NFL Free Agency Primer (Fantasy Football)
It was a fun weekend watching all of the top prospects compete in drills at the NFL Combine, but it’s now time for one of the best periods of the NFL offseason. As all the eyes move towards free agency, we’re here to get you prepared on which players are involved, as well as where they may be headed.
It’s important to remember that just because a team has a need at a certain position, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re able to enter the free agent sweepstakes for any player. Current contracts, future contracts, deals that are in the works, salary cap space, and other factors can play a part in the process. We know some of these factors, so we’re going to do our best to project which teams should show the most interest.
The free agent of all free agents… Some have dubbed Cousins as the best free agent quarterback of all-time. Even if you don’t think that, it’s rare to see someone with Cousins’ resume hit the open market. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of the last three seasons, including an average of 27 touchdown passes per year. There will be multiple teams lining up for his services, and he’ll reportedly be the highest paid player in the NFL when all is said and done. Landing spot will absolutely matter for his fantasy value, as the difference between the Jets and the Vikings would be massive.
Potential suitors: Vikings, Jets, Broncos
He’s hitting free agency at the best time in his career, but also at the worst time because of how deep the draft is considered. Prior to his 3,547-yard, 22-touchdown season in 2017, Keenum had completed just 58 percent of his passes for 5,224 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions on 777 career pass attempts. Time will tell if he was a product of Pat Shurmur, but Keenum is likely to land a starting job somewhere.
Potential suitors: Broncos, Cardinals, Bills, Jets
It surely doesn’t help that Mike Zimmer stated that Bradford’s knee issues are degenerative, though that would’ve likely come out while teams court him and put him through a physical. Should Bradford land a starting job, the team would need to have a competent backup considering Bradford’s injury history and unreliability. It’s a shame, too, because he started to play the best football of his career, throwing for 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions over the last two seasons. He may have to accept a job as a backup in free agency. It’s possible that he winds up back in Minnesota, considering they have no quarterbacks under contract at the moment, though Cousins would certainly derail that plan.
Potential suitors: Bucs, Dolphins, Bengals, Panthers, Jaguars
While McCarron won his grievance against the Bengals to become a free agent, it’s really a loss for him considering how deep both free agency and the draft is among quarterbacks this year. Because of that, it’s going to be very difficult for him to land a starting job, especially when you consider his limited resume that includes just 133 career regular season pass attempts. While he looked solid in those starts, it’s an extremely small sample size. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s handled in free agency, though I’d expect him to land on a team where he’ll compete for the starting job, or be the No. 2 behind a quarterback who’s slated to retire soon.
Potential suitors: Jets, Bills, Broncos, Cardinals
It seems as if Hyde will hit the open market at age-26 with just 655 NFL carries on his frame. Part of that has to do with playing behind Frank Gore, but the other part is that he’s struggled to stay healthy. While he played all 16 games for the first time in 2017, he played through injuries at times. He did show the ability to catch passes out of the backfield over the last two years, racking up 86 receptions for 513 yards and three touchdowns. Still, running back is a young man’s game, so it’ll be interesting to see how the 26-year-old with limited wear is handled. The expectation should be that he lands a 15-plus touch role, though.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Ravens, Panthers, Bucs, Jets
From what we’ve heard, it appears unlikely that Lewis winds up striking a deal with the Patriots, so we need to project a landing spot. At just 5-foot-7 and 193 pounds, he’s not built to be the 20-touch running back he was down the stretch for the Patriots, even if he did handle it extremely well. He’s someone who excels in pass-protection and can definitely contribute in the passing game, so look for him to land in a timeshare where he’ll see 10-15 touches per game. The ideal landing spot would be with the Titans who are expected to release Demarco Murray, who they can cut with no cap hit. He would be a perfect compliment to Derrick Henry, who struggles in pass-protection and doesn’t offer much in the receiving game.
Potential suitors: Titans, Texans, Colts, Dolphins
It’s said that McKinnon’s primary goal in free agency will be to land a job where he can be the “lead back” in the offense. That seems like a pretty big task and one where he’ll have limited options. At one point, McKinnon was expected to be the heir-apparent to Adrian Peterson, though he failed to live up to expectations, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry in 2016 and ultimately losing the job to the currently-jobless Matt Asiata. While McKinnon took a step forward in 2017, he hasn’t shown the ability to carry an offense. He’ll likely have to dial back expectations when the dust settles.
Potential suitors: Jets, Bucs, Titans, 49ers, Dolphins
It’s a mystery as to how the teams around the NFL view Burkhead, after he went to the Patriots as someone with limited playing time, played well while healthy, but was then hurt after playing a larger role. It’s likely in his best interest to work out something with the Patriots, as he now knows their offense and Dion Lewis seems all but gone at this point. If he did go to another team, he’d likely be brought in as part of a timeshare where he’d be the primary third-down back while mixing in on first and second down.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Dolphins, Titans, 49ers
After being cut by the Panthers, Stewart will look to find what is likely to be the final destination in his NFL career. Because of that, he may want to take his time in free agency and see where the chips fall before choosing. Truth be told, he has all the signs of a Patriots running back. He’ll likely come cheap, has been forgotten about, is exceptional on first and second down, and can find his way into the end zone. The only issue is whether or not he can hold up for an entire season, which would include more than just 16 games with the Patriots. He’s played 16 games just three times in his 10-year career, and none since 2011.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys
It seems like Crowell would’ve been wanted a bit more in last year’s free agency than he is this year, as there are a lot of better, more complete running backs available in both free agency and the draft. Crowell will likely land a role which is limited to two-down work, similar to the way LeGarrette Blount was used with the Eagles last year. He’ll have more suitors than Blount did because he’s just 25 years old, but expect a similar role. The Redskins are reportedly interested, though he’s not much different than the combination of Robert Kelley and Samaje Perine, so I’d consider that unlikely. The Bills were the perfect suitor, that was until they signed Chris Ivory the other day, taking away a potential destination.
Potential suitors: Jets, Ravens, Bills, Panthers
The biggest shock of the pre-free agency period would be the Jaguars decision to not tag Robinson, though they are reportedly trying to work out a long-term deal with him before March 12. We should note that, yes, Robinson is coming off an ACL tear, but that’s not the career-threatening injury it used to be. The Jaguars offense has added talent since he went down and he’d likely be returning to less targets, so the move to free agency will almost surely give him a bump in production. It’s hard to see a scenario where the Bears wouldn’t be the front-runner to land him with over $80 million in cap room and a massive need at wide receiver. The 49ers are the other potential landing spot that we’d bet on.
Potential suitors: Jaguars, Bears, 49ers
One of the biggest names who escaped the franchise tag is Watkins, who was extremely underused in the Rams offense last year while seeing just 70 targets. In fact, Watkins hasn’t seen more than 96 targets since back in his rookie year. A large part of that had to do with injury, but it also had to do with him being a part of a Bills offense that threw the ball just 450-500 times per year. Watkins is the rare type of receiver who can stretch a field, but also be the underneath possession receiver if needed. Because of that, there are multiple fits for him in free agency, though he won’t come cheap. He’s just 24 years old and was the former No. 4 pick in the draft.
Potential suitors: Rams, Bears, Redskins, Panthers, Cowboys (cap issues, but would be interesting)
He’s seemingly a forgotten name in fantasy football, but that’s what happens when you go to the Bills, right? Had Matthews been a free agent prior to last season, he would’ve landed a big contract. After posting three straight seasons with 65-plus catches and 800-plus yards, Matthews played just 10 games for the Bills, totaling just 36 targets. The question has still yet to be answered as to whether or not he’s limited to slot work, but we should find out immediately how teams view him when we hear about teams trying to sign him. As of this time, we know he’s a big possession slot receiver who may have upside for more. He’s someone who can jump back on the fantasy scene immediately.
Potential suitors: Colts, Saints, Chiefs, Ravens
Knowing that the Jaguars were so focused on Allen Robinson and his contract situation, Lee seemed all but gone prior to yesterday. It appears as if they are more open to bringing him back in 2018, though he’ll be able to test the free agent market. He flashed starter-ability when healthy over the last two years while healthy, totaling 119 receptions for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns in that span. He’s ideally going to be a No. 2 wide receiver in an offense who can step up in case of injury, the way he did when Robinson went down last year. There was a seven-game stretch last year where Lee totaled at least 65 yards in five of them despite it being a run-first team. There are a few teams out there who make sense, though his injury-riddled start to his career will be hard for some to shake.
Potential suitors: Eagles, Ravens, Cowboys, Cardinals, Panthers, Bills
We were waiting for Richardson to get his opportunity and he finally did in 2017. It seems the Seahawks waited too long to insert him into the lineup, because now it appears they’ll lose him to free agency. He wasn’t a No. 1 target or anything, but Richardson always seems to be making high-difficulty catches. There was just one game last season where he saw more than seven targets, so he may look to land a bigger role in another offense, though I’d argue that the Seahawks may be his best landing spot, especially if Jimmy Graham does leave the team. Richardson would quickly become the go-to red zone target for Russell Wilson, which is obviously a good thing.
Potential suitors: Seahawks, Bears, Colts, Chiefs, Ravens
Here’s one of the wide receivers who could easily bounce back onto the fantasy scene in 2018, and it would definitely help if he returned to the Colts. There have been 14 games in which Moncrief played with Luck and saw at least five targets. In those games, he averaged 4.6 receptions for 52.0 yards and 0.8 touchdowns, which would have ranked as a top-10 receiver in 2017 over 16 games. I’m not saying that Moncrief is going to get five targets every game or finish as a top-10 receiver, but what I am saying is that he has a connection with Luck, specifically in the red zone. Should he leave the Colts, Moncrief will likely disappoint fantasy owners. It’ll be interesting to see whether he or Paul Richardson get more money in free agency, as they’re likely vying for the same type of role.
Potential suitors: Colts, Bears, Seahawks, Ravens, Chiefs
When Brown’s on the field, he’s electric. The issue is that we’ve rarely seen it since he was diagnosed with the sickle cell trait. There’s little doubt that Brown can contribute when healthy, but can he find a team to sign him to a contract when he’s missed either the whole game or the majority of the game in 10 of the last 22 games for the Cardinals. His efficiency also went down during that time, so Brown will have to prove to teams that he’s healthy enough to contribute. The Cowboys are a team who should be calling Brown as soon as free agency starts, as he’d be an ideal candidate to play opposite Dez Bryant, and he’ll come with an affordable salary for a Cowboys team with cap issues.
Potential suitors: Cowboys, Ravens, Redskins, Panthers
One of the more underrated signings of last offseason, Wright started making some noise in the Bears offense. It was an odd thing to continually see him as the Bears No. 3 receiver behind Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson, but that about sums up the Bears under John Fox. Wright and Mitch Trubisky developed plenty of chemistry down the stretch, as Wright totaled 26 receptions for 244 yards over the final four games of 2017. Some have said the Bears should trade for Jarvis Landry, but Wright should be on their radar as a much cheaper solution to occupy the slot.
Potential suitors: Bears, Dolphins (if Landry is moved), Patriots, Chiefs, Colts
Every time Wallace hits free agency, it seems like it’ll be the last time he does, but here we are. The Ravens haven’t indicated they’ll re-sign him (or attempt to), so we have to assume this really will be his last deal. Because of that, he may want to take a team-friendly deal with a team who can win-now. This obviously assumes that he wants to win a championship before he retires. It’s unlikely that he’ll be signed right away in free agency, as most teams may try to look for a younger option, as Wallace is going to be 32 years old when the season starts.
Potential suitors: Eagles, Panthers, Rams (if Watkins leaves)
It was odd watching Decker fail to produce through what was seemingly the first two-thirds of the season while with the Titans, especially when you consider that Corey Davis was sidelined. As the year went on, Decker started to return to form and it even went into the playoffs, posting 56 ore more yards in four of the last six games. It may have simply taken time for him to get back into game-shape after missing the entire 2016 season. He’s going to be 31 years old this month, so his line of suitors may not be as large as he’d hope. Decker can still play an integral role in an offense but look for him to take his time choosing as he waits for the right landing spot.
Potential suitors: Saints, Dolphins (if Landry leaves), Patriots, Colts
Once considered one of the best tight ends in the game, Graham has faded a bit as of late. It may be his knee injury that most players don’t return from, or it could simply be a decline in skill. Whatever the case, Graham totaled more than 45 yards just twice in his last 10 games. It’s why he finished 17th in yardage among tight ends, though his league-leading 10 touchdowns kept him afloat in fantasy. Should he go to a lesser quarterback than Russell Wilson or Drew Brees, we’ll likely see his downward trend continue. He’s 31 years old, which isn’t considered very old for a tight end, but you also must remember that Graham is more of a big receiver than anything, and this is the area those players start to fade. The good news is that the Saints are reportedly interested, which would obviously help revive his fantasy stock.
Potential suitors: Saints, Dolphins, Ravens, Cardinals, Jaguars, Texans
One of the most interesting free agent situations to watch is what’s happening with Eifert and the Bengals. With the low franchise tag cost for tight ends, they’ve reportedly considered tagging him. If not, it’ll be interesting to see how much interest he generates considering he’s now missed 40 of the last 64 possible games. While on the field, Eifert has been a difference maker in the red zone, catching 18 touchdowns on his last 126 targets. There wasn’t a pass-catcher with more than 13 touchdowns in 2017, and there were 12 of them who saw more than 126 targets. Eifert’s health is a concern without a doubt, and it will have an impact on who targets him in free agency, because they need to have another one in place in case he goes down again.
Potential suitors: Bengals, Seahawks, Steelers, Ravens, Bills
He earned himself a lot of money playing the way he did when Zach Ertz went down last year, totaling seven catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns in the two games Ertz missed. Burton flashed at other times during the season, too, which is why some think he’ll get the most money among tight ends in free agency. At just 26 years old, Burton is entering the prime of his career, so expect him to be signed to be the long-term solution for a team. There should be a lot of teams interested.
Potential suitors: Jets, Texans, Bengals, Saints, Jaguars, Bills, Cardinals