Matt Forte: Realistic Free Agent Target For Packers?

Matt Forte, Green Bay Packers running back.  It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?  Ever since the unrestricted free agent and soon-to-be-former Chicago Bears running back announced, via his Instagram, that the team won't be attempting to re-sign him, there has been much discussion about where Forte will land.  He turned 30 this past December and has more touches than any other back since he entered the league in 2008 but Forte isn't done with football and he will be playing somewhere in 2016.  Could Green Bay be one of those possibilities?

Bears beat writer Brad Biggs wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune that listed Green Bay as a possible landing spot for Forte.  It's purely speculative and technically, teams aren't allowed to have contact with nor negotiate with upcoming free agents until March 7th.  Biggs's piece stated that Packers linebacker Julius Peppers has already reached out to Forte regarding the two reuniting with the Packers.  Nearly everyone has a cell phone and so there have surely been discussions amongst NFL players, coaches and others around the league.  In the grand scheme of things, those conversations don't mean much.  They happen all the time and it's nothing different from you and I sending messages back and forth with our friends on a daily basis.  Packers general manager Ted Thompson is the only one who matters when it comes to potential contact with Forte.  It seems, however, as though Biggs's close contact with the Bears and his credibility has added some fuel to the Forte-to-Green Bay idea.

It's common to see Packers media, blogs and fans speculating who the team might target in free agency.  It makes for good discussion but in Green Bay and amongst their circles, there's always the proverbial "but".  Thompson has been labeled as a dud when it comes to big-time free agency and most conversations about the more marquis free agents are quickly thwarted with "Ted doesn't go after those types of guys" and "I'll believe it when I see it".  And most every season, we don't see the bigger names coming to Green Bay.  It's inaccurate, however, to say that Thompson doesn't use free agency.  Over time, fans tend to forget past transactions and focus more on the more recent few years.  Peppers and Letroy Guion are the two biggest free agent additions over the past two years and both have made good contributions to the defense.  I'd also venture to say both were good signings.  Peppers led the team in sacks in 2015 with 10.5 and Guion was just re-signed to a multi-year deal, his second re-signing with the Packers.  Prior to that, we had to look way back to the first few years Thompson was with the Packers and his pursuit of Charles Woodson to find a notable name that he brought in from the outside.  We've been conditioned to quickly temper hopes and expectations of a top-flight free agent coming to Green Bay.

While it's still fun to picture Forte in a Packers uniform, it comes down to what he can likely offer and at what cost.  What's his perceived value to the Packers?  Only Thompson can truly answer that question, as he's the one who approves the deals, but we can look at a few things to try and answer that question.  I mentioned Forte's turning 30, which for a running back is typically the unspoken "beginning of the end" of their career.  Some are exceptions, of course and Forte could certainly be one of them.  Over his eight seasons, he's only missed 12 of 132 regular season games.  He's carried over 2,000 times and caught 487 balls in his career.  That's a good amount of mileage and adds to the gamble as to how many more are left.  That gamble is amplified when looking at the kind of money it's likely going to take to secure Forte's services.  As much as we'd like to imagine him picking up the phone and calling the Packers looking for a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl ring and willing to take whatever they can pay him, that's highly unlikely.  

Forte's last contract with the Bears paid him an average of $7.8 million per season over the four years of the term.  That included base salary, signing bonus and incentives.  At his age, he's not likely to see that kind of money this time around but there will surely be a team willing to pay as much as, say, $5 million per.  There are 13 teams projected to have $30 million or more in cap space.  Not all need a veteran running back, but they have the means if they want to make a play for Forte.  And some teams, (cough, New England, cough) find a way no matter what type of cap space they have (the Patriots currently sit at just $5 million under the cap).  Interestingly enough, the Bears look to have the third-most cap space with just over $60 million and they have already decided to let Forte walk.  As a side note, that signals rebuilding in Chicago and we'll see a much different Bears team in the next few seasons.  The Packers are said to be sitting at just above $20 million, which puts them in the middle of the pack with the rest of the NFL.  While we're discussing the possibility of adding a higher-priced free agent, remember that the Packers have decent cap space again this year because they have avoided signing players just like Forte in the past.

Eddie Lacy was a huge headline for the Packers in 2015.  Between his weight issues and mental lapses, he was easily the biggest disappointment for the Packers, if not in the entire league, last season.  The vision of Lacy sleepwalking his way towards the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoff game contributed to a clearly-frustrated Mike McCarthy following the end of the season.  The Packers head coach flat-out told media that Lacy cannot and will not play at his current weight in 2016, confirming what we all wondered: is Lacy out of shape?  Adding a guy like Forte would surely help Lacy see how a successful running back carries himself both in the offseason and during.  Still, that's an expensive investment to make to merely teach a lesson.  Forte would be coming in as a role player versus the featured back that he's been his entire career.  Perhaps at this point, that's not a deterrent.  Having him split time with Lacy would save some wear on both guys and add a very versatile pass-catching element to the Packers offense.  Those passes would be coming from Aaron Rodgers, which has to appeal to Forte.  Is it enough for Forte to settle for what it will take to become a Packer?

Let's also consider that Thompson and McCarthy love their home-grown players.  James Starks is also set to be a free agent and is someone the Packers like a lot.  He came in as a rookie in 2010 and stepped in when Ryan Grant went down and the team had no clear go-to back enroute to winning Super Bowl XLV.  He was the team's main running back for the following two seasons and has gracefully stepped back and been a solid running mate since Lacy joined the team in 2013.  Starks had what I'd call a decent season in 2015 with some nice, crafty runs and was a nice pass-catcher.  He had a big issue with ball security at the end of the season that was troubling but my guess is that the Packers are looking at him over the entire body of work during his time in Green Bay.  According to past behavior, it would seem that the Packers are more likely to look at bringing Starks back for less than they'll have to commit to Forte.  

I asked the question about how much the Packers value a skill set like Forte's.  The screen game came alive for the offense at times during 2015.  With Forte, they'd have that threat at all times and keep defenses honest in having to account for him as well as the receiving corps the Packers hope to return in 2016.  Starks was effective in the screen game as well, but he doesn't change the defensive game plan like Forte would.  With the Green Bay defense having formed into one of the better units in the league and with few key players on that side of the ball set to depart, it might seem that the Packers are willing to allocate more resources to improve an offense that struggled and disappointed last season.  Still, with an already-established back like Lacy, the question is if this is the best place for the Packers to spend their money.

There are quite a few players with expiring contracts after 2016: Lacy, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari, Peppers, Datone Jones, Micah Hyde, Mike Pennel to name a few.  That's three of the five starting offensive linemen.  Sitton and Lang won't come cheap.  Bakhtiari is going to be looking for left tackle money and will cost a penny or two as well.  Peppers is the only name on that list that I can see the Packers allowing to walk out the door without a conversation.  Although those contracts aren't due for another year, the Packers may want to get one or more situated now, which could lead to more hesitation to commit money to a Matt Forte.  I haven't even mentioned the other areas of need that the Packers have: linebacker, tight end and offensive line depth.  It's possible that Thompson may be more interested in looking to free agency to fill some of those needs than solidifying running back with a back over 30 years of age.

My guess is that Forte is a long shot to end up in a Packers uniform and right now, I'd say it's unlikely.  It doesn't go along with what Thompson has done and how he's operated over the decade plus that he's been in Green Bay.  As much as some want this to be the year that Ted magically becomes someone else and goes crazy, don't count on it.  At least not as far as Matt Forte is concerned.

 

-------------------

Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

0 points

Comments (34)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
jeremyjjbrown's picture

February 19, 2016 at 07:00 am

Considering Ted won't sign a middle linebacker, I expect he doesn't sign a 30 year old running back.

0 points
0
0
RCPackerFan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 07:39 am

Forte would be a great fit in the Packers offense. He is a bigger, more true threat as a receiver out of the backfield then Starks. He would add something to our offense.

I just don't see Thompson going after him. Thompson typically likes to go for guys that were released then to go after true unrestricted free agents. That way it doesn't count against his compensation picks.

I could see Thompson more apt to go after guys like Mario Williams or Martellus Bennett if they are released.

0 points
0
0
GVPacker's picture

February 19, 2016 at 08:45 am

Martellus Bennett would be an good option. The Packers need a Big Play TE!

0 points
0
0
RCPackerFan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:37 am

I don't think he would cost to much. And he would give the Packers a really nice 1-2 combo at TE.

0 points
0
0
Tundraboy's picture

February 19, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Yes Bennett if he is healthy and cheap would help as another option, but I think we can do better.

0 points
0
0
hobbes's picture

February 19, 2016 at 01:22 pm

Actually there are some ways that the Packers could sign Forte without losing a compensatory draft pick.

First off is the average annual value of the contract, assuming that the Packers departing free agents receive bigger amounts, Forte's contract could be small enough that it won't make a huge deal. I would guess that a $1-2 million dollar average contract would be small enough. The only way I think that Forte takes a contract that small is that either he wants to 1) screw his old team or 2) win a Super Bowl

The other option is that Forte doesn't find a home during the UFA signing period and from I understand then reverts to a "street" FA designation, which doesn't qualify for compensatory draft picks. In my opinion this is also possible since older running backs are quite fungible and Forte likely is going to try to maximize his last contract and may price himself out of the market. Teams may then sign other FA running backs leading Forte without a home.

0 points
0
0
Evan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 07:52 am

Too many teams need RB help for Forte to ever come cheap enough. He'll end up in New England.

0 points
0
0
D Ernesto's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:19 am

Ya and that is a great fit for him, maybe the best fit.

0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 19, 2016 at 08:16 am

Too expensive (probably double what Starks would cost to bring back). Costs a comp pick. While Forte would be an upgrade, he is still a pass.

0 points
0
0
Ibleedgreenmore's picture

February 19, 2016 at 09:26 am

Way to costly for TT I do not see this happening at all.

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

February 19, 2016 at 09:30 am

I would be more expecting to see TT make a play for a guy like Stephen Tulloch...a high-effort guy who helps fill the void at ILB. Good against the run, can play the pass (although not his forte) and rush the passer a little. He's what I'd like to think Sam Barrington might eventually become.

...supposedly the Lions are about to release Tulloch, so that means no hit to compensatory picks for the Packers. Not a high-profile guy, but the kind of veteran signing we all are talking about wanting TT to make.

0 points
0
0
egbertsouse's picture

February 19, 2016 at 09:54 am

It'll never happen but it would be nice to have a 3rd down, pass-receiving back that AR could throw to. We haven't had one since when? Dorsey Levens?

0 points
0
0
Evan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:18 am

Brandon Jackson?

0 points
0
0
RCPackerFan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:22 am

John Kuhn.... smh...

0 points
0
0
RCPackerFan's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

We really do need one. They had drafted one unfortunately his career got cut short. Jonathan Franklin was going to be that guy.

That is one thing that is really missing from our offense. A true receiving threat out of the backfield.
I think the Packers were going to use Montgomery in that role but with injuries at WR forced him to play more at WR and then he got hurt.

0 points
0
0
lou's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:37 am

Really good point RCPackerFan, so many have forgotten how exciting a back
Franklin looked to be. Yes, signing Forte would be "unlikely" but so was the signing of Peppers. I fear he goes to the Pat's, look how efficient an ordinary back like Wisconsin's James White was when they split him out in the playoffs, Brady had a lot of confidence in him. Forte has as good all around ability as Marcus Allen and Roger Craig, what a sight it would be to see him in the Packers backfield in 2016.

0 points
0
0
Amanofthenorth's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:07 pm

That kickoff return that Franklin ended his career on was one of the strangest things. It was almost like he committed career suicide but leaping into a pile...I think trying to make up for the Bengal game fumble a week prior. Sad.

0 points
0
0
D Ernesto's picture

February 19, 2016 at 10:18 am

The problem with Forte, you have to pay him, huh Ted.

0 points
0
0
0 points
0
0
Packer_Pete's picture

February 19, 2016 at 11:17 am

Would be great and an instant upgrade at a prime position but won't happen...

0 points
0
0
DD-393's picture

February 19, 2016 at 12:45 pm

If going the free agent route, I think Joique Bell would be a better pickup. He's a good receiver out of the backfield and wouldn't affect the salary cap as much as Matt Forte. And he's a couple of years younger as well.

0 points
0
0
EdsLaces's picture

February 19, 2016 at 04:22 pm

Rather grab Chris Ivory...

0 points
0
0
Steve Cheez's picture

February 19, 2016 at 04:42 pm

or Eddie Lee...

0 points
0
0
LeagueObsrvr's picture

February 19, 2016 at 06:06 pm

I've been thinking about this possiblity since he was released by the Bears as well. He would be a nice fit with his excellent hands out of the backfield. Also I just learned that the Rams have released linebacker James Laurinaitis. Come on Ted, open up that checkbook!!!

0 points
0
0
malaisej's picture

February 19, 2016 at 05:32 pm

I feel like there is close to 0% chance Forte ends up in GB, no matter how much I envision the wonderful fit.

And TT should really get minimal credit for his Woodson and Peppers moves. There was no market for either player, and he still stalled.

It goes along with the draft strategy where I am just not sure Ted ever is certain on a player. Until he actually drafts that player and becomes overly loyal.

It feels like a foregone conclusion that Forte will end up as a Patriot and that is very frustrating. The Pats do everything they can to adjust and tweak the roster to be as competitive as possible. And continue to do so as the season progresses. Ted's legacy will be based on what he didn't do with great QB play for all of these years. ALmost no creativity in roster building whatsoever. Quite honestly there are probably 50+ personnel guys in the league that could come in and sit back and draft at their assigned draft spot every pick, every year and with the same QBs at their disposal would be no worse off than the Packers have been for a decade.

Its like the basketball and baseball stat regarding ability over an average replacement. I feel TT is just that, average.

0 points
0
0
RVAborn's picture

February 20, 2016 at 03:52 am

I actually completely agree with you. I'm not an advocate for Forte either, but we will watch as the Patriots pick him up, along with a few other pieces to get to a 6th consecutive Afc championship game. GB will stay the course, while supplementing draft picks that don't work out with undrafted rookies.

0 points
0
0
TommyG's picture

February 19, 2016 at 09:06 pm

Realistic? No, probably not. I do feel that TT should contact his people and see if there is interest playing a bit further north, but there are going to be other more lucrative offers out there. Most of you all already said it: NE is going to sign Forte. With Laurinaitis hitting the market just a few hours ago I think that he is whom TT should pursue. The bear who might be a bit more reachable (and more of a game changer for the Pack) is Bennett. That is of course assuming he is not also sucked up by Denver, Seattle, or NE as well.

0 points
0
0
RVAborn's picture

February 20, 2016 at 03:42 am

It's plausible TT could contemplate signing laurinitis since he was RELEASED and will not lose compicks. Jared Cook was also RELEASED. That term released at least gives me a glimmer of hope haha. Most likely we'll get our standard dose of UD free agents.

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

February 20, 2016 at 09:51 am

Jared Cook...the perennial tease.

I don't really have a problem with Laurinaitis...a nice suggesgion. He could play inside or outside with the Packers and that kind of flexibility seems to play well with TT and MM. He's not fast but, on the inside, instincts win out over speed.

0 points
0
0
Mags's picture

February 19, 2016 at 09:36 pm

The only free agents Teddy will sign is of the undrafted kind.

0 points
0
0
RVAborn's picture

February 20, 2016 at 03:34 am

No chance this happens. Sure Forte would be a nice addition, but we have much bigger issues at hand- tight end and ILB ring a bell. While Forte's skill set would assimilate nicely into the GB offense, he'll likely be too expensive. I just really don't want to see him go to the patriots while Thompson continues his affinity for being the youngest team each year (I.e. Draft only).

0 points
0
0
sheppercheeser's picture

February 20, 2016 at 06:07 am

I don't see Forte even considering GB- it would be considered disloyal to Chicago. When Peppers signed with the Packers, I wasn't surprised, since he had no long term ties to Chicago, but I don't think Matt would sign with anyone in the NFC North.

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

February 20, 2016 at 09:52 am

Why should he be loyal to Chicago? He's earned what the CBA gives him: an opportunity to go out and seek his fortunes with whatever team wants him. It's all a matter of what he wants...$$$?...a shot at a title?...to be close to his roots?

0 points
0
0
LeagueObsrvr's picture

February 20, 2016 at 09:54 am

I disagree. It may have been that way in the past, but not today. Players nowadays want to win championships and get paid. (see: Brett Favre) The Packers have a league-wide reputation for being a top notch organization that treats it's players well. This team is only a couple of key pieces away from winning another title (and possibly more). And the responsibility for this falls on Ted Thompsons' shoulders. He needs to stop dipping his toe in the water and just jump in.

0 points
0
0