Ravens running back Justin Forsett talks about being a free agent and the business side of football. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The so-called Gary Kubiak effect means running back Justin Forsett, fresh off a 1,266-yard season and 5.4 yards per carry for the Ravens, has vaulted up the free-agent running back rankings as he looks for his first big-money contract.
A potential reunion with Kubiak, who coached him in both Houston and Baltimore, is being mooted around the media, but Kubiak has found production at a bargain before and may seek to do it again now thate he's the head coach of the Broncos. For all the talk of Kubiak's zone scheme churning out 1,000-yard rushers, there is no precedent for someone Forsett's age, or really anyone else, staying in or returning to that system when Kubiak's team has another, cheaper option.
With the Ravens staying in the zone-running system that worked so well in 2014 under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, Forsett could prove most valuable to the Ravens when free agency opens.
Forsett was the eighth running back to rush for 1,000 yards or more under Kubiak (when Kubiak was as either an offensive coordinator in Denver and Baltimore or the head coach of the Houston Texans). Only one had any sort of draft pedigree, and more than a few came from relative obscurity like Forsett. Forsett himself had knowledge of the system, but he was brought to the Ravens in 2014 as a league-minimum free agent.
The most famous example was sixth-round pick Terrell Davis, who ran for over 1,000 yards in 1995, 1996, and 1997 before a 2,000-yard season in 1998. Injuries limited him to 17 games the next three seasons, though he ran for 701 yards in eight games in 2001, his final season.
His successors also only found running lanes in Denver. Olandis Gary, who benefited from Davis' injury in 1999 when he ran for 1,159 yards in 12 games after Davis' injury in Week 4, tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2000 season and ran for 759 yards on 207 carries over the next three seasons with the Broncos and Lions.
Mike Anderson benefited from Gary's injury in 2000, gaining 1,487 yards in 16 games (five yards per carry), and then serving as a backup running back/fullback until 2005, when he was again the starter and ran for 1,014 yards in 15 games. Anderson signed with the Ravens in 2006 at age 33, and carried the ball 54 times for 245 yards in 24 games in Baltimore.
The most success elsewhere came from a player that didn't fit the Shanahan-Kubiak mold — second-round pick Clinton Portis. The University of Miami star ran for over 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons in Denver before a trade to Washington, where he posted four more 1,000-yard seasons in the next five years.
Portis, however, had the highest pedigree of any back that excelled in the system. He ran for 1,200 yards in 11 games for the national champion Hurricanes, who featured four NFL runners in their backfield.
After Portis, Reuben Droughns emerged from a reserve role to run for 1,240 yards under Kubiak. He parlayed his free agent success into a contract with the Cleveland Browns, where he ran for 1,232 yards in 2005 and 758 more in 2006. So that's at least a comparable example for Forsett, though Droughns was a free agent entering his age-27 season.
Once Kubiak went to Houston, Steve Slaton emerged as his first 1,000-yard rusher as a third-round pick out of West Virginia, when he went from 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns in 2008. But fumbles and injuries limited him the following season, and he struggled in two more seasons in Houston and Miami.
That's when Arian Foster, an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, emerged in 2010 to run for 1,616 yards, the first of four 1,000 yard seasons in five years.
To this point, Foster is in the midst of the longest run of any product of the system. That's mainly because he hasn't been seriously injured and replaced by another worthy cog, though rookie Alfred Blue was an able deputy in 2014.
All of which is a long way of saying that, with C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, and Montee Ball all in the mix, Kubiak might not want to bring in a veteran like Forsett at anything above the league minimum, which Forsett doesn't want.
If teams on the outside view products of that system as fungible, they might not be willing to shell it out either. Forsett, who joked that he wants a stable relationship instead of the "friend zone" he's been in, might get it with the Ravens.