With Forte in NY, Starks Likely Becomes Focus

Former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte has signed with the New York Jets, where he will be the No. 1 back. Plus, other notes from Day 1 of free agency and a video on the available salary cap space.

So much for Matt Forte joining the Green Bay Packers.

Forte, the former do-it-all star running back with the Chicago Bears, has agreed to sign with the New York Jets, according to ESPN. Forte, 30, immediately fills the void left by Chris Ivory’s decision to sign with Jacksonville. Forte will be the starter in New York. That would not have been the case in Green Bay, with Eddie Lacy the established starter and looking to bounce back from a disappointing third season. Forte had said he wanted to sign with a championship-contender. The Jets are a playoff contender in the wide-open AFC, and the Packers could not match the role that Forte will be given in New York, a source said.

With Forte off the list, that likely means the Packers will push to re-sign James Starks. A source said there’s mutual interest in that happening, though other teams have inquired about Starks. Starks, who turned 30 on Feb. 25, set career highs in rushing yards (601), receiving yards (392), total yards (993), receptions (43) and total touchdowns (five). Starks’ 993 total yards led the team.

Also of note from the opening moments of the free-agent signing period:

— The tight end position, not a strong one to begin with, was wiped out with San Diego re-signing Antonio Gates and Gates' backup, Ladarius Green, signing with Pittsburgh. Plus, veteran Benjamin Watson, who had an out-of-nowhere season with the Saints, signed with Baltimore. New Orleans then replaced him by signing Coby Fleener away from Indy. That could force the Packers to turn to the draft. With gobs of cash to burn, Jacksonville re-signed Marcedes Lewis. With the Steelers signing Green, that could allow the top prospect, Arkansas' Hunter Henry, to fall to Green Bay at No. 27.

— The best inside linebacker candidate, Denver’s Danny Trevathan, joined former coach John Fox with Chicago.

— The Packers did not give outside linebacker Andy Mulumba a restricted free-agent tender. No surprise — Mulumba was inactive for nine games last year. Their other restricted free agent, guard Lane Taylor, signed a two-year contract on Tuesday. Both of their exclusive-rights free agents, safety Chris Banjo and tight end Justin Perillo, were tendered.

Meanwhile, Starks seems to be the best option for Green Bay. He had his best season in the passing game, with no sacks allowed and a league-leading 11.37 yards after the catch per catch. Among running backs, Starks tied for the NFL with four receptions of 25-plus yards and was one of five with 600-plus rushing yards and 390-plus receiving yards. However, his five fumbles matched his combined total from his first five seasons in the league.

After playing in 35 of a possible 64 regular-season games during his first four seasons, Starks has played in all 32 regular-season games the past two seasons.

In 2013, Starks led the NFL with 5.5 yards per attempt. In free agency the following offseason, Starks returned with a two-year deal worth $3.25 million.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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