Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Matt Forte to Miami Dolphins would make sense if Lamar Miller leaves and price is right

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, left, is expected to a free agent on March 9.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, left, is expected to a free agent on March 9. AP

People who win at chess know it isn’t just about the next move. They must think ahead. They must plan ahead.

People who win at football, at building teams, do the same.

With that in mind, the Miami Dolphins should now have running back Matt Forte suddenly and prominently on their radar.

Forte, one of the most productive NFL running backs of his time, became available Friday when he revealed on Instagram (the modern news conference, apparently) that he had been informed the Chicago Bears would not re-sign him. He will be a free agent able to sign with any team starting March 9.

This should tantalize the Dolphins because they could lose their own starting running back, Lamar Miller, in the same upcoming free agency period. I would even call that likely. The Dolphins have two frontline players hitting free agency in Miller and defensive end Olivier Vernon. They almost certainly won’t spend big to keep both ex-Canes, and I am told Vernon will be the priority.

Miller departing means Miami would be counting on unproven 2015 rookie Jay Ajayi as their main back — unless they signed a veteran such as Forte.

The idea is doubly plausible considering new Dolphins coach Adam Gase knows Forte well, having been Chicago’s offensive coordinator last season.

Let me make clear: I’m only suggesting Forte-to-Miami as a serious consideration if A) Miller is not re-signed, and B) the price is right.

Forte was in the $7 million salary range last year, but his earning power has likely peaked, if only because he just turned 30. I would be surprised if Miller, 26, and with a robust 4.6-yards per carry career average, does not attract more suitors and prove costlier to sign when free agency begins in less than a month.

 
Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Houston Texans at Sun Life Stadium on Oct. 25, 2015. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. / ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Forte’s bargaining power is diminished because 30 is a red flag age for running backs, but I would make two points. First, Adrian Peterson just won an NFL rushing title, and he’s nine months older. Second, Forte has shown little physical decline and has started 120 of a possible 128 games in his career, all with the Bears.

The second of his two Pro Bowls came in 2013. He caught a career-high 102 passes in 2014. Since 2008 (his rookie season), Forte has more yards from scrimmage than anybody in the league. He is not a breakaway, home run back at this point but is a reliable workhorse, a first down-getter.

And he would be the greatest dual-threat of any back the Dolphins have had. Put it this way: Forte has averaged — averaged — 61 catches across his eight seasons. The Dolphins have not had any running back catch more than Forte’s career average since 1995.

Gase knows very well what a luxury it would be for a still-developing quarterback such as Ryan Tannehill to have behind him one of the NFL’s premier two-way backs. That option of a quick outlet pass to a back also would be a hedge that allows a quarterback to avoid sacks.

Sometimes in sports there comes an availability that just makes sense, an availability that dovetails perfectly with a team’s situation.

I felt that when the Marlins were looking for a manager and suddenly the Dodgers and Don Mattingly parted ways. How smart it would be if the Marlins spent to get him, right? (And how pleasantly surprising it was that they did.)

Thought the same thing when the Hurricanes were shopping for a new football coach and suddenly Georgia and Mark Richt (a UM alum) parted ways. I thought signing Richt was a no-brainer; the Canes evidently agreed.

Now I see the Dolphins prepared to possibly lose Miller in free agency as Forte suddenly reveals he will be available.

Mattingly-to-Marlins and Richt-to-Canes were a lot about the luck of fortunate timing.

If Miller departs and the price is right, Forte-to-Dolphins could be, too.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at miamiherald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments