Starting today, teams can begin talks with UFA’s that they wish to pursue, on Wednesday at 4:00 pm EST, NFL contracts expire and the free agent frenzy begins. Word on the street is that the Bears are going to go hard after Malik Jackson, word on the street is that former Bear Julius Peppers is recruiting one of Chicago’s UFA’s for the Packers. Here are 3 reasons that this recruitment might bear fruit.
Reason #1: The current RB situation
With James Starks a free agent, the Packers could pull a rare stunt – upgrade the offense with an older running back. This is rare because NFL football is a young man’s game and the running back position is one of the most short-lived. Matt Forte is an exception. Forte has remained the Bears most potent offensive weapon even after 8 years in the NFL. Forte is multi-dimensional, would push Eddie Lacy to make himself into a consummate pro, and would instantly upgrade the Packers’ 3rd-and-long conversion rate.
Last season, Eddie Lacy was overweight and James Starks was spotty. The Packers’ best seasons are those in which the running game performs admirably and consistently. Matt Forte is the model of consistency and the way the Packers coaching staff manages veteran players’ bodies would be perfect to give Matt Forte a renaissance in Green Bay, just like his former teammate Julius Peppers.
Reason #2: Matt Forte’s situation
Matt Forte has made money. He may be able to find a team that is desperate enough to pay him a top-tier contract. But while he is an upgrade to many teams’ backfield…if he takes the money and goes to a lesser team, he puts his body on the line as he will be with a team that will rely on him to make things happen. Forte can take the money and play with a mediocre quarterback behind a line that could get him carried off the field on a stretcher, or he could come to the Packers, where he would not be the every down back. This is the perfect situation for an older running back to have a long and storied career.
Forte has made it clear that he wants to go to a contender, the Packers are a contender. A contender like the Packers would be the perfect fit and Forte wouldn’t even have to put his house up for sale. He goes to a know commodity, a perennial contender for Super Bowl, and gets the benefit of a beloved former teammate to share the joy of winning with in Julius Peppers. Packers should be hot after that kind of motivation.
Reason #3: The Greatest players play for the love of the game
Pro football is so often about the money. When I think about Deion Sanders, I think about a great player who played for self and money. I’m not going to try to parse out players’ motivation for playing football per se, but watching Deion at the Combine this year was yet again, more about Deion than about the young players who were working their butts off to make their dreams come true. On the other hand, the greatest players often choose contention for a championship over the money…or at times choose the team’s contention over self. Guys like Tom Brady (no, I am not a fan) restructure deals to relieve cap space so their team can pick up a free agent need. Of course, those guys still get their money but in Brady’s case, the removal of the skill guarantee means that if he plays poorly and has to be benched, he doesn’t get his money. This means two things 1. That the player is willing to expose himself to make money available to the team and 2. That he is willing to stand on his performance and essentially say “If I don’t play well, I don’t deserve that money”.
Another example of this, of course, is Randall Cobb who could have made more money going elsewhere and decided to stay with the Packers. Then you have Mike Daniels who told his agent to get a deal done with the Packers so that he did not even hit the market. And when Mike Daniels talks…people listen. There are numerous examples of players doing such deals, and while they all still make a lot of money, there is a championship spirit within them that sees the bigger picture, the true reason we play this game…and the true reason we love this game – the chance to be a champion.
Matt Forte is that kind of player. Compare him to Julius Peppers when he was with the Bears. Peppers never complained, just played football and worked hard on a team that would yield him no Super Bowls. They got close once, but it was the Green Bay Packers who sent them home. Matt Forte has quietly been the best offensive player the Bears have had even though Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall got all the hype. Cutler, while good at times, has been horrible at times. The only time Forte hasn’t been productive is when he was not on the field. Marshall left town and Forte has a chance to come to a contender. Now is the time for Matt Forte to find his way to the Big Dance. He can do it with the Green Bay Packers.
So as the free agency period begins, here’s to Ted Thompson going hard after a player and getting them signed. I know, TT’s M.O. is to hold off until the second tier free agents but I do believe it may be different this year. There has been a lot of talk about how the Packers are going to make a splash this year. Previously it has always been about how everyone hoped or thought the team needed to make a splash in free agency. I think the buzz may be true this time. Thompson won’t overpay, we know that. But with the ability to let Starks walk…Matt Forte could be a very real option. Thompson certainly doesn’t regret the last thorn-in-the-flesh that he poached from the Bears’ “unwanteds”…Julius Peppers…yeah he has done just fine.