Aaron Rodgers has never had anything like Matt Forte. While surrounded by a plethora of talent at the receiver position for the majority of his starting career, running back has never seemed to be a focal point of a Rodgers led offense, nor should it.
After all, it is perhaps the NFL’s most expendable position, populated by sculpted bodies designed to take the most rigorous punishment that the world’s most violent game has to offer, only to quickly break down more often than not before they reach 30-years old.
Forte, the soon-to-be former Bears running back, has already seen his thirtieth birthday. He has had his share of MCL and ankle sprains, hamstring pulls, toe injuries, and all of the other lower body ailments that come along with your legs being your primary tool and enduring punishment your craft.
So there was certainly some degree of surprise when the Packers began to be mentioned as a potential landing spot for him when he officially becomes a free agent at the start of the new league year on Mar. 9.
Ted Thompson, with few exceptions, has proven to be hesitant to build his roster through free agency. He has also proven to be cold when it comes to employing players with somewhat of a significant injury risk.
But with the current structure of the Packers backfield, it would make a great degree of sense to bring in a proven veteran to share time with Eddie Lacy – who now has to prove he can be in good enough physical shape to be effective – and likely supplant impending free agent James Starks as the spell back should Lacy actually remain the starter.
For Forte, he’d get the opportunity to compete for an all too fleeting championship that he only sniffed once in 2010, when the Bears lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Regardless of what the market dictates for him, Thompson would certainly have room under the salary cap. The Packers have around $20 million to spend on their 2016 roster after already having signed Mike Daniels to a lucrative extension during the season.
Of all of the reasons it would make sense though, the unique skill set of Forte is probably the greatest one.
In a time where most dominant quarterbacks, save for Carson Palmer, have been shying away from the deep pass, short timing passes are the name of the game. Tom Brady’s effectiveness remains at a high level regardless of the Patriots wide receivers not only because of tight end Rob Gronkowski, but because of weapons like Dion Lewis.
While on paper, the Packers receivers look like a talented bunch, Jordy Nelson is coming off of an ACL injury that kept him out for the entirety of 2015 and Randall Cobb had a disappointing season with a career low in yards per catch and only 79 catches for 829 yards despite a career-high 129 targets.
The third option in the passing game is undoubtedly unproven, and to this point, still up for grabs. There is no dynamic receiving back, and no tight end to stretch the field like the Patriots have in Gronkowski. When it comes to creating mismatches against linebackers and safeties, the Packers as currently constructed have to hope Cobb can get back to being a Pro Bowl caliber slot receiver once Nelson returns.
The Packers have flirted with a “receiving back” quite a bit in the last two years. In the second half of 2014, Lacy saw 31 targets and emerged into the third option in the passing game behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. He saw 28 targets in all of 2015, while battling weight issues.
In arguably the most creative offensive game plan head coach Mike McCarthy ever put together, the 2014 Packers amassed 478 yards of offense by putting Cobb in the backfield and creating matchup problems against a Patriots defense led by Darrelle Revis, a far less diminished Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty, one of the league’s best safeties.
But what if the Packers didn’t have to sacrifice having Cobb at receiver to be able to have that type of production from a back? What if they were able to create those types of matchup problems without changing personnel groups at all, and still putting stress on the middle of the defense with Cobb and the boundary with Nelson?
Forte can give them that. There are other backs that can too, of course but Thompson has often opted to pass on them as well. Lacy was the most significant investment Thompson has ever made in a running back. Again, an expendable position. But his style wasn’t necessarily thought to be conducive to a passing offense.
It’s not that a receiving back is a weakness for the Packers. The hole at tight end is much more glaring.
But having a Forte-type would be a luxury for Rodgers. One that he has never had and one that would make game planning for an offense accused of being predictable as it sputtered in 2015 far more difficult.