But trying to figure out where Forte, or any notable offensive free agent for that matter, will go is about as easy as trying to make a shot on a mini hoop while sitting on a kayak in choppy waters; there's a lot of moving parts.
For any player to connect with a team that team must not only have a need for his position, but also have the necessary salary cap space. Sounds pretty simple in concept but extremely tricky in practice.
I set out to analyze every single team's cap situation in order to give you a realistic look at the chances your favorite team has of signing a marquee offensive free agent. Huge task, and as a result Baby Koh's diaper hasn't been changed since the Reagan Administration. C'est la vie. That's life kid.
We'll start by looking at your top free agent running backs in a very rough-ish order of how I rank them with their age and official status. (UFA = unrestricted free agent, RFA = restricted free agent)
Of the rest, there are not that many sexy names. Marvin Jones is probably the one guy I get the most excited about. If given the opportunity in the right system and with the right quarterback he could pop off 1,200 yards and seven or eight scores. Again, nothing too, too sexy. But here's the list for those of you so inclined.
I'll pound out all 32 teams in a second but if you want the Cliff's Notes version (do they still make those? Whatever, if they don't, Google it) here you go:
» If anyone is going to make a big-time run at a free agent running back it will either be Tennessee or Houston. Both have a healthy amount of cap space and nothing terribly exciting on their respective rosters at running back. I can easily see Lamar Miller ending up in either of those locales.
Ok, if you haven't left yet, remember we're talking about the NFL salary cap here and cap math is funnier than Common Core. The numbers will change DRAMATICALLY once players are cut or retire (cough, PeytonManning, cough).
All the data is current as of February 29 and courtesy of the fine folks at Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com who do a tremendous job of compiling salary information. The figures are estimates. Very, very, very good estimates but estimates nonetheless.
So you'll see the team, their estimated cap figure and I've listed some notable offensive skill-position guys that paint a rough picture of what a team may or may not need on offense.
Finally, we're talking offense obviously, but you can't consider cap figures without at least mentioning defensive players that are also due to eat a bunch of cap space (thus impacting the potential signings of offensive players). So here you go:
Jacksonville Jaguars - $82-83 million
Analysis: The Jags have a huge amount of cap space and only have Andre Branch and possibly Ryan Davis (7.5 sacks in 2014) to worry about re-signing for any kind of significant money. That being said this team needs to shore up their offensive line in a big way and because their core nucleus is so young, I don't expect them to make any splashy free agent signings on offense.
Oakland Raiders - $60-65 million
Analysis: Most of the Raiders' money will be spent shoring up their offensive line and their defense, which was one of the 10 worst in terms of yards and points allowed. Again, as we saw with Jacksonville, teams normally only have this kind of cap space when their offensive core is so young and operating on rookie contracts (read: Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray).
Chicago Bears - $46 million
Analysis: A big chunk of the Bears' cap was eaten up by franchise tagging Alshon Jeffery for more than $14.5 million. Martellus Bennett enters a contract year as well so it will be interesting to see if the team commits to him long term, or re-signs Zach Miller, who is a free agent. Regardless, the team will have Kevin White opposite Jeffery next season, meaning Jay Cutler will essentially have a trio of power forwards out there catching balls.
Los Angeles Rams - $44-45 million
Analysis: Offensively the team has Gurley... and that's about it. Tavon Austin enters into a contract year, which makes him an interesting fantasy sleeper-ish guy for those of you who buy into that sort of thing.
Key defensive players like Akeem Ayers, T.J. McDonald and Michael Brockers are all entering contract years and I imagine the team will at least explore an Aaron Donald extension (a HUGE one) this year as well instead of sitting back and waiting for next year. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson was given the franchise tag, so he'll be making the move to Los Angeles with the team.
The team needs an upgrade at quarterback but that generally has to come through the draft. They also need an upgrade at wide receiver where Marvin Jones makes a lot of sense, but unless they overpay I can't see him going here with so many other clubs likely to make competitive offers. All in all, don't expect any splashy signings.
New York Giants - $57 million
Analysis: Jennings and Vereen count nearly $8 million against the salary cap next season combined and cutting them would save almost no money. So will New York invest more into this position? Probably not. The Giants will likely look to pour money into the defensive side of the ball, a defense that gave up the MOST yards in the NFL and the third most points in 2015.
Cruz is interesting because he is set to make about $10 million but cutting him would save the club about $6 million in cap space. Normally I would think he'd be cut but the team has a ton of cap space already, so I'm not sure. If they do cut Cruz, Marvin Jones opposite Odell would look incredible.
San Francisco 49ers - $62 million
Analysis: This team has needs. LOTS of them. It just happens to be that running back isn't one of them. You can expect the Niners to make a big push to get pass catchers, because when Torrey Smith is your No. 1 and your next best receivers are Jerome Simpson/Quinton Patton/Bruce Ellington ... you're in trouble.
The free agent wide receiver group is pretty weak though and quite frankly with all the drama that has surrounded the Niners and their new head coach Chip Kelly, I can't imagine the Bay seems all that desirable a free agent destination.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - $53-57 million
Analysis: It's fun to talk about Doug Martin in a [fill in the blank] jersey but given the team's cap flexibility, his age, his production and the roster, I would be extremely surprised if the Douggernaut isn't back in Tampa.
Cutting Vincent Jackson makes a TON of financial sense, possibly saving the team around $10 million in cap space, but I think the team will roll with V-Jax for one more year and see what's out there on the free agent market next year or address the position in the draft.
Tennessee Titans - $47-49 million
Analysis: It's an unbelievably underwhelming group of runners they have in the Music City. Sankey looks like a massive flop, David Cobb was battling injuries and his weight last year en route to a team low 2.8 yards per carry. Yet they make less than $2 million combined, meaning if the team wants to get crazy in pursuing a nice young running back to help take some pressure off of Marcus Mariota, they most certainly can.
Lamar Miller who is just 24 years old and hasn't had a lot of work in South Beach makes way too much sense here and I would expect the team to pursue him aggressively.
Cleveland Browns - $40-50 million
Analysis: NFL Media's Rand Getlin reported that contract negotiations with Travis Benjamin have hit a wall and that Benjamin and his 966 receiving yards will hit the open market. Dwayne Bowe and his outrageous $8 million contract for 2016 are all but gone. Brian Hartline, aka "The Hartline Bling," was signed to a much more reasonable contract but his time could be up as well since cutting him could save the team about $3 million in cap space. Josh Gordon could be reinstated but his effectiveness will be in serious question after missing an entire season of football.
Again, Marvin Jones makes a LOT of sense here. He's familiar with Hue Jackson's system and if the team nabs a nice, young QB in the draft as they are expected to, an offense featuring Jared Goff/Carson Wentz, Josh Gordon, Marvin Jones, Gary Barnidge and Duke Johnson is at the very least extremely intriguing.
Cincinnati Bengals - $39 million
Analysis: We've talked about Marvin Jones but Mohamed Sanu, 26, is also a free agent this year. Cincy will undoubtedly make a push to bring Jones back and will for sure be one of the front runners to sign his services. And the team signing a free-agent back is about as likely as Kimbo Slice and/or Dada 5000 running a marathon.
Detroit Lions - $25-$34 million
Kansas City Chiefs - $18 million
Analysis: Given Alex Smith's skill set, Mohamed Sanu actually makes a lot of sense here if they wanted to go with a free agent wideout. A bigger, possession type receiver would be good opposite Maclin. But it's MUCH more likely that the team stands pat with what they have at the skill positions and hope Jamaal Charles stays healthy.
San Diego Chargers - $35-$36 million
Analysis:Keenan Allen enters the final year of his rookie deal and the team will look to extend him. Both Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green are free agents and while it probably makes more sense to sign Green and let Gates walk ... how do you do that if you're the Chargers??? Then again this is the same team that released LaDainian Tomlinson, so ...
Houston Texans - $41-$43 million
Analysis: Maybe even more than the Titans, the Texans are the strongest candidate to throw some serious cash at running backs. The team has cap space and could/should make a serious run at Lamar Miller or Alfred Morris. Should Denver make a surprising run at Matt Forte for one last championship push, C.J. Anderson would be suddenly available and a very interesting upside player for the Texans at a reasonable cost.
Atlanta Falcons - $24-27 million
Analysis: You want to talk about bargains? Freeman and Coleman will cost the team about $1.5M COMBINED. Given Freeman's success and Coleman's lofty draft expectations, this team is set at running back. But the same is not true at wide receiver, where Julio Jones was basically asked to be a one-man wrecking crew.
Philadelphia Eagles - $16 million
Analysis: A lot of casual fans may believe that Murray could/should be cut, but the way his deal was structured makes absolutely no sense from a cap perspective for the team to part ways. Spotrac has Murray's dead money at $13 million, meaning even if the team were to cut Murray and save $7 million in real salary, it would offer no relief in terms of the cap. As a result, Darren Sproles and his $3.5 million base salary could be the casualty here. Either way, the team is most certainly not in the market for another running back and probably won't pursue wide receiver free agents either given the makeup of youthful talent they need to evaluate in Philly.
Indianapolis Colts - $24-29 million
Analysis: Gore is a machine, there's no doubt about it. Even at age 31, he was able to tote the rock 260 times (tied for the fourth-most carries in his career) for nearly 1,000 yards. That being said, he's 32 years old now and for the first time in his career had a YPC average of less than 4.0, managing just 3.7 yards per carry in 2015. The team absolutely needs to get younger here and they may do just that in the draft. But a sneaky free agent move could be to pursue Arian Foster and see if a tandem of Foster and Gore could make both more effective in 2016.
The team gave Hilton a long-term commitment and they clearly like what Moncrief and Dorsett bring to the table. Andre Johnson was a big time swing and miss and he has already been cut.
Minnesota Vikings - $23-26 million
Analysis:Mike Wallace could be a surprise cut given his enormous $11.5 million salary. There's no dead money at this point in his contract, either, increasing the chances of the team cutting him. What that means is that the Vikings could be a sneaky player this offseason with their cap space pushing $40 million.
Harrison Smith is entering a contract year and considering the level he's been playing at, don't be surprised to see an extension coming his way soon. Other than that the team doesn't have much in-house spending to do so expect them to be active in pursuing free agents everywhere except at the running back position.
Seattle Seahawks - $20 million
Analysis: Baldwin enters a contract year and given how he rampaged secondaries in the back half of 2015, it would make sense for the team to try and work out an extension this year. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent, but it's possible the team moves on so they can add some depth behind Rawls and of course re-sign their defensive veterans.
I would be shocked if Jimmy Graham is back with the team next year given his cap charge, injury and the fact that it was a clear cut square-peg-round-hole problem in Seattle last year. He wasn't a good fit and the offense saw a huge boost once Graham was gone. Cutting Graham would save the 'Hawks $9 million in 2016 with no dead money. Money they desperately need to retain their defensive stars.
From a free agent perspective, the team may make some minor moves offensively but I think they are comfortable with Rawls as a lead dog and with Baldwin and Lockett as their primary weapons at receiver.
New York Jets - $7 million
Analysis: Both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are unrestricted free agents this offseason and neither was deemed worthy of franchise-tag money. The Jets have a good coach in Todd Bowles, an offense with two plus-receivers and a scary-good defense. That's the kind of climate where running backs thrive. Who will be back there is anyone's guess, though.
The team franchised Muhammad Wilkerson and could also spend money bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick. That won't leave a ton of room to make a run at any free agent running backs, but LeGarrette Blount actually makes a LOT of sense here. A rugged runner who can help salt away leads and obviously has experience playing in the division, Blount just turned 29 this past December and won't command a large contract.
Green Bay Packers - $20-22 million
Analysis: All I want you to do is picture me chanting "Forte, Forte, Forte" to Drake and Future's "Jumpman." Forte's likely too classy to say it but you know he'd be stoked to get back at the Bears by chasing a ring with a divisional foe. Lacy enters a contract year but the way he has battled staying in shape (not withstanding round being a shape) the organization will undoubtedly have concerns committing long-term dollars to the Gouda Buddha, as some have um ... affectionately called him in Green Bay.
The Pack don't have a ton of cap space but they also don't have huge needs and have nearly all of their key pieces in place and under contract for 2016. They can legitimately make a run at Forte, offer him a chunky two-year deal and not hurt their cap figure at all moving forward.
This offense with Matt Forte? Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, them boys up to something, WHOOOOOO. Sorry that was bad, I know.
Carolina Panthers - $28-$29 million
Analysis: The Super Bowl runners-up will have some cash to throw around even after Josh Norman is tagged, but given their "depth" (read: financial committments) at the offensive skill positions I don't see the team making any major roster upgrades on offense. Surprisingly, the Panthers were statistically one of the better units in the league, sixth in both total yards and points.
Arizona Cardinals - $16 million
Michael Floyd enters a contract year as well, and I know we've been saying this for years now ... but really you guys, he appears to be the heir apparent to Fitz. And even if Larry takes a step back, the team is set at the position because they have approximately 83 good, small, fast receivers not named John Brown who all wear numbers in the 10s. Plus the Cards need to extend Tyrann Mathieu, meaning they ain't making moves on offense this offseason.
Washington Redskins - $21 million**
The team obviously needs to clear the decks after tagging Kirk Cousins and address the defensive side of the ball that was largely ineffective, giving up the fifth-most yards. The team already released Jason Hatcher, Dashon Golson, Robert Griffin III and Jeron Johnson, freeing up some much needed cap space.
Denver Broncos - $9-11 million
Analysis: The trickle-down effect of Peyton Manning's retirement on Brock Osweiler is obvious, but the impact could be felt truly in the running game with C.J. Anderson a restricted free agent and Ronnie Hillman an unrestricted free agent. With Manning gone, it frees up cap space that was eaten up after franchise tagging Von Miller. The team is geared to win now, with or without Peyton, which makes re-signing Osweiler (or acquiring a different, capable quarterback) a priority. If Matt Forte is serious about winning above all, could be a sneaky play here for the Broncos, especially since the team appears willing to risk losing Anderson after offering him a low tender.
New England Patriots - $10-15 million
Analysis: Like everyone else, I think it's fun to say, "Wouldn't it be interesting to see [insert high profile RB/WR] in a Pats uni???" But guys ... it's not going to happen. Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard and Dont'a Hightower are all entering contract years and I think the team is comfortable with what they have on the offensive side of the ball. Gronk is Gronk-ing, the combo of Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola is good enough and the team liked what they saw in Dion Lewis so much they signed him to a multi-year deal in the middle of the season.
LeGarrette Blount is a free agent but I actually wouldn't be shocked to see him back in New England. The position has been devalued by teams across the league, the draft will provide at least three or four studs at the position and Blount made less than $1 million last season. If the team can get him back for another one-year, low-cost deal, why not?
Pittsburgh Steelers - $8-11 million
Needless to say, but AFC's best offense (based on total yards) doesn't need to do much except keep everyone healthy. Lev Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant all missed time due to injury and then we saw DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown get bit by the injury monster in the postseason as well. Given their cap situation and their woeful secondary play last year (they were statistically the AFC's worst pass defense) don't look for this team to add any pieces on the offensive side of the ball.
Dallas Cowboys - $11-12 million
Analysis: There's obviously not a lot of wiggle room but the offensive line has proven to be so good that it's impossible not to think about the 'Boys signing Matt Forte, Doug Martin or Lamar Miller. And quite frankly any one of those three in a Dallas uniform would push their fantasy stock into the early second round or even into the first if we see something electric in the preseason. But again ... it's not going to happen.
Darren McFadden was more than just serviceable; he racked up more than 1,400 total yards and boasted an extremely efficient 4.6 yards per carry average. The team's limited cap space will likely be spent on defense where they have some very hard decisions to make regarding their own free agents like Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain. Running back will almost assuredly be a position fortified through the draft. If Derrick Henry is still there near the top of Round 2, Jerry Jones being the SEC guy that he is will take a long look at the mountainous Alabama back.
Miami Dolphins - $20-27 million
Regardless of what their cap number is once all the details are worked out, the big question, from both a real-life and fantasy perspective is whether Lamar Miller will be back in South Beach next year. He's just 24 years old and sports a 4.6 YPC average over his four-year career, but for whatever reason the team never gave him a very large work load. He's only had more than 200 carries once and as a result has only had one season where he's run for more than 1,000 yards, with both benchmarks coming in 2014.
If the team lets Miller go because of cost, obviously it would be extremely unlikely they add any high-priced offensive guys. The team has a nice young nucleus of pass catchers anyways, so look for them to stand pat and hope Parker develops (SLEEPER ALERT!!!).