After numerous flings in his seven-year NFL career, Justin Forsett is finally out of the “friend zone.”
The Pro Bowl running back agreed to a three-year deal worth a reported $9 million with the Ravens on Thursday, which ensures a continuation of the best story of the 2014 season. After signing a one-year, $730,000 deal with Baltimore last April, Forsett rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the league’s eighth-ranked rushing offense.
The 2008 seventh-round pick from Cal had repeatedly expressed a desire to remain with the Ravens after he took over the starting job from the disgraced Ray Rice, who saw his contract terminated the day after the 2014 season opener. Displaying good patience and vision, Forsett led all NFL running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average and 17 runs of 20 or more yards, which also set the single-season franchise record.
“I’m as hungry as ever at this point,” Forsett said. “Throughout my whole career, people have been telling me what I can’t do, even from Pop Warner to high school to college and now in the pros, even in free agency. Throughout my whole career they have been saying, ‘OK, you’re too short, you’re too slow, you’re too small.’ Now, throughout free agency I would hear, ‘He’s a little too old.’ There’s always something.
“I’m hungry to go out and show that I’m only going to get better with time.”
Those numbers earned the longtime NFL journeyman his first career trip to the Pro Bowl after previous stops in Seattle (twice), Indianapolis, Houston, and Jacksonville.
General manager Ozzie Newsome cited a lack of “wear and tear” and a reputation for mentoring a number of young running backs at the “State of the Ravens” press conference last month as reasons why the organization would try to re-sign Forsett. The move comes after a disappointing start to free agency for the Ravens with wide receiver Torrey Smith, tight end Owen Daniels, and linebacker Pernell McPhee signing elsewhere and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being traded to Detroit.
Forsett acknowledged there were times during the process when he was uncertain whether a return to the Ravens was in the fold, but the veteran back ultimately wound up where he was “most comfortable” and said the decision was a “pretty easy call” in the end.
“He fits well into what we do on offense, and he handles all parts of the job effectively, including blocking and receiving,” Newsome said in a statement. “Justin is a tremendous leader by example and willing to step up as both a leader and mentor. He is truly a success story, and we’re happy he’ll continue that with us. He earned his new contract.”
His contract is also much more affordable than the five-year, $42 million deal with $21 million guaranteed that Philadelphia awarded former Dallas running back DeMarco Murray on Thursday. Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry last year to Forsett’s 5.4 yards per carry clip for Baltimore.
Forsett’s re-signing doesn’t prohibit the Ravens from exploring young running backs in this year’s draft, but they now know they can count on the veteran to lead a group that includes 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, veteran Bernard Pierce, and former practice-squad member Fitz Toussaint.
Nearly a year to the day that he was released by Jacksonville and pondered whether his career might be over, Forsett has finally found the stability and commitment from the Ravens that he’s long been searching for throughout his career. With a key piece now in place, Newsome can turn to building the rest of a roster that’s sustained a number of key losses this week.
“I just think back on where I was this point last year. It’s just a blessing,” Forsett said. “I thank God every day for this opportunity to come out and do what I love to do, then be able to find a home, be able to play somewhere where they want me, appreciate me, and [I am] just excited.”