How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

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How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

Matt Forte was direct and blunt after the Bears signed former Raider running back Michael Bush early in this offseason. He said he felt disrespected.

In some ways, its very likely he was. But not in a simplistic we-dont-like-you kind of way, possibly not the way Forte envisions.

The Bush signing was intended to be an elite-grade addition to depth at a franchise-altering position. The Bears have done the same thing with Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber in recent offseasons.

Bush just happens to be the best in a continuing elevation of the talent search which has gone from Jones and his torn ACL to Taylor and his steady decline as hes aged to Barber, still with something left but clearly not much since hes since retired. Bush is a potential starter; Forte was right about that.

Tilting away from 22

But what the Bears have done this offseason is steadily made themselves less and less dependent on a back even as good as Forte. Oversimplifying a little, and apart from any general devaluing of the running-back position, they just dont need Forte as desperately as they did a year ago.

Part of that is most evident in the major upgrades at wide receiver. The Bears did not trade for Brandon Marshall and draft Alshon Jeffery in the second round with the intention of Forte accounting for the nearly 40 percent of total offensive yardage as he did through the 11 complete games he played in 2011.

To stress one point here: The Bears absolutely, unequivocally want Forte in Chicago, for the foreseeable future. Thats not a question; thats why they put what they consider a very strong offer on the table for him nearly a year ago.

But where Johnny Knox and Roy Williams combined for 74 catches at one wideout spot, Marshall has averaged 95 in the five seasons since his rookie year. Knox and Williams combined for 4 touchdowns last season; Marshall averages more than 6.

Options increasing

More notable, Marshall and Jay Cutler were both under-used rookies in 2006. The next two years Marshall caught 102 and 104 Cutler passes, best in his career, plus 13 TDs.

And take talk of a Devin Hester package seriously. That will be more targeted and designed than the previous program of Hester basically as a straight-up starting receiver.

Fortes high-water production mark arguably may have been last season, when his value to the Bears also was at its peak. With the possible tilting of the offense toward a West Coast scheme (what Cutler, Marshall and Jeremy Bates worked in under Mike Shanahan in Denver), Fortes abilities have not declined in the least. The Bears simply have significant alternatives.

That does not drive the price up, regardless of what other running backs are receiving under their new contracts.

Very cloudy future

Indeed, unless a long-term deal does get done with Forte and there is salary cap space to conclude one -- it also is becoming increasingly difficult to envision a scenario in which Forte is a Bear in 2013.

The only way he creates value for himself is to play, and play well enough for the organization to pay him 7.7 million this year and deem him worth some 9.5 million next year.

Forte has not vilified the organization as some others have theirs but he has not always taken what could be characterized as the complete high road. Understandably; hes more than earned the right to say what he feels.

But hard feelings dont always completely go away. Up in New England, where franchise-tagged, All-Pro receiver Wes Welker was quoted as saying that his contract talks were getting worse, the sentiment is growing that this is Welkers last year as a Patriot. Boston Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young wrote that Welkers comments did not play well with the Patriots, and that organization does not have a long fuse with players out of step.

Forte is held in very high regard in the locker room and on the field. The Bears do want him signed. He is a unique back who fits in a West Coast, Mike Martz or just about any offensive scheme.

But how much more they will offer at a time when they have upgraded factors elsewhere in the offense is very problematic.

Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

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Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

Where Jaylon Smith would land was one of the biggest questions heading into the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, which began Friday night in Chicago. 

We didn't have to wait long for an answer.

The Dallas Cowboys took Smith with the 34th overall pick, just three selections into the second round. Smith, who won the Butkus Award in 2015, isn't likely to play in 2016 after suffering a torn ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl that also contained damage to the nerve in his knee. 

Prior to his injury, and the revelations of nerve damage, Smith was widely projected to be a top-10 pick. A former five-star recruit (and winner of the high school Butkus Award, too), Smith asserted himself as one of the most talented players to ever come through Notre Dame during his three seasons in South Bend. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native totaled 292 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss in his college career, in which he was moved from outside linebacker in Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme to "Will" inside linebacker in Brian VanGorder's 4-3 defense. 

Smith took out an insurance policy last year, which reportedly paid him $700,000 for not being a first-round pick $100,000 for each pick after the end of the first round he wasn't selected, so he'll received $900,000 from it. 

With Dallas, Smith will be re-united with his brother, Rod, who's a running back for the Cowboys. 

Smith's former teammates and coaches rushed to Twitter to celebrate. There wasn't a consensus on when Smith would be drafted, with projections ranging between the second and fourth founds. 

John Danks to start for White Sox on Wednesday

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John Danks to start for White Sox on Wednesday

BALTIMORE — John Danks will get another turn in the White Sox rotation.

Even though he could have manipulated the team’s rotation with a day off upcoming, manager Robin Ventura said Friday that Danks would start again on Wednesday night at home against the Boston Red Sox. Danks allowed six runs in Thursday’s loss and fell to 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts.

“You’re sitting there going through it, he was just in the middle of the plate (Thursday),” Ventura said. “I think he has a good changeup, still battles and all that stuff. I know he’s frustrated. But where we’re at, we need him to battle, and at this point, that’s what we’re doing.”

Entering Friday, the White Sox won eight of their past 10 games with their only losses coming in both of Danks’ starts. Danks had his best turn of the season on April 21 when he limited the Los Angeles Angels to two runs over six innings. But he had no fastball command on Thursday and the Baltimore Orioles made him pay. Danks said he’s only focused on his work when he was asked Thursday about the big picture.

“I’ve got enough to worry about here than anything else,” Danks said. “I’ll be ready to go. I’ll work hard. I’m not going to pout or anything. Never have or never will. I guess it’s part of it. It’s not easy, but there’s only one thing to do and that’s work hard and get ready to take the ball.”

After the game, Ventura said the White Sox would work to help Danks, who’s in the final season of a five-year contract. Not only has Danks allowed two home runs per nine innings, his highest total since 2013, he also has walked 4.4 batters per nine, a career-worst.

“We’re trying to make him better and we’re going to continue to work at that and continue to make him better so he can help us,” Ventura said.

Reliever Tommy Kahnle joins White Sox as Daniel Webb goes on DL

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Reliever Tommy Kahnle joins White Sox as Daniel Webb goes on DL

BALTIMORE — Reliever Tommy Kahnle is set to join the White Sox, who placed Daniel Webb on the 15-day disabled list late Friday afternoon.

Webb, who pitched in Thursday’s blowout loss, has right elbow flexor inflammation.

A November trade acquisition, Kahnle had one save, a 3.00 ERA and 12 strikeouts in nine innings at Triple-A Charlotte this season. The White Sox acquired Kahnle from the Colorado Rockies on Nov. 24 in exchange for Yency Almonte.

The move to the DL comes only two days after Webb joined the team in part to cover David Robertson, who went on the bereavement list on Thursday. Webb made his 2016 debut Thursday and struck out three in a scoreless inning. He could be seen wearing an ice pack in the clubhouse before Friday’s game.  

Kahnle was a Rule 5 pick of the Rockies in 2014 off the roster of the New York Yankees. He has a 4.41 career ERA in 90 major league appearances between 2014-15.

The move comes at the end of a busy week for the previously healthy White Sox.

Catcher Alex Avila, who has made good progress, according to Robin Ventura, was placed on the DL on Sunday with a sore right hamstring. His replacement, catcher Kevan Smith, suffered back spasms during warmups Monday only a few hours before he was set to make his major league debut. Smith went on the DL the next day and is in Glendale, Ariz. to rehab his injury.

Though he didn’t go on the bereavement list until Thursday, Robertson knew he’d need three days off, which allowed the White Sox to call up Webb on Wednesday.