Just before the free agency period started for the NFL in March of 2014, I wrote that Julius Peppers might be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers. Sure enough, just a few days later, the Packers did indeed sign Peppers to a three-year deal.
With one year left to go on his contract, the marriage so far has been a good one between Peppers and the Packers. In two years in Green Bay, Peppers has had 17.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and picked off two passes, both of which were returned for touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy who just turned 36 in January.
In terms of what the Packers will do in free agency in 2016, I evaluated the free agency situation with the Packers in a recent story I wrote.
Since I wrote that story, the NFL Players Association announced this past Monday that the salary cap will be set at a record $155.27 million. Plus, as expected, the Packers re-signed kicker Mason Crosby to a four-year deal worth $16.1 million. No. 2 will make $6.15 million in 2016 alone, which is a combination of bonuses ($5.25 million) and salary ($900,000).
The cap hit for Crosby is $2.4 million. Between the new salary cap number and the signing of Crosby, the Packers are believed to still be $19.1 million over the cap.
Ever since the alliance of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy took place in 2006, the Packers have been predominantly a draft and develop team. That method has been largely successful, as the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in the regular season in 10 years.
In that time, Green Bay has also won five NFC North titles, plus have gone to the postseason eight times, which includes seven consecutive years now. That also includes a victory in Super Bowl XLV, as well as three appearances in the NFC Championship Game.
With Thompson as the captain of the front office of the Packers over that time, the team has tried to sign as many players on their own roster before free agency begins, and only rarely will they try to get free agents who have played with other NFL teams.
When it comes to using free agency, Thompson prefers to sign “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents. Examples are Tim Masthay, Sam Shields, Don Barclay, Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.
But when Thompson has tried the “pure” free agency route, he has hit gold. Examples are Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006, plus with the signing of Peppers in 2014.
Which takes me a player who I believe the Packers should be looking at signing in free agency when it starts on March 9. I’m talking about running back Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears.
The Bears have already informed Forte that they will not be re-signing him.
So, why would the Packers be interested in signing the former Tulane star? A number of reasons.
For one, Forte has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL over his entire career. In eight-year career, Forte has rushed for 8,602 yards and 45 touchdowns, plus has a whopping 487 receptions for 4,116 yards and 19 more scores.
Yes, I know Forte is now 30. But in 2015, No. 22 still put up better numbers than any running back on the Packers, as he rushed for 898 yards and four touchdowns, plus had 44 catches for 389 yards and three more scores.
When it came to the running back position for the Packers in 2015, inconsistent would be one word which could describe the production of the position.
For one thing, Eddie Lacy had an off year, at least compared to his first two years in the NFL. No. 27 rushed for just 758 yards and three touchdowns, plus caught just 20 passes for 188 scores and two more scores.
Lacy was hampered by the fact that he was definitely overweight in 2015 and was most likely north of 260 pounds. The Packers told Lacy that he needs to lose thirty pounds going into training camp this upcoming summer.
It appears that Lacy is heeding that warning and getting into great shape, at least based on this recent story from stack.com.
There is also the free agency status of James Starks, who like Forte, will be a unrestricted free agent in less than a week. No. 44 played well at times for the Packers in 2015, as he rushed for 602 yards and had two scores, plus had 43 receptions for 392 yards and three more touchdowns. But Starks also coughed up the ball five times on fumbles and lost three of them.
That is why I believe Forte may be a wild card in free agency this year with the Packers. If the Packers did sign Forte, Starks would certainly be the odd man out. But just think about the one-two combination of a leaner Lacy and Forte for a couple of years.
Landry definitely believes that Forte still has something in the tank.
“In terms of Matt Forte, I do think he’s got a little left,” Landry said. “I think he’s to me a tier-two free agent. I think he catches the ball out of the backfield and I do think he’s got some really good value.
“I like his toughness and instinctiveness. I like him on a short-term deal. I do like him.”
When the Packers signed Peppers, Forte’s former Chicago teammate two years ago, No. 56 was 34 years old. As we all know, the Packers gave Peppers a three-year contract and so far the deal has paid real dividends.
I could see the Packers offering a similar deal to Forte, as he wouldn’t have to be the main guy anymore like he was in Chicago. Forte would get plenty of rest as Lacy would be the primary back.
It’s also important to know that Lacy is slated to be a free agent in 2017, which may one reason the former Alabama star is working hard to get in better shape for the 2016 season.
The Packers obviously know Forte and his talents very well. The addition of Forte would improve the offense, especially on passing downs. It’s not like the Packers were bad passing the ball to Lacy and Starks over the past three years, because both were pretty effective at times, but Forte is the best in the business as a pass-catching running back.
Forte is also very good in toting the rock and the combination of he and Lacy would be a very formidable duo for defenses in the NFL to contend with.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Forte does indeed sign with the Packers. The Lacy-Forte combination could be called “Louisiana Thunder and Lightning”, as both players hail from the Bayou State.
To me, there is no doubt that the combination of Lacy and Forte would certainly would cause a big storm for opposing defenses.