The biggest question of the Chicago Bears' offseason was answered on Monday, when the team nailed down a four-year, $31.5 million deal for star running back Matt Forte (as reported by the Chicago Tribune). Forte's signing was a source of elation for most Bears fans, but there are plenty of players celebrating the deal as well...and not just in Chicago.
This quartet of players will see the biggest rewards from Forte's windfall:
1. Jay Cutler
The much-maligned Bears quarterback has made good progress, but losing Forte would've required rebuilding the entire offense from scratch. Now, Cutler has a dependable running game for the long haul (and a happy Forte for 2012).
Forte's pass-catching ability means just as much to Cutler as his rushing, considering the Bears' struggles in constructing a competitive receiving corps. It's not often that a quarterback sees his top rusher and receiver re-sign on the same day, but Cutler can breathe a sigh of relief and buckle down to preseason preparation in earnest.
2. Felix Jones
Between Forte's contract and Ray Rice's similarly-lucrative deal (also signed Monday), the pay scale for the NFL's top running backs has just been raised. That's good news for any 2013 free agent ball-carriers, especially Cowboys standout Jones.
Jones isn't quite at Forte's or Rice's level, but he's a similarly multi-talented back who (when healthy) has shown game-breaking potential. Of all the 2013 free agents, he's the runner with the best chance for a huge payday, and Forte's contract helps ensure that that windfall will get even bigger than it might otherwise have been.
3. Johnny Knox
It's been an encouraging offseason for Knox, the Bears' lone deep threat over the last few seasons. First, the acquisition of Brandon Marshall ensured that Knox will face more single coverage, and now Forte's long-term return means that the ground game will continue earning respect from opposing defenses.
Any time an opponent can afford to leave its safeties in deep coverage, that makes Knox's job an order of magnitude harder. With Forte around, there's a much better chance that enemy safeties will have to crowd the line and contain the run, which is just what Knox wants to see as he hopes to build on a season in which he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch but scored a career-low two touchdowns.
4. Gabe Carimi
Coming off the knee injury that scuttled his rookie season, Carimi is looking to establish himself as a long-term fixture on the Chicago offensive line. With Forte locked up for the next few seasons, Carimi (like Cutler) can reap the benefits of continuity in the offense as his own game develops.
Carimi has particular reason to be happy about keeping a meaningful running game around, because his run blocking abilities made his reputation as a collegian at Wisconsin. He's far from a liability in pass protection, but he'll have a much better chance at securing a starting offensive-tackle spot when he can open holes for a running back who can actually make plays.82498