The Ravens announced last week that Justin Forsett is still in their plans for 2016. Despite Forsett being old by running back standards and suffering a season-ending broken arm, it sounds like the Ravens have every intention of bringing him back in 2016.
“I would expect Justin back next year full-speed, ready to go,” said John Harbaugh according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN. “He’s under contract and a big part of what we’re doing going forward.”
While there is no doubt that Harbaugh meant every word of what he said, things can change quickly in the NFL. Players emerge overnight and often fade even faster. If Monday night was any indication the Ravens may see the emergence of a pretty good running back in Javorius Allen over the final five games of the season. If they do it’s fair to wonder if Forsett may become expendable.
When Ozzie Newsome signed Forsett to a three-year extension this past offseason the deal came with very little risk to the Ravens. While the deal was for three years it gave the Ravens an easy out following the first year of the contract. Forsett’s cap number jumps from $1.6M in 2015 to $3.7M in 2016, and the Ravens could save $2.3 million dollars (once dead money is factored in) against the cap by releasing him following this season. Looking at the big picture for the Ravens it unfortunately for Forsett might make the most sense for the team.
Other than Forsett, the Ravens will likely have three young backs on their roster next year in Buck Allen, Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro. All three are mid-round picks that have at times shown potential and the ability to be three-down backs if needed. Both Allen and West were impressive against the Browns. Some will argue that the Browns have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, and that’s true. Keep in mind however that Allen and West were finding holes behind three backup offensive linemen against Cleveland. Allen was impressive as both a runner and a pass catcher. He showed the ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact, most notably on his first career touchdown. West was impressive as well when providing relief as a change-of-pace back. He ran hard and if the Ravens can keep him focused he may be worth a roster spot in 2016. Throw Taliaferro into the mix and the backfield situation becomes a very crowded one.
The Ravens will have a lot of pressing needs going into 2016, and at the moment running back appears to be one of the deepest position groups on the team. It’s hard to imagine the Ravens paying Forsett $3 million dollars with a lot of cheaper alternatives on the roster. This could prove to be a prime example of the Ravens’ 80/20 mantra. Chances are the Ravens can get 80 percent of the production Forsett would have provided for 20 percent of the price with Allen, Taliaferro and West all still playing under their rookie contracts. The Ravens will have a lot of needs if they want to get back to the playoffs in 2016 and the $2.3 million they save if they move on from Forsett could prove to be valuable cash they will need to spend elsewhere.
Granted, it was only one game and both Allen and West will have to prove they can provide consistent production against much stiffer competition than the Browns. But if they can provide a steady presence over the next five weeks it’s fair to wonder if Justin Forsett may have played his last down as a Raven.