With Free Agency predominantly done and dusted, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on who are the winners and losers for redraft fantasy football in 2023. Some of these players were on the move themselves, and some have become winners or losers because of the moves their teams made ahead of them.
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Free Agent Winners and Losers: Redraft Leagues
Some quarterbacks fail in the NFL and find they never get a second chance to show they belong. Others get more opportunities, and Baker Mayfield somehow is finding himself in one of the better situations of his career. In 2018, Mayfield started his NFL career with the Browns and Jarvis Landry as his only pass-catcher worth mentioning. In 2019, the Browns added Odell Beckham to the mix, and things went okay before the wheels fell off in 2020.
When Mayfield eventually moved on from Cleveland, he had spells in Carolina and with an injury-depleted L.A Rams, before hitting the open market. Mayfield now finds himself in Tampa Bay with a true QB competition between himself and Kyle Trask, who wasn’t chosen to start games when Tom Brady sat out over the last two years. Trask has only nine passing attempts through two seasons, and Mayfield is likely the favorite to start the majority of games. With Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Rachaad White, and Russell Gage surrounding him, is this the best set of skill players Mayfield has ever played with?
One of the undoubted winners of free agency is Miles Sanders, who left the Eagles on the back of an impressive season, finishing with 1,314 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns, the 11th most among running backs. Sanders now heads to Carolina to be the RB1 behind a solid offensive line under new head coach Frank Reich who started his opening press conference by saying that he wanted to establish the run to open up the downfield passing game. We’ve seen enough of Miles Sanders over the years to know he’s not going to be an RB1 in fantasy any time soon, but in an offense finding its feet, with a rookie quarterback, Sanders can be leaned upon heavily and see enough volume to be RB2 consistently.
Was Miles Sanders one of the biggest winners of free agency?
We think so around these parts! pic.twitter.com/jZHye1oI3P
— The Fantasy Sanctuary (@TheFFSanctuary) March 25, 2023
With the likes of Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz also hitting the open market, as well as a deep rookie class in the draft, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Hayden Hurst wouldn’t have had a strong market for his services. However, his $21.75-million, three-year deal was the largest given out to any tight end so far. The Panthers are building out some experienced players on offense ready to help a rookie quarterback who they’ll select with the first overall pick in April’s draft. Hurst has played in the NFL for five seasons, with only two of those featuring returns of over 5.0 PPR points per game, but he’s always faced competition from the likes of Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, or Ja’Maar Chase and Tee Higgins. In Carolina, it’s a lot easier to make the argument that Hurst can be a fringe TE1 for 2023.
Another tight end who was a winner is TJ Hockenson, who hasn’t yet signed a long-term deal with the Vikings but saw his competition around him deplete. The Vikings moved on from Adam Thielen after ten seasons and also opted not to bring back Irv Smith Jr., who departed the team after failing to live up to his hype. The Vikings did aggressively target Josh Oliver, who has revamped his image after two years in Baltimore, but Oliver is now known as an excellent run-blocker rather than a pass-catcher. After being traded from the Lions to the Vikings, Hockenson was the TE2 in both points per game and total points, scoring 14.1 PPR points per game and tying Travis Kelce with 85 targets, and leading the position with 6.6 receptions per game.
It’s safe to say that nobody expected Deonte Harty to get notable money in free agency, but the Bills felt differently and also felt comfortable enough with the addition of Harty to cut Isaiah McKenzie. Harty is not an every-down type of receiver, but in this explosive Bills offense, for best ball leagues, he remains an interesting dart-throw.
The Packers saw fit to not extend Allen Lazard any form of contract offer as he headed towards free agency, but Lazard is no-doubt feeling happy enough as he lands in New York, most likely with Aaron Rodgers, the same quarterback who has been throwing him passes for the last five years. Lazard is also a winner as the only receiver to sign a four-year deal. No other receiver saw more than three years at signing.
Perhaps Derek Carr doesn’t belong on here as his market diminished quite quickly, and ultimately he took less money than many people expected for him to join the Saints. Carr does, however, retain his middling fantasy value as it’s hard to argue his situation has worsened. Carr went from playing in a dome in Las Vegas with Davante Adams to playing in a dome in New Orleans with Chris Olave.
QB19 now on @UnderdogFantasy – too high? Too low? Or maybe mediocrity is just right…
The new Dalton Line? pic.twitter.com/YNMunDWNOi
— The Fantasy Sanctuary (@TheFFSanctuary) March 25, 2023
The Lions opted not to bring back Jamaal Williams and instead pursued David Montgomery, who was a more expensive option. Now Montgomery will play behind a better offensive line than at any time in his career, will be free of a dual-threat quarterback taking carries away from him, and is the likely best option for goal line carries, a role that saw Jamaal Williams score 17 total touchdowns in 2022.
As a long-time David Montgomery 'hater' I am formally announcing that I'm intrigued by him in 2023
– Lions score more points than CHI
– no dual threat QB
– very good OL
– Lions paid up
– solid pass-catcher
In best ball at current cost (108 RB34) that's fine for zeroRB/heroRB
— Tom Strachan (@NFL_TStrack) March 16, 2023
Mike Gesicki (TE – NE)
A year ago, the Dolphins prevented Mike Gesicki from hitting the open market by franchise-tagging him for $10.9 million before underutilizing him in 2022. Gesicki is not an every-down tight end, offering little to none in the blocking element of the game, but he is an above-average pass catcher and, in the right system, could have shined for fantasy purposes. Instead, Gesicki found a market that didn’t materialize, leading to him taking a contract with the Patriots paying less than half of what he made in 2022, and now facing competition from Hunter Henry.
The Dallas Cowboys finally admitted what was plain to see for some time now and accepted that Ezekiel Elliott was not living up to the contract that they had given him. Elliott was set to make $17 million in 2023 but instead was cut by the Cowboys several days after free agency opened, which prevented him from being available when teams had the maximum amount of spare money to spend. Elliott is a good enough back to be a bit-part player in 2023, but the chairs have started to fill up already, and he may find it tough to find the kind of role he’s used to.
When the Ravens elected to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, some thought there would be a flood of contract offers for him, but that hasn’t played out, to the extent that Jackson is reportedly having a family friend contact teams to drum up interest. Teams instead filled out their question marks at quarterback with the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, and Jacoby Brissett. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Ravens have been hamstrung by the possibility of needing to match a large contract and have found themselves unable to spend on any players of notes. The Ravens still have plenty of questions at quarterback and at wide receiver, and the longer this is drawn out in a messy public way, the worse for everyone involved.
Early into the offseason, the Commanders kept talking up Sam Howell positively, maintaining that he was the team’s starter for 2023 as they moved on from Carson Wentz. When free agency opened, the Commanders opted not to bring back Taylor Heinicke and instead added Jacoby Brissett, who kept the Browns more afloat than most people expected before the return of Deshaun Watson and was ninth among QBs in EPA per play, committing six interceptions in eleven games. Brissett is a well-rounded and experienced quarterback who coaches like. We shouldn’t be at all surprised if he starts the majority of games ahead of Sam Howell, who started a single game in 2022 after not being able to earn playing time ahead of Taylor Heinicke.
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