This time last year -- on March 11, 2014, to be exact -- I was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, my fourth team in six years. My career was in limbo. All I had to stand on was word from my agent that the Baltimore Ravens were interested -- but I didn't hear back from them for some time. So while I worked hard to stay in shape, I also prepared to make the next step, taking on internships, doing some job-shadowing at the league office, building relationships and getting ready for whatever was coming.
I had to come to grips with the reality of my situation. Jacksonville had let me go, yes -- but in the long run, I'd beaten the odds. I was a former seventh-round draft pick who'd played six years in the NFL. I'd learned a lot. I had grown as a man and an individual. I love football, but if I wasn't going to get another chance on the field, I was determined to be successful at something else.
But then the Ravens made good on that glimmer of hope, signing me in early April 2014, and I went on to have my best ever year as a professional, rushing for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns at 5.4 yards per carry. I had the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL. I made my first Pro Bowl. I played a feature role on a playoff team. And when my contract ran out, I finally had some leverage for the first time in my NFL life. I knew that, Lord willing, I'd be playing football for someone in 2015. I knew I could look at my wife and say, 'You know what? I'm going to be able to provide for the next couple of years.'
I wanted to return to Baltimore all along. I wanted to oblige the many fans who stopped me around town to ask me to stay. So this deal was a no-brainer. Not just money-wise, but with regard to the situation as a whole: my role, the city, the fans. It was an easy decision. A three-year deal was what I was looking for, and the Ravens gave it to me.
This offseason has been an answer to my prayers -- and it's been an extremely different experience from what I'd gotten used to.
Until very recently, the business side of the game had not been good to me. There was so much uncertainty during the dead periods of my career, not knowing what was going to happen or if I was going to get signed. When you're a free agent without leverage, you basically play with your kids and just keep your phone by you, making sure the ringer's on and the volume is turned up, and you wait for the call.
It was definitely frustrating during those down years, having a career per-carry mark of 5.1 yards and facing questions about my ability. My rookie season, they said, "Oh, he can only be a returner." When I started playing on offense, it was, "Oh, he can only be a third-down back." And even now, after I've proven that I can shoulder the bulk of the load, I've heard people saying I'm too old at 29 -- never mind the fact that, because I've really only had one season as an every-down back, I have the legs of a 26-year-old. The older you get, the faster they want you out, so I want to make sure I don't give anyone any reason to get rid of me.
I think running backs have to push harder to get respect, too. The thing is, as much as people talk about the position being devalued, to me, it seems like that's only true when the free agency period and the draft come around. During the regular season and especially during the playoffs, it's all about having a strong ground game, as we've seen with guys like Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell really stepping up and being impact players on offense.
In addition to getting my due with this contract, it was important, as I said earlier, to feel like someone is really committed to me. I moved around a lot growing up -- my family even lived out of a hotel at one point -- and I wanted to be able to sit my own family down and tell them that this is where we're going to be, that we finally have some security. My wife and I just both wanted to be settled. It seemed like every time we found something we liked in one city -- a CrossFit facility that my wife fell in love with in Jacksonville; the wide variety of food in Houston -- it was time to move. It is definitely nice to have some security for once, and to know that we'll be sticking with the Ravens for the long run.
All that said, there are some good things about being as well-traveled as I am. I've found that I can adjust easily to new situations. And my wife and I have so many relationships with so many people. In fact, we probably know people we could call in practically every city. That part is pretty cool.
I appreciate the value of the up-and-down journey I've been on. I learned so much from all of those points in my life where I was like, "Am I ever going to make it through this?" Those bits of adversity made me and shaped me into the man I am today. That whole time, it was about faith and trusting that God was going to open up a door. I worked very hard, sweating and running and just making sure I could seize whatever opportunities came my way. During this latest period of negotiations, I believed that whatever happened, it would work out in the end. And knowing that God is in control helped me stay at peace throughout. After all, with as many wild turns as my career's taken -- from making the Seahawks' roster as a long shot to being released multiple times in the NFL -- I'd have driven myself crazy if I'd leaned on my own understanding of things.
It's definitely gratifying to know people are respecting what I do. But I also realize that my athletic abilities have been a gift, and as a man of faith, I'm here to do more than carry a football. At the end of the day, I know my stats aren't really going to matter; my legacy has to be greater than what I do between the lines.
When I'm on my deathbed, I want to be able to look back over my life and my relationships and family and say I made an impact on people's lives. I want to work in such a way and treat others in such a way that people look back years from now at my time with the Ravens and say, "Man, there was this guy here, Justin Forsett, who worked his tail off every day." Those are the things that are going to last.
That's why I've developed an interest in player development, which I learned more about during that time of uncertainty last offseason. I've gotten a close-up look at how crazy this industry can be. I've been cut. I've been demoted. I've been promoted. And now I've signed a long-term contract. I've been through all those different phases, and I can help some of these younger guys transition. I have a lot of knowledge and information, and there's no need to keep it to myself.
I know I can get seriously hurt at any moment out there on that football field. Even the richest man in the world can't buy health. So it has to be about more than money. Which is why this contract -- the biggest of my life -- will have no effect on my work ethic or how I conduct myself. Security is important, but money itself is not what I play for.
I'm very grateful for this deal, but I feel like there's a lot more that I need to do on the field as a player and off the field as a man. I'm excited about the future, but I'm nowhere near satisfied. I'm ready to do more, and I expect great things to happen.
I feel like my story is a crazy one, with a lot of adversity and a lot of hurt. But in the end, I feel like I can encourage a lot of people, and it's important to make the most of that chance.