deal is front-loaded; Rice will earn $25 million in the first two seasons.

Only four of this year's 21 franchise-tagged NFLers either are left without a new long-term contract, or have yet to agree to sign the franchise-tag tender. One is Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.

The franchise tag allows clubs to retain one player, slated for unrestricted free agency, for one more year. Salaries are based on the average of the top five earners at each position group, ranging from $2.6 million for kickers to more than $16 million for quarterbacks.

While the franchise-tag tender for all players is both ample and guaranteed, all would prefer the security and riches of a new long-term deal instead.

Forte, 26, has been one of the league's most productive and reliable running backs the past four seasons. He had been disgruntled for a year, demanding a big contract.

Forte had been making comparative peanuts in his four seasons in the NFL --$600,000+, $700,00+, $800,000+ and $900,000 last year. Had the two sides not agreed on the new contract by the deadline, Forte would have earned $7.7 million as a 2012 franchise-tagged running back.

"I'm proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years," Forte said in a statement.

"I'm glad the business part is done and we can all turn our attention to football and our goal of winning a championship."

Rice, who like Forte was drafted in the second round in 2008, arguably is even more important to the Ravens.

Baltimore's conservative offence works because Rice is a ground-churning load. Rice finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2011 with 1,364 yards (averaging 4.7 per carry), and he was first in yards from scrimmage with 704 additional receiving yards, on 76 catches.

Earlier Monday afternoon, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed placekicker Josh Scobee to a huge deal, as kickers go --$13.8 million over four years, $4.75 million of which is guaranteed, according to CBSsports.com's Jason La Canfora.

Scobee's new $3.45-million per-year average is second only to Oakland Raider Sebastian Janikowski among kickers. Scobee made 92% of his field-goal attempts in 2011, and has a 62.1% success rate on kicks of 50+ yards, fifth best in the NFL since he joined in 2004.

Other tagged players hoping to land long-term contracts on deadline day struck out.

Avril and the Lions broke off talks Monday at mid-afternoon.

"I'm kind of disappointed it couldn't happen, but it is what it is," Avril told DetroitLions.com. "Business is business ... I'm not salty about it at all."

San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson and Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe similarly could not reach deals with their teams.

Avril, Goldson and Bowe must sign their tags if they want to play anywhere in the NFL this year. If they don't do so by Nov. 13, they cannot play until 2013, and their current team will retain their rights.

Monday's deadline applied even to tagged players who already had signed the tender, including Wes Welker of the New England Patriots. He had hoped to ink a long-term deal, but reports said there were no serious discussions in recent days.

The only tagged QB this year was Drew Brees, who on Friday agreed to a $100-million, five-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

SIGNED THE TAG

Fred Davis, TE, Redskins ($5.4M)

*Phil Dawson, K, Browns ($3.2M)

Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons ($10.3M)

Mike Nugent, K, Bengals ($2.6M)

Anthony Spencer, LB, Cowboys ($8.8M)

Wes Welker, WR, Patriots ($9.5M)

* Receives, by complicated formula, much more than his position-group's tender because the Browns franchise-tagged him for the second straight year

COULDN'T GET NEW DEAL, STILL HASN'T SIGNED

Cliff Avril, DE, Lions ($10.6M)

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs ($9.5M)

Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers ($6.2M)

SIGNED NEW DEAL

Connor Barth, K, Bucs (4 years, $13M)

Tyvon Branch, S, Raiders (4 years, $27M)

Drew Brees, QB, Saints (5 years, $100M)

Calais Campbell, DE, Cardinals (5 years, $55M)

Matt Forte, RB, Bears (4 years, $32M)

Michael Griffin, S, Titans (5 years, $35M)

DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (5 years, $47M)

Robert Mathis, OLB, Colts (4 years, $36M)

Matt Prater, K, Broncos (4 years, $13M)

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (5 years, $40M)

Josh Scobee, K, Jaguars (4 years, $14M)

Steve Weatherford, P, Giants (5 years, $13M)

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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