“Around the Ben”: NFL Free Agency Moves (Part 1 of 2)
Draft comes, and draft goes. Now that the NFL Draft is complete, and most, if not all rookies are signed, it’d be a good time to recap the NFL Free Agency moves and shenanigans. Some moves are more logical than others, some, you look at a particular signing and ask yourself, “Why on earth would a team sign him?” But before we proceed to discuss the particular players and new teams, familiarize yourself with two terms, and differentiate between the two. Restricted free agent (RFA) and unrestricted free agent (UFA).
Restricted free agent (RFA) Any player who has played in at least 6 games for three seasons, received a qualifying offer (tender), as determined by the Collective Bargaining Agency from his current team, and has a pre-determined date to talk to any team about a contract is an RFA. There are 3 possible outcomes: Player stays with original team, player is contracted by different team, or trade. Should the player and a different team agrees to terms, then the original team (one who made the initial offer to said player) has 5 days to match the offer from the other team, and they can either match or decline refuse to match. In the latter case the original team gets compensation from the team that signed the player (usually a corresponding draft pick of equal value to the tender determined by the CBA). If the original chooses to match the offer, then the players’ rights remain with his original team. In the last scenario, two teams make a trade. The original team agrees to trade the RFA to another team for draft picks, cash, players, or any combination, instead of one of the other two scenarios. In all cases, when a player signs a tender, the tender is the salary the player receives for one year following the signing a contract with the original/new team.
Unrestricted free agent (UFA): Any player who has been cut, had his contract expire after being in the league for at least 4 seasons, or remained undrafted in the rookie draft is a UFA. This player may negotiate at will with any team with no time restrictions nor compensation for previous team (if one).
Now for the part you guys came for, player movements. These are categorized by position and ranked based upon relevancy to fantasy owners, meaning to their real team, and their track record. These are the players that as of 5/22/2013 had signed with teams.
This is by farther weakest position for this free agency period.
1. Joe Flacco (RFA)- In all honesty he was the only quarterback this offseason that is bona fide starter, and stud. The rest of the FA QBs are either complete scrubs or career backups who may be forced into action due incompetence of other QBs on a team or bringing in rookies. Flacco, Super Bowl Champ quickly signed the biggest contract for a QB in NFL history, worth $120.6M over 6 years, with $52M guaranteed. Coming off the Super Bowl win, and über huge contract Flacco’s numbers should continue to improve. 27 TD/12 INT, 4,000 yards passing should be in order with another 2 rushing TDs. Probably not top 10 material, but definitely starter worthy.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Cut)- Given the state of the Bills franchise the past few seasons, Fitzpatrick did an admirable job, posting 24 TDs, 16 INTs, and 3,400 yards last season. He replaces Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, but barring injury or horrendous play by starter Jake Locker, Fitzpatrick likely won’t see the field much. If you draft Locker as your starter, I pity you fool, and be sure to grab Ryan Fitz. Other than that I wouldn’t consider drafting Fitzpatrick, unless Locker goes down or gets off to a very slow start.
3. Jason Campbell (UFA)- Not sure how this guy is still around. His best days are well in the rear-view mirror, but honestly, he lands in a pretty opportune place to potentially see playing time in Cleveland. Brandon Weeden is a bottom 5 QB no matter how you look at it, and should only be used in the event that you are in a 20 team league where you can start two QBs, or you need a 1 week fill in bye against a weak defense. The first time Weeden struggles is likely the last time before the Browns give Campbell a shot at starting. While neither is starter worthy in any league outside 2 QB leagues, Campbell is the better of the 2 options as he would at least post better stats than 14 TD/17 INT with a 6.5 yards/attempt (YA) average. In other words, me saying Campbell would be “better” would be comparing the arrest records of JaMarcus Russell and Titus Young. Move along.
4. Kevin Kolb (Cut)- Being cut by the Cardinals should say all you need to know about Kolb. The only reason he is on this list is because he signed with Buffalo, which drafted E.J. Manuel in the first round, and Manuel may not be ready to start week 1. Should Manuel not be ready to go week 1, then Kolb would be starter, but looking at his stats from his seasons in Arizona (2008-12), the most you can say for him is that he posted 8/3 TD/INT ratio last season in 6 games, albeit with less than average YA (6.4) and yards (1169). Expecting him to post anything better than those numbers should he start the season would be a stretch, as he was unable to post average numbers on a rebuilding, bad Cardinals team featuring Larry Fitzgerald. Once E.J. is anointed “starter” Kolb quickly fades into irrelevancy as the Bills certainly didn’t draft Manuel in the first round to sit on the bench. In dynasty leagues, draft and stash Manuel as the rewards could be great, but the downside is also scary.
Of the other QB free agents, for purposes of fantasy and real life, I wouldn’t go near any, even if I needed a fill in starter against an Arizona or other horrible defense. Nothing to see, so don’t even look. Rex Grossman, anyone?
Running Back (RB)
The core of available RBs is pretty solid, with some very draft able, and potential steal picks.
1. Steven Jackson (UFA)- After cutting Michel Turner, Atlanta goes out and signs top 10 RB Steven Jackson to a 3 year/$12M deal. While he may not return to his 2009 beast form, Jackson still has a good bit left in the tank, has better hands than Turner, and should produce as starter in Atlanta. Jacquizz Rodgers will steal some touches from Jackson, but draft Jackson with a pick in the 10-12 range, and expect 1,200 yds rushing and 9 TDs, and potentially another 30 receptions for 2 TDs. In dynasty and keeper leagues, also secure Jacquizz Rodgers as he will be more incorporated into the offensive fold as the season progresses. Starting next season, depending upon the play of SJax, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson and Rodgers split carries 60-40 or 50-50. That would make one of the best RB tandems in the game as both are great between the tackles, get yards after contact, and can run opposing defenders over. Combine that with the next to unstoppable passing offense of the Falcons, featuring Roddy White, Julio Jones, golden hands Tony Gonzalez, and you will be sure to get fantasy gold drafting Jackson and Rodgers.
2. Reggie Bush (UFA)- Detroit is an interesting landing spot for Bush. They pay him $4M but the Lions also have Leshoure (215 Rush attempts/798 yds/9 TDs), who did a plausible job as RB in Detroit last season, and was told he would be RB1 in Detroit this season, but then Bush came along, relegating Leshoure to 3rd down and goal line work. This is good and bad news. Good news is Reggie Bush should be a viable RB2 for fantasy purposes and has better hands than Leshoure, but bad, as Leshoure will vulture TDs. While this is not a running back-by-committee (RBBC) approach, it is pretty close as each will hurt one another’s value. Due to the team revolving around the pass more than Miami did in Bush’s years in New Orleans and Miami. Bush should put up 1,050 yds/6 TDs, higher or lower, depending on the usage and health of Leshoure. Target Bush in the early 3rd round or late 2nd in standard leagues, while keeping an eye on how quickly the top RBs go in the draft.
3. Andre Brown (RFA)- Probably an aggressive ranking this high, but he is the type back that is quicker than he looks, and can run well between the tackles. David Wilson is expected to be starter for the Giants, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Brown taking over goal line touches, as well as the 3rd down gig, given that he proved he could be short down back, or short-term every down back if the need arises last season as Wilson has ball security issues. The main knock on Brown is that he has durability issues, but filled in very nicely in limited short yardage role last season for the GMen. While Wilson will likely lead the team in touches, yds, and TDs, Brown could eek out 600/7 if everything breaks right for him, with upside for more if Wilson continues to struggle with ball security. Grabbing both in a draft wouldn’t be a bad idea and could pay huge dividends, as Wilson has shades of C.J. Spiller in him.
4. Shonn Greene UFA- More a result of bigger names still being out there than his potential. Greene is now with Tennessee, behind Chris Johnson, which hurts his value immensely as Greene is now a handcuff, or potential 3rd down back at best. He wasn’t that impressive while with the Jets (276/1,063/8), was his best season, he is chubby for a running back, and he doesn’t move the pile. Now behind CJ2K he’ll be mainly the short yardage back, and may see some goal line touches. Be advised, should he falter in the role he would have next to zero value, even if CJ2K goes down. 400/6 might be his ceiling for now, and don’t draft him until the late rounds as a bye week starter until he proves he can handle the role he’ll be given.
5. Rashard Mendenhall (UFA)– This could be one of the most interesting free agency signings this offseason. First, the Cardinals sign Mendenhall. Then they go draft two RBs in the NFL draft Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. Combine that with the presence of Ryan Williams (2011 draftee), and the end result is a total RB quagmire. This isn’t an RBBC approach, it’s a quagmire approach. The only reason Mendenhall may have any value, and is on this list at all is because he’s heralded as “starter,” but that means nothing. Of the lot, I’d take Ellington as I see him taking over the starter role sometime this season, if not early in 2014. Keep an eye on the running back race in Arizona, but don’t draft any RB outside the deepest of leagues and dynasty leagues. I’m not saying none of the RBs couldn’t be starter worthy, I’m just stating that anything more than 550/6 for Mendenhall, count your blessings.
Some names to keep an eye on the rest of the offseason at running back are: Ahmad Bradshaw (Cut), Michael Turner (Cut), Peyton Hillis (UFA), Cedric Benson (UFA), and Beanie Wells (Cut). Of those, the best bet to see significant playing time, depending on where he signs is Ahmad Bradshaw. He’s rumored to be a possible back up suitor for Doug Martin in Tampa Bay, but nothing material, yet. Bradshaw is not the biggest back of the lot, but the one to trust to most likely stay healthy. At any rate, I would take any of those names above Mendenhall, as Arizona is not known for producing fantasy-friendly running backs.
Wide Receiver (WR)
By far the deepest position, talent wise this off-season, there are a number of good bets to produce.
1. Mike Wallace (UFA)- He is the perfect fit for Miami. Miami will throw the ball a ton, and the main recipient of the deep passes will be none other than Mike Wallace. Provided, the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the limiting factor here, but if he is able to improve his passing accuracy and efficiency, Wallace could put up borderline WR1 numbers. The biggest downside to Wallace (AKA Mr. Sixty Minutes) is he can disappear as soon as he shows up. You never know which Mike Wallace will show up. Expect 1,150/9 for Wallace, but if Tannehill struggles early, temper those numbers some.
2. Dwayne Bowe (UFA)- Going out on a limb here a bit, but I like the Chiefs trading for Alex Smith. While he isn’t an elite option, he gets defenders off of Bowe, as well as Jamaal Charles. Given the lack of receivers opposite Bowe, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bowe approached 1,100/7. Being the only reliable WR on the Chiefs is also a curse, making it easier for opposing defenses to key in on one receiver. Keep a couple of things in mind, however, Bowe has never eclipsed 1,162 receiving yards, and only once had more than 7 TDs in a season (2010- 15 TDs). Target Bowe in the mid-late 3rd round, but be sure to nab another WR relatively soon after that as you never know when Bowe will show up in games.
3. Wes Welker (UFA)- Going from one future Hall of fame quarterback to another is always nice, but now Welker is WR3 on Peyton Manning’s (or rather, John Elway’s) team, and will compete for targets with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Joel Dressen, and Jacob Tamme. Welker, and fantasy owners better hope the NFL agrees to allow Denver to play with two footballs in every game, because otherwise all the receivers will take away from one another, and Welker may well get the short straw. Welker isn’t quick enough to be the deep threat, so he will battle both Eric Decker and the tight ends (TE) Dressen and Tamme for the short to middling balls. Gone are his days off 112 receptions/season. 80/1,100/7 seem more realistic for Welker, but those numbers could drop, depending how many targets the TEs receive. Denver could very well have 3 relabel PPR receivers, and Welker should be one of them, but keep an eye on the target distribution early on, and target Welker in the early 3rd round, depending on how lucky you’re feeling drafting him.
4. Greg Jennings (UFA)- When in doubt, do as Brett Favre did: Leave Green Bay to join the Evil Empire Minnesota. Rivalry aside, this wasn’t the worst possible landing spot for Jennings. He will be WR1 on Adrian “All Day” Peterson’s team, and won’t have many receivers to compete for receptions with, as rookie Cordarelle Patterson will need time to learn the system, and hold onto the ball. While this could mean around 90 receptions and 8 TDs, remember, Christian Ponder is the passer, and Minnesota is a run first offense. Thus, expect more a line of 70/750/6 for Jennings, with upside for more, if Ponder can show some maturity and be a more efficient passer. Stranger things have happened. Target Jennings in the 4th-5th rounds as your 2nd WR2 or first WR3, and see what that brings. Won’t likely be above middling-WR2 production, but shouldn’t drop below high-WR3 production, either.
5. Danny Amendola (UFA)- Yes, one could argue that Amendola should be in the top 3 on the list, but he isn’t folks, and here is why: He isn’t a Randy Moss or Wes Welker, he does have some injury concerns, and he may need some time to adjust to New England’s style pass offense. With all that said, likely being the only healthy, experienced receiver on New England to start the season, as both TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had surgery, could pay huge dividends. Danny only has rookies Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, and mediocre Julian Edelman to compete with for targets, so he could be a WR1, but more likely a high-end WR2 this season, and produce the line: 95/1,100/8. Not Welker-esque, but still, solid.
6. Emmanuel Sanders (RFA)- The main benefactor of Wallace’s exodus to Miami, Sanders could lead all Pittsburgh receivers in yards and touchdowns. He isn’t as fast as Mr. Sixty Minutes, but with only Antonio Brown ahead of him on the depth chart, Sanders could be in for a career year. Unless rookie Markus Wheaton immediately steps in and out plays Sanders, Sanders could give fantasy owners a nice surprise as a 5th round pick, and produce 60/860/5 for fantasy owners. However, should he be overshadowed by Wheaton, curb those numbers back to 45/500/3. Boom/bust play this season.
Even after these names, there are still some quality names out there who could step in and produce: Victor Cruz (RFA), Brandon Lloyd (UFA), Austin Collie (UFA), Laurent Robinson (UFA), Randy Moss (due to Crabtree injury, UFA). While Cruz is the most appetizing remaining option, his likely landing spot will be back in New York and a G-Man, while not bad, would hurt his value some as he would be likely WR1 in NY, however, he would also have Hakeem Nicks (if healthy), Reuben Randle, and David Wilson out of the backfield, to compete with for targets. Should he sign back with New York (as expected), he’d be right above Welker as he has proved himself to be a fantasy asset. Moss, while old, is the likely next domino to fall after Cruz, especially given that Michael Crabtree is lost for the season from Cisco with a torn ACL. He’d resume the WR2 or 3 role, and be a shell of his old self, producing no more than a 500/4 line.
Tight end (TE)
The hardest of all offensive positions to predict season-season, this group of free agents has some names to either roster or keep tabs on going into the season.
1. Tony Gonzalez (UFA)- Guess who’s back, NFC? Tony Gonzalez. AKA Sure-handed, future Hall of Fame, snatch-the-rock-out-of-your-hands Tony G. Returning to Atlanta he should return to his role as chain mover/safety check down, and big end zone target for Matt Ryan. Given the Falcons offensive depth chart looks exactly the same, except for Steven Jackson replacing Michael Turner at running back, Gonzalez should put together another 90/900/8 season. Draft him as one of the first tight ends off the board, and enjoy his last and final hurrah.
2. Fred Davis (UFA)- Coming off of drug issues in 2011, and an injury in 2012, Davis’ value is directly tied to Robert Griffin III value. If RGIII is ready for the season opener, then Davis could put up modest numbers, if not, he could be waiver wire material most of the season. After Garcon, there is virtually no depth at WR, creating an ideal situation for Davis to prove he can be Washington’s future TE and second leading receiver. If both RGIII and Davis are healthy, Davis could go 700/4, but if one or the other is injured, take a late flier on Davis or pick him off the waiver wire, and leave him on the bench until he proves he can produce. He is a mid-TE3, with upside for upper tier TE2, but downside of TE5. Draft at your own risk.
3. Jared Cook (UFA)- This is where things get interesting. Cook is a 6’5″ TE oozing with potential, the issue is he only has 49 career receptions good for 4 touchdowns, but now he goes to a more pass-oriented (or at least should be sans-SJax) Rams team with Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and Stedman Bailey, combing for a very speedy offense (yes, Cook can move for his size). Since defenses won’t really have the option of keying in on one guy, Cook could finally start living up to his potential, but still, tread softly. Grab Cook in the later rounds after the big name TEs are gone, and a TE run starts, as it wouldn’t be shocking to see Cook be the Rams second or third leading receiver with a 600/5 campaign. Sleeper!
4. Martellus Bennett (UFA)- Love the upside, hate the quarterback. On the right team, Bennett could emerge into a top 10 TE, but it likely won’t happen in Chicago unless Cutler quits throwing picks faster than we can count them, and the Bears offensive line gets shored up. Will either or both happen? I wouldn’t bet on it, but Bennett’s pedigree still is enticing. At 6’6″ 270 he is a bear, and an even bigger handful. If Brandon Marshall could put up 118/1,508/11 last season, I see no reason why Bennett couldn’t put up a 600/6 line, but that also is assuming the Bears O-line and Cutler’s play down regress any, and improve. If things go awry in Chicago, Bennett might be relegated to fantasy backup TE. Worth the gamble.
There are some other intriguing options, and could be argued that Delanie Walker (UFA) should be on the list, but going to Tennessee does not inspire many a fantasy owners to want Walker (see: Cook) as it’s the land of TE-irrelevancy. Other names to keep tabs on Dennis Pitta (RFA) and Ed Dick (RFA). My gut says both return to Baltimore, and in that case take Pitta before Dickson (top 10 TE, 2012) as he is the more Flacco-approved TE, but also keep tabs on Dickson as the Ravens receiving core is decimated and rebuilding after the departure of Anquan Boldin.
Tune in next time for the second of the two installments: defensive free agents. Until then follow me on Twitter @ MetalhammerBen.