UPDATE: On Tuesday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Packers are indeed expressing interest in Matt Forte. Stay tuned for more details as we learn about them.
The Green Bay Packers are notoriously frugal in free agency under general manager Ted Thompson. However, a few of the eye-opening signings Thompson has made have been for players aged 30 or more coming off seasons in which their production slipped a bit - which in turn lessened the cost of signing them.
Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers come to mind as players who fit that bill. In 2006, Woodson was about to turn 30 and had played just six games in the prior season with a single interception. In 2014, Julius Peppers had just turned 34 and finished his 2013 year with the second-fewest sacks of any single season in his career.
Fitting this trend is Matt Forte, who has been connected to the Packers so often this off-season that it almost seems like it would be a surprise to see him sign elsewhere. Following the trend described above, Forte is 30 years old, and finished 2015 with the fewest rushing yards of his career and the second-fewest receiving yards.
One of the latest rumors connecting Forte to Green Bay is his former teammate and current Packer, Julius Peppers. Here is a comment from ESPN's Rob Demovsky in an article posted Sunday night:
Word is that another ex-Bear-turned-Packer Julius Peppers has been trying to recruit Forte to Green Bay. It sounds like Forte wants to go to a contender, so perhaps the Packers could get him at an affordable price.
It makes sense that Peppers would try to lure Forte, especially if the two are close off the field. Both are on the downslope of their careers and are looking for Super Bowl rings, while the Packers are as strong a contender year in and year out as there is in the NFL. Forte could come in and play a complementary role to a (hopefully) slimmed-down Eddie Lacy, lessening his workload and injury risk. It all makes sense, as long as the dollars do too.
So what about those dollars? Let's take a closer look at some of the projections and predictions for Forte's value.
On the high side is Spotrac's Market Value calculator, which predicts that Forte should be expecting a three-year contract in the range of $7.4 million per year. That would most certainly price the Packers out of the market for his services. With around $19 million in cap space, it is a virtual certainty that Thompson would not be willing to sacrifice a third of his remaining space on a 30-year old running back.
The problem with that calculation is that it relies on comparisons to recent running back contracts, some of which are poor comparisons for Forte. First up is the five-year, $40 million deal that DeMarco Murray received from the Eagles last year. The problem there is that Murray was 27 when he signed his deal and he had 1,104 total touches at that time; Forte has over 2,500 touches in his NFL career. The other contract is Adrian Peterson's three-year, $42 million deal, which was also signed last offseason. Peterson is a unique case, and he should arguably not be used in comparison to any other running back.
The other comparisons are Frank Gore and DeAngelo Williams, who averaged $4 million and $2 million apiece on the deals they signed at age 31. Those seem much more reasonable comparisons.
With those in mind, it seems plausible that Forte might earn less than half of the $7.4 million annual value projected by Spotrac, and recent reports confirm this. After Jeremy Fowler of ESPN predicted a maximum contract value of around $4 million per year, the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs is reporting an even lower ceiling for Forte. Biggs wrote last week that a source he spoke to at the Scouting Combine thinks Forte will "be hard pressed to get more than $3 million per season." At that dollar value, Forte could actually make sense for the Packers - he would not significantly hamstring the salary cap and could provide some valuable insurance and snaps behind Lacy.
While one Acme Packing Company writer recently advocated the signing of Joique Bell over Matt Forte due to a much lower expected contract value, the lower expectations for Forte's asking price may change that assessment. A $3 million per year price tag seems very affordable for the Packers, and if playing with an old friend like Peppers is an added bonus for Forte, then so much the better.