Forte Perhaps Not a Long Shot for Packers If the Price is Right

Matt Forte wants to play for a contender and ex-teammate Julius Peppers has been reportedly attempting to lure Forte to the Green Bay Packers. By now, you’ve probably heard all about this. And while most have disregarded the information, citing Ted Thompson’s aversion to free agency, the deal might not be as unlikely as some fans think.

Would the Packers even want Matt Forte? While Forte is 30 years old and he certainly appears to be in the waning years of his career, I suspect that the answer is yes. If there was one aging running back that the Packers might possibly want to add to the roster, it might be Forte, given his unique skill set. First and foremost, Forte is a receiving back the likes of which Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have never had at their disposal. The Packers used the halfback screen to their advantage in 2015, especially with James Starks. Forte would allow them to develop that aspect of the offense even more.

While the Packers typically like to remain one of the youngest teams in the league, it’s apparent from some of the things that McCarthy has said this offseason that the Packers recognize the value in adding a few key pieces to a team seemingly on the precipice of returning to the Super Bowl.

On top of that, Forte is a veteran guy that doesn’t put the ball on the ground. He would provide a nice complement to Eddie Lacy and would have the star power to keep Lacy motivated to safeguard his starting role. And while Starks definitely has less wear on his tires, Forte is a more athletic, slightly faster back with almost exactly the same body type as Starks (6’2, 218). Both backs are free agents. Both backs are 30 years old.

The Packers will undoubtedly need to sign someone to play behind Lacy. Given Lacy’s struggles in 2015, there is more pressure to resign Starks or bring in a veteran talent to fill that role. Had Lacy been lights out in 2015, the Packers may have been more comfortable riding John Crockett and adding an additional running back from the draft. That would be a fairly risky move at this point, however.

The chances of the Packers giving Forte serious consideration will probably come down to money. In terms of driving down Forte’s asking price, the Packers have a lot of other intangibles to offer. The rumors swirling around Forte state that he’s interested in playing for a contender. The Packers are certainly that. He’d get the chance to face off against his old team at least twice. He’d be reunited with Julius Peppers, and he’d have the chance to play with an MVP QB who has terrorized his team since he entered the league.

The Packers paid James Starks $1.8 million against the cap in 2015 and $1.3 million against the cap in 2014 on his most recent, two-year deal. While Forte is older than Starks was when signing that deal, I think that the Packers could see value in signing Forte to a similar or slightly more expensive deal. Something in the ball park of $2 – 2.5 million would be a fairly modest price tag for a guy like Matt Forte.

Last year, 31 year old DeAngelo Williams signed for $2 million a year and 30 year old Reggie Bush signed for $2.5 million a year, so something in the $2 – 2.5 million dollar range seems at least possible.

With that being said, 31 year old Frank Gore also signed for $4 million a year in 2015. Forte is probably closer to the Gore tier than the Williams and Bush tier of NFL talent.

2015 was a down year for Forte, but he was paid $9.2 million against the Bears’ salary cap. There’s probably a relatively wide range of possible offers for Forte’s services in 2016. The jump from $9.2 million to $2 or $2.5 million might be too much for Forte. (Evan “Tex” Western also wrote a little bit on possible price tags for Forte, based upon what happened in free agency last year, in a great article here.)

I don’t think that the Packers will pay Forte significantly more than they have paid Starks the past two years. And, frankly, that seems like a smart move. Forte is a serious talent, but he’s not worth upwards of $4 or 5 million at 30 years old, playing in what is hopefully only a supporting role. There is little doubt that Forte could probably catch a Frank Gore type deal from some team out there if he so chooses.

But if Forte can be convinced by Peppers or Rodgers or whomever to take a more modest pay check, it may not be as crazy to see him donning the Green and Gold as some might assume. Even at veteran minimum (and I suspect that he would receive a bit more than veteran minimum), the Packers would be looking at signing James Starks back for almost $900,000 in 2016. A $1-1.5 million increase to upgrade from Starks to Forte seems like a prudent deal. It may not be likely, but crazier things have happened.

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Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.

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