The Baltimore Ravens re-sign their leading rusher from last year, running back Justin Forsett, to a three-year, $9 million contract. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Video)
Exactly a year and a day after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars and left to contemplate the potential end of his career, running back Justin Forsett drove to the Ravens' facility on Thursday and put his name on a contract that gave him more stability than he's ever had in the NFL.
"I just think back at where I was at this point last year. It's just a blessing, man," said Forsett, who signed a three-year deal that averages about $3 million per season, according to NFL sources. "To be able to find a home, to be able to play somewhere where they want me, appreciate me, I'm just excited.
"You just think about all the stuff — all the adversity, traveling from city to city, playing, not being able to have that stability. Then, to this moment, almost eight years down the road, where there was a lot of doubt along the way, a lot of bumps in the road, and we're here. I'm just thankful."
After losing several key players, including two offensive starters, in the first couple of days of free agency, the Ravens made sure to re-sign Forsett, 29, who emerged from the scrap heap last offseason to become the NFL's fifth-leading rusher, a Pro Bowl selection and one of the league's feel-good stories.
Forsett's return stopped a string of free-agent departures, with former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, tight end Owen Daniels, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor all having signed elsewhere. The Ravens also traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions on Tuesday to open up salary cap space.
"He fits well into what we do on offense, and he handles all parts of the job effectively, including blocking and receiving," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said of Forsett. "I mentioned this a few weeks ago when we met with the media: 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."
Newsome said Forsett provided "unprecedented production" after the team signed him last offseason to a one-year, $730,000 deal. At the time, the Ravens were looking for veteran insurance, knowing that starter Ray Rice likely would be suspended for his role in a domestic-violence incident. Forsett, who had been with four different organizations over six seasons, was just hoping to find a team that would give him a chance.
While Rice ultimately was released, Forsett established himself as the team's primary back, rushing for a career-high 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. The Ravens finished eighth in the league in rushing a season after finishing 30th. Forsett led all NFL backs in yards per carry (5.39) and rushes of 20-plus yards (17).
"I'm as hungry as ever at this point," he said. "Throughout my whole career, people have been telling me what I can't do, from Pop Warner to high school to college and now in the pros. Throughout my whole career, people have been saying, 'OK, you're too short, you're too slow, you're too small.' Throughout free agency, I would hear, 'He's a little too old.' There's always something, and I'm hungry to go out and show that I'm only going to get better with time."
Forsett said all along that he wanted to remain with the Ravens, but there were moments in the first couple of days of free agency where he doubted he would be back. Several teams, including the New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, expressed interest, but the running back said some opportunities "fell through last minute." Ultimately, Forsett got what he wanted.
"It's a place … that I felt most comfortable with," he said. "Of course, I know the offense. The city embraced me and my family. … I knew the coaches, they wanted me back. I was pretty confident that everything was going to work out."
The well-traveled Forsett said last season that his goal was to escape the "friend zone" and get a longer commitment from a team.
Asked whether Thursday's deal accomplished that, Forsett said: "Yeah, man. They put a ring on it. I'm just excited about the commitment, having a place for my family to be for a while. It's just time to go to work now."