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.

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Multiple reports indicated that former Bulls center Joakim Noah will join Derrick Rose and sign with the New York Knicks.

Both the Washington Post and ESPN report that Noah is very likely to sign in New York, his hometown. ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to say that other teams have already accepted that Noah is all but a done deal to sign with the Knicks.

And according to Tim Bontemps from the Washington Post, Noah's deal with the Knicks will have "a starting salary somewhere in the $18 million per year range," a large but not insane number considering the league's salary cap explosion this summer.

The Vertical's Shams Charania added that Noah will meet with Phil Jackson and the Knicks when free agency begins Friday night.

Noah would fill a void at center left by the Knicks' trade for Rose, which shipped center Robin Lopez back to Chicago. Noah averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games last season before season-ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls and was named Defensive Player of the Year just three short years ago.

But he fell out of grace with Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who opted to bring Noah off the bench for the first time in his career. It was largely assumed that both Noah and Pau Gasol would not return to a Bulls team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1, and can sign free agents beginning July 6.

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields received his first standing ovation of the season at U.S. Cellular Field as he headed to the dugout on Wednesday night.

The White Sox starter settled in after another shaky start and his offense kicked it into high gear in a 9-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 18,571. Shields limited the Twins to a leadoff solo homer in the first inning and pitched into the seventh to earn his first win for the White Sox.

Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Todd Frazier all homered for the White Sox, who had to pitch themselves out of trouble in a wild ninth to win for the sixth time in nine games. Nate Jones earned a one-out save after Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined to allow five runs. Purke was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. A corresponding move will be announced on Thursday morning.

“(Shields) got back into a rhythm,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think this is the best that he looked as far as just feeling comfortable. He was getting ahead. He started really using his fastball and he located it. I think after that, there was some offspeed stuff and he got guys swinging through it. This was a nice little thing to see. I'm sure it's a breath of fresh air for him.”

For a second it looked as if another stinker was in the cards.

Two pitches into the contest, Shields trailed by a run when Eduardo Nunez ripped an 0-1 changeup for a solo homer.

Shields, who had a 21.81 ERA in his first three starts with the White Sox, two of which resulted in him being booed off the mound at home, found even more trouble. He recorded a pair of outs, but walked Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe singled him to third. But similar to his last start in Boston, Shields took another big step forward and got out of trouble.

Two innings later, Shields made his biggest pitch of the night when he induced a double play off Joe Mauer’s bat after allowing consecutive singles to start the third. Dozier’s bunt attempt resulted in a comebacker and Shields escaped unharmed.

Adam Eaton assisted Shields in a big way in the fifth inning when he easily threw out Kurt Suzuki at home. Suzuki, who started the play on first, was forced home as Nunez nearly caught him speeding into third after hitting a liner off the right-field fence.

But Shields stranded Nunez in scoring position as well as another runner in the sixth. He recorded two more outs before giving way after a Byron Buxton double.

“We know what type of pitcher he is and he went out and did what he’s supposed to do,” Eaton said. “I think the proof is in the pudding. He goes out and throws well. We hit and we are going to be pretty good.”

As he exited, Shields was showered with applause from the appreciative crowd.

He allowed a run and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking one. Shields threw strikes on 61 of 93 pitches to earn his first victory since May 12th.

“It feels good,” Shields said. “It’s something to build off of.

“It was a tough stretch. It’s nice to get off the schneid there and get a win, but I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff. I’ve been around this game for a long time. My main focus is to win games for this team right now.”

One night after they couldn’t provide for Jose Quintana, the White Sox offense went overboard for Shields. Lawrie’s opposite-field solo homer with two outs in the second inning off Ricky Nolasco tied the game at 1. J.B. Shuck then singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Avisail Garcia.

The White Sox never looked back as Saladino’s solo shot in the fifth made it a 3-1 game.

Frazier started a five-run sixth inning with a solo homer -- the team’s 13th consecutive solo homer. Saladino singled in a run with two outs to chase Nolasco and make it 5-1. Tim Anderson’s two-run single made it a blowout and Eaton singled him in to make it 8-1. Shuck added a sac fly in the seventh for the White Sox, who went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“It was nice,” Frazier said. “It was a little different. (Shields) got out there not worrying about anything. Gave up the homer in the first batter. Nothing really fazed him after that. He has to understand, he’s going to give up runs here and there, and just relax from whatever happens from there. He pitched an exceptional game today.”

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

The Bulls are undergoing a "retooling" in their backcourt after dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks, drafting Denzel Valentine and attempting to re-sign E'Twaun Moore in free agency.

That, combined with Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jerian Grant and an already versatile frontcourt will give Fred Hoiberg plenty of options that Valentine believes will make the Bulls "dangerous" in 2016-17.

"I think that's going to make us so dangerous this year, is we are versatile with our guards," He said on Wednesday night's White Sox broadcast. "And in those three positions I feel like we're going to be able to guard and do a lot of things offensively and throw a lot at you when we're coming down on offense. And the defensive end, too.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year with all that we have, and I'm glad to be part of the building year, or whatever you want to call it."

On paper the Bulls will have more versatility than a year ago. Valentine is capable of playing either wing position and can handle the ball, though he doesn't project as a point guard. Butler can play and defend four positions, and Grant is capable of playing either guard spot. Bringing back E'Twaun Moore would benefit that versatility greatly, as he's capable of playing on or off the ball.

In the frontcourt, the Bulls will need to replace Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, neither of whom provided much versatility. Robin Lopez is entrenched at center, which will give the Bulls' stretch forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis more room to roam the perimeter.

Wherever Valentine plays, and however Hoiberg uses him in Year 1, the Michigan State rookie said he's ready to do what's asked of him from a franchise known for winning.

"My job is to just come in, do what I can do best and just work on my game and try to lead as best as I can," he said on SportsTalk Live (in the video above). "I'm not coming in to step on anybody's toes but I'm going to do what I can to lead and be a good teammate and try to win some games."