NFL Free Agency Primer (Fantasy Football)
Now that the NFL combine has officially begun, NFL free agency is upon us. Over the next month or two, there will be plenty of new faces in new places. Some may go under the radar, but there are some that have serious fantasy implications.
So who are the players that can potentially be headed out of town, and where might they be headed? That’s what we are here to talk about today. I’ve compiled a list of free agents, by position, and ranked them. Each team has a specific set of needs, so I’m going to try and give you the most logical landing spots for some of the top-tier players.
Tyrod Taylor (If released)
There are a lot of anxious GMs wondering what will happen with Taylor in the coming weeks, as it’s been expected that the Bills would release him. I’ve been clear in my support of Taylor, wondering why a team like the Bills (who has no other semblance of an NFL quarterback on the roster) would cut him. The Bills could have a change of heart, but wherever Taylor goes, he’s going to have QB1 value. I mean, think about this for a minute. With a receiving corps of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Justin Hunter, Taylor produced 17 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions and finishing as the No. 8 quarterback in fantasy. Fantasy players need to be monitoring where Taylor winds up, because he may be the No. 1 free agent quarterback depending on where he lands.
Potential suitors: Bears, Browns, Texans, Jets
Tony Romo (If released)
Romo hasn’t officially been released, but rumor has it that it’s coming. Some have tied the Texas connection to the Texans, but it doesn’t seem like there is mutual interest. Instead, he should be headed to the Broncos, as they are a team in win-now mode, and might be for another two years. This lines up with Romo, provided he can stay healthy behind that sub-par offensive line. Romo has been underrated for much of his career, but is about to be 37 years old and has essentially played just four games over the last two years. He’ll be starting for someone in 2017 and my best guess is that he’ll be throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, which is good news for fantasy owners.
Potential suitors: Broncos, Bears, Texans, Chiefs
Jay Cutler (If released)
Similar to the above-mentioned Tyrod Taylor, there have been rumblings about the release of Cutler by the Bears. The reason this hasn’t happened yet is likely due to the fact that they have no quarterback outside of David Fales under contract. Both Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are hitting the free agent market, and it appears as if Jimmy Garoppolo is staying put. The Bears may end up holding on to Cutler in order to bridge the gap between him and the quarterback they’ll be drafting in the first few rounds. It’s hard to imagine Cutler making an impact in fantasy, however, outside of two-quarterback leagues.
Potential suitors: Jets, Bills, 49ers
There’s been a lot of chatter about Glennon and whether or not he’ll get a starting job. If he does, it’ll likely be in a dire situation with a team like the Jets or Bills, simply because a playoff team will want a proven commodity. We haven’t seen a big sample size from the big-armed 6’6” quarterback, and the sample size we did see was with two different head coaches over a span of 19 games. Glennon will ultimately choose his own destiny – does he want a starting job for a non-competitive team right away or is he willing to play the backup role on a potential playoff team like the Colts? My favorite wild card in the Glennon sweepstakes: Steelers.
Potential suitors: Bears, Bills, Colts, Steelers
He isn’t the long-term solution for any team, but he is a competent veteran that can keep a team competitive. Seeing as the Bears kept John Fox and most of his staff in place, Hoyer re-signing would make sense, especially if the Bears were to release Jay Cutler. Most Texans fans just remember his terrible performance in the playoff game, but outside of that game, here are Hoyer’s totals over the last two seasons: 358/569 for 4,051 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Bears and Texans have looked lost with their other options at quarterback.
Potential suitors: Bears, Bills, Jets
If there is one thing that you should take away from Fitzpatrick’s 2016 season, it should be that it was an outlier in what’s been a pretty competent NFL career. Similar to his magical 2015 season, fantasy players everywhere are overreacting. Fitzpatrick is the definition of a journeyman in the NFL, and at just 34 years old, he should have a few more years left in him. Did you know that prior to the 2016 season, Fitzpatrick had thrown 150 touchdowns compared to 108 interceptions? He’s not going to carry a team to the Super Bowl, but he is a competent quarterback who can bridge a team until they find their long-term solution.
Potential suitors: 49ers, Bears, Redskins
News broke yesterday that Kaepernick would be opting out of his contract and entering the free agent market. It strikes me as a bit odd, considering his play has been sub-par for much of the last two seasons, and now he’ll have to convince a team to put up with the media circus that comes with him. He’s completed just 59 percent of his passes over his career and is coming up on 30, which means his legs, the one part of his game that defenses fear, are deteriorating. There are quite a few QB-needy teams, so I’m sure he’ll get picked up somewhere, but I’d assume for less than he thinks.
Potential suitors: Jets, Bills, 49ers
There are plenty of people piling on the Lacy-hate bandwagon, saying he was only a product of the offense and that he can’t keep himself in shape. While he does seem to have an issue with weight, that didn’t stop him from finishing as the RB6 in back-to-back seasons to start his career. As for being a product of the offense, I’m sure that almost 90 percent of the running backs in the league are a product of their offense. It can be argued that Lacy might be used around the goal-line more if he changes teams. Imagine him filling the Patriots void left by LeGarrette Blount. He’ll likely be on a “prove-it” type deal for a year or two.
Potential suitors: Packers, Patriots, Colts, Giants
It’s official, he’s a free agent. The question becomes, “What can he do at his soon-to-be age of 33 after multiple knee injuries?” We haven’t seen him play healthy in almost a year and a half, and even when he did play, he averaged fewer than 3.0 yards after contact for the first time in his career. His mark of 2.3 was one of the lower ones in the NFL, and a tell-tale sign of decline for a guy that relies on breaking tackles as much as he has throughout his career. Whoever signs him should be a contender with a void at the starting running back position, or at the very least, a starter who is oft-injured. Someone will sign Peterson, but it’d have to be a really good team with plenty of scoring opportunities in order for him to make a massive fantasy impact. We all know he has a nose for the end zone.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Giants, Raiders, Packers
Now that Charles has joined Peterson in the free agent sweepstakes, you have to wonder whether or not they’ll look to sign immediately or wait for the right situation. There are legit questions about Charles’ health, though, as it just came out recently that when he went to see Dr. James Andrews in November for his second knee procedure, they wound up cleaning out both of his knees. Charles has made it no secret that he wants to play for a contender, even if it means playing for less money. With that, it becomes much easier to forecast a potential landing spot. Look for him to join a timeshare, one that will utilize him as a receiver.
Potential suitors: Cowboys, Patriots, Packers, Raiders
Most fantasy players don’t know very much about offensive line play – all they care about is results – and Murray gave them results in 2016. But for those of us who know how good the Raiders offensive line is, Murray underperformed last season. That’s likely the reason the Raiders are allowing him to hit free agency. His backups (DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard) combined to post 958 yards on 170 carries, while Murray totaled 788 yards on 195 carries. Behind PFF’s No. 5 run blocking team, Murray’s mediocre 4.0 yards per carry isn’t going to garner much attention on the open market, so it’s possible that the Raiders let him explore and bring him back on the cheap.
Potential suitors: Raiders, Jets, Colts
One of the major success stories of 2016 was that of Rodgers. After being locked into conversations with guys like Danny Woodhead, Dexter McCluster and even Darren Sproles for much of his career, Rodgers showed a different side to his game when both Doug Martin and Charles Sims went down with injuries. On the season, Martin, Sims, and Peyton Barber combined for 793 yards on 250 carries (3.17 yards per carry), while Rodgers totaled 560 yards on his 129 carries (4.34 yards per carry) with about 0.3 yards more after contact than the others. Rodgers won’t get a starting gig, but the Chargers are the ideal landing spot for him because he offers both depth (Gordon’s injury history) and an instant impact in the passing game.
Potential suitors: Chargers, Cowboys, Rams, 49ers
Buried behind Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard on the Bengals’ depth chart, Burkhead was finally able to turn some heads in Week 17 when he lit up the Ravens defense for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. It was an impressive showing, mind you a very short lived one. While I do not consider him a three-down workhorse, he should wind up with a team looking to use him in a timeshare and extend his role. Wherever he lands, it’s still likely that Burkhead’s fantasy success would require an injury on the depth chart in front of him.
Potential suitors: Chiefs, Chargers, Bears, 49ers
While I don’t think Blount is a bad running back, he was not very good in 2016, despite popular belief. There was just one running back who totaled more carries than him, but there were seven of them who totaled at least 82 more rushing yards. His 18 rushing touchdowns were tied for the most by a running back since LaDainian Tomlinson scored 25 of them in 2006, so that’ll attract teams, but likely as nothing more than a goal-line back. He’s now 30 years old, has almost 1,300 carries on his frame and offers absolutely nothing in the passing game. The best case scenario for him is to re-sign with the Patriots, if they want him back.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Raiders, Lions, Packers
It was supposed to be the year of ‘The Awakening,’ and it appeared to be at the start of the season, as Michael totaled 232 yards in the first three weeks that included two touchdowns. His numbers dipped after that, but it shouldn’t all be pegged on him. He averaged 2.80 yards after contact through eight weeks, which ranked No. 13 among running backs at the time. His offensive line was graded the worst in football by PFF, and a large part of the reason you saw Thomas Rawls finish the year averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. It took Michael an awfully long time to grasp the Seahawks offense and he hasn’t looked great in any other uniform, which doesn’t bode well for his prospects. He’ll likely latch on to a team to provide depth at this point.
Potential suitors: Steelers, Cardinals, Packers
Running backs like Woodhead seem to never die in today’s NFL, though it’ll be tough to make a case for him now that he’s basically missed two of the last three seasons. The fact that he’s 32 years old doesn’t mean as much as it would for someone like Adrian Peterson, simply because Woodhead doesn’t have over 2,000 carries on his frame, but rather less than 900 total touches. A lot of people are expecting a Woodhead return to the Chargers, though I’d prefer Jacquizz Rodgers in that spot as a long-term solution as Melvin Gordon’s backup. There are a few interesting teams that should check out Woodhead’s health, including the Cowboys.
Potential suitors: Chargers, Cowboys, Bears, Rams
- DeAngelo Williams
- Andre Ellington
- Tim Hightower
- Darren McFadden
- Robert Turbin
- Matt Asiata
- Benny Cunningham
- Ronnie Hillman
- Chris Johnson
- Denard Robinson
You might wonder why the Bears are letting a top-tier wide receiver like Jeffery hit the open market. I’m sure there are a lot of NFL teams wondering the same thing and doing their research on him right now. He’s dealt with a multitude of injuries over the last few seasons, which led to coaches questioning his will to practice. This reportedly caused a rift between Jeffery and head coach John Fox, but with Fox on the hot seat, letting Jeffery walk doesn’t add up. Whatever the case, Jeffery needs to stay on the field to make an impact. Look for multiple teams to get involved in the pursuit. If the Ravens cut Mike Wallace, they would be a very intriguing fit for Jeffery.
Potential suitors: Eagles, Rams, Ravens, Bears
In not-so-surprising news, the Jets and Marshall decided that it was best to part ways. The question now becomes whether or not Marshall can still play at a high level. While we watched him post over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns just two seasons ago, we’ve also witnessed wide receivers like Roddy White and Andre Johnson fall off a cliff, from a production standpoint. Marshall’s 46.1 percent catch rate was near the bottom of the league (seventh-worst among those with at least 20 targets) and he failed to eclipse 800 receiving yards for the second time in the last three seasons. With that being said, Marshall’s first season with a team is usually his best, so he could have a short-lived revival if he finds himself a competent quarterback.
Potential suitors: Ravens, Titans, Bengals
Despite turning 30 at season’s end, Jackson still has a massive effect on swinging a defense. If you don’t shade a safety over the top, Jackson can burn most cornerbacks in the league, which makes him invaluable to a team with a legit No. 1 in place. Because of that, it would make sense for him to wind up with a team like the Buccaneers. They have a quarterback who is more than willing to throw the ball downfield, as evidenced by his 10.8 yard average depth of target, which ranked third in the league. They also have Mike Evans to handle all of the underneath stuff, as well as stretch the other side of the field. It would be a unique tandem to try and contain.
Potential suitors: Buccaneers, Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys (would need cap space)
Most didn’t think Stills would garner this much attention when he was traded to the Dolphins for a third-round pick last offseason. But after posting 726 yards and nine touchdowns on just 81 targets from the combination of Ryan Tannehill/Matt Moore, he’ll be getting plenty of attention on the free agent market, and rightfully so. He won’t be paid like a No. 1 wide receiver, but rather a top-tier No. 2, leaving plenty of teams in the mix for his services. The Eagles should be landing one of these top-tier wide receivers, which does include Stills.
Potential suitors: Eagles, Buccaneers, Rams, Titans
Before the start of the 2016 season, I made a prediction about Floyd’s future, though I didn’t account for him being released from the Cardinals due to a DUI late in the season. This will no doubt affect his free agent market, but for teams looking for a discount on a talented wide receiver, Floyd makes a lot of sense. My prediction was that Ted Thompson would finally give in during free agency and the Packers would sign Floyd as Jordy Nelson’s future replacement. While I’m unsure of the Packers stance on his off-the-field issue, it still makes a lot of sense. He just turned 27 years of age, so he’s still in the prime of his career. Your move, Packers.
Potential suitors: Packers, Bears, Cowboys, Bills
One of the most polarizing names on the free agent market, Wright seems to have people on both sides of the fence. There is no in between, you either love him or you hate him. I’m of the mindset that if he lands in the right spot, he’s going to be a valuable fantasy asset. There’ve been just 16 times in his career where he’s seen at least eight targets, but in those games he’s averaged 7.2 receptions, 80.6 yards, 0.31 touchdowns and 17.2 PPR points. Keep in mind that most of those totals came while being targeted by quarterbacks like Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger, Jake Locker, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Patriots? Wishful thinking, Mike.
Potential suitors: Raiders, Ravens, Bears, 49ers
Let’s address the elephant in the room here – Pryor is lower on my list than probably everywhere else. To start, he’s not young anymore – he turns 28 in June – which is typically when a wide receiver is toward end of his prime. But with Pryor, he’s just learned the wide receiver position and many are saying he can only get better. This really comes down to a matter of opinion, but for me, I can’t see paying a wide receiver almost $10 million per year when he doesn’t have more than a handful of solid games. He scored 33.1 percent of his fantasy points in two games last year, with both of those coming with Corey Coleman out of the lineup. There were nine games in which Pryor saw fewer than nine targets, and in those games he failed to record more than 48 yards in eight of them (had 68 in the other). It’ll be hard for him to gather that many targets on a new team.
Potential suitors: Browns, Eagles, Titans
The exact opposite of the aforementioned Pryor, Britt is viewed as very old, but in reality, he just turned 28 in September. He’s somehow been in the league for eight years now, making him seem older than he is, while Pryor is viewed as an up-and-comer. Britt’s injury concerns are what keeps him down on the list and also the reason 2016 was his first season with more than 775 yards receiving. This is likely the last contract Britt will receive, so he may take his time and hold out for the right opportunity. Seeing him fill Brandon LaFell’s role with the Bengals would make sense.
Potential suitors: Bengals, Buccaneers, Vikings, Cowboys
We knew the Redskins weren’t going to be able to retain Garcon and DeSean Jackson, but it appears they may lose both of them. Garcon is coming off a season in which he finished top-20 in both receptions and yardage among wide receivers, his best season since 2013. He’s been in the league for nine years and will be 31 years old when the season starts, so he’ll likely have to accept a smaller contract in order to get in with a contender.
Potential suitors: Ravens, Cowboys, Rams
It was a very up-and-down season for LaFell, as he came out of the gate strong, holding off rookie Tyler Boyd from cracking the starting lineup. As the season went on, LaFell started to get into somewhat of a groove with his only real lull coming when both A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert were in the lineup. I’m not insinuating that LaFell is great, but from an efficiency standpoint, he and Green were very close in 2016. LaFell totaled 122 fantasy points on 107 targets, while Green finished with 120 fantasy points on 100 targets. He’ll land a job somewhere, likely on another short-term deal.
Potential suitors: Bills, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys
I’m probably the last one left at the train station waiting on Patterson, and this is the last shot at a revival. He’ll need to be extremely picky when accepting an offer, as he doesn’t want to end up in another situation where he’s buried on the depth chart. He is at his best with the ball in his hands, so landing with an offensive coordinator who can get creative is key, and for that reason, the Kyle Shanahan-coached 49ers could be the ideal landing spot.
Potential suitors: 49ers, Cowboys, Rams, Dolphins
- Kamar Aiken
- Robert Woods
- Marquess Wilson
- Terrance Williams
- Brice Butler
- Anquan Boldin
- Brian Quick
- Jeremy Kerley
- Andrew Hawkins
- Ted Ginn
- Justin Hunter
- Andre Holmes
- Markus Wheaton
- Vincent Jackson
- Victor Cruz
This draft class is a really good one for tight ends, so you have to wonder whether or not Bennett signs right away. The Patriots seem to be moving forward, as Bennett isn’t willing to accept a hometown discount to stay with them, and rightfully so. This is likely going to be his final contract in the NFL. He got his Super Bowl ring and is concerned about his future. Because of that, look for his services to go to the highest bidder.
Potential suitors: Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Packers
The Colts reportedly tried to work on a long-term deal with Doyle before the deadline, but in the end Doyle decided he wants to test the open market. While the draft is littered with seemingly-solid tight ends, Doyle has shown to be a three-down tight end on the NFL level and will garner interest in a weak free agent market. At 26 years old, Doyle doesn’t necessarily need to sign with a contender at this point in his career. His fantasy value likely won’t get any higher than it was with the Colts and Andrew Luck, however.
Potential suitors: Giants, Colts, Jaguars, Bears
With the way Cook ended the season, it’s likely that everyone has a distorted image of what he actually is. Let’s be clear… without Aaron Rodgers, Cook isn’t a tight end that you’ll want to roster on your fantasy team. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even a fantasy-relevant TE with Rodgers until the end of the season. Nine of the first 11 games with the Packers netted 56 yards or less and no touchdowns. His emergence in the playoffs came from increased targets, which was tied to Jordy Nelson’s injury. Cook will likely be over-drafted, regardless of where he lands.
Potential suitors: Cardinals, Broncos, Colts