2014 NFL Free Agent Recap - March 8, 2014
For an UP TO THE MINUTE RECAP OF Fantasy Relevant FREE AGENCY - FREE AGENT CHEAT SHEET
Update:Sproles will NOT be released. The Saints apparently have some trading partners that are willing to deal for the veteran.
The NFL's free agency period begins on March 11. That gives front offices less than a month to get their financial ducks in a row.
Not since the glory days of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder have teams cast aside caution and thrown tons of money at multiple players in free agency. From my amateur perspective, free agency is best for mid-tier and low-end depth or if a team is lucky enough to be one player away, a single big-money purchase to put a franchise over the top.
Unfortunately, it seems as though most GMs are deluded enough to believe they are one signing away from the Promised Land. Not to take anything away from these hard-working executives, but it'd be really great to see a team run by the world's best Madden player. The Browns could take a chance on that for a few years. Nobody would be able to tell the difference anyway.
Here are seven free agents to monitor and see where they land in 2014, as it could shift their fantasy value into relevancy or dormancy.
There is no way the Saints allow Graham to go anywhere. The benefits of remaining on the Saints' roster should be obvious. He has incredible chemistry with Drew Brees and is used like a No. 1 WR. Graham just turned 27 years old a few months ago and is in the prime of his career. '13 was his best season yet, mostly because he caught 16 TDs (a new personal-best). On any other team, Graham's average draft position would plummet multiple rounds and very firmly rank him behind Rob Gronkowski and slightly ahead Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas in positional rankings.
2. RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos - Update: Total guess, he lands with the Miami Dolphins
The hard truth is sometimes the fantasy gods reward the wrong people or the wrong players. After years of underwhelming ineptitude, the story of Moreno had already been written. Fantasy owners (myself included) had already moved on. Then something really clicked for Moreno last season. His 13 total TDs were equal to what he scored in his previous three seasons. The Broncos have already expressed a lack of interest in bringing Moreno back. Executive VP John Elway hinted Denver was flush at the position. A return would salvage Moreno's limited fantasy value. Unfortunately, it appears the No. 1 spot on the depth chart is an open competition between RBs Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.
3. WR Eric Decker, Denver Broncos - Update: Leading contenders: Indianapolis, Kansas City and the New York Giants
Not to take everything away from Decker; however, his success may have been intrinsically linked to the unparalleled quarterback play from Peyton Manning. The Broncos must invest money elsewhere to improve the team. They will get great WR play with or without Decker. Denver could just as easily draft a receiver in the second or third round and see sufficient replacement numbers. Decker can be a good No. 2 WR just about anywhere in the league, maybe even a decent No. 1 on a bad team. His stats would fall regardless of his destination though.
4. RB Ben Tate, Houston Texans - "I'm an Elite RB in the NFL" - Just a guess, but what about Denver?
I'm breaking hard from the fantasy hivemind on this one. Allow me to frame the argument against Tate like this. Many moons ago, Tate was tapped to be the premiere back in Houston before a hamstring injury took that opportunity away and handed it over to Arian Foster. Foster, an undrafted rookie in Tate's class, burst onto the scene and the Texans (seemingly out of nowhere) became a formidable rushing team. Head coach Gary Kubiak, a Mike Shanahan disciple, used the same zone-blocking scheme that propelled so many other surprise backs to 1,000-plus yard seasons. Now we have Tate (with little to no track record) hitting the RB market at a time when just about every team in the NFL goes at least two-deep at the position. No matter where Tate ends up, he will have competition for the starting job. Furthermore, just like any other RB, he could crash and burn due to injury on any given Sunday. I'll take Tate as my RB2, but there's no reason to reach for him. Personally, I'll grab a stud RB1 like Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles and hope the rest of my RB corps stays healthy. By Week 12 and 13, any healthy scrub RB could be a savior.
5. WR Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles - Update - Agreed to 1 year deal with the Eagles
Maclin will be 26 next season and there will be plenty of teams willing to throw heaps of cash at him this offseason. Remember, when he came into the league he was just supposed to compliment DeSean Jackson. D-Jax was coming off a breakout rookie campaign at the time. By his second year, Maclin was clearly the more precise and polished professional wide receiver. In an ideal fit though, the former Missouri wideout would be the No. 2 option given his adequate (but not dominating) height. He could use his speed to stretch defenses vertically and really show his full range of WR1 talent against his opponents' No. 2 corner. If he ends up on a team with a bad QB (like the highly interested New York Jets), that would be one of the few scenarios where he would fail to be a Top 30 WR next season.
6. RB Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders - Our guess: Likely a Raider next year in a tandem backfield.
Productivity wasn't an issue for Jennings this year. What has been his Achilles heel though is his durability. Jennings missed all of the 2011 season and missed at least a game or more every year. Given his height and high cut running style, Jennings absorbs tons of contact. He will be 29 for the 2014 season and given his few career accomplishments, he will not command a ton of money. Jennings will come at a discount wherever he ends up. The ideal scenario for his fantasy value would be a return to the Raiders with Darren McFadden signing elsewhere.
7. RB Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders - Our guess: He needs a man blocking scheme to be effective, a possible resurgence in NE or SF.
Those inside the Raiders' front office believe McFadden will test free agency. What kind of money he expects to find is another issue entirely. Even though his health was always a problem, a serious drop in production plagued McFadden over his last two seasons. In 2010 and 2011, he averaged about 5.3 yards per carry in 20 total games. In his last two seasons, his average plummeted to just 3.3 yards per carry in 22 games. McFadden is a risk to fantasy owners no matter where he lands. He has never even played 14 games in a full season and is averaging 11 games per season in his six-year career. It is very unlikely he takes on anything more than a split backfield role next year since he isn't even the favorite to start if he were to return to the Raiders.
Rather than ramble on about a dozen more players, here are some quick thoughts on some other players.
QB Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: If Vick were a rookie entering the NFL in 2014, he'd be the clear No. 1 pick. So many teams are now open to the idea of his skill set. He came into the league with a ton of problems, the biggest one his disinterest in learning the game. Vick has since matured, to some degree, but his body can no longer handle the NFL's punishment. He will be land on two feet somewhere as a backup. Update: Vick in the Vikings backfield?
QB Josh McCown, Chicago Bears: Been a backup his whole career, so there's no reason to think that will change next year. Update: Bucs among teams looking at McCown and others.
RB Andre Brown, New York Giants: A steady back with durability issues. Worth a fantasy look if he can split carries, but never going to be a full-fledged RB2 in any league format. Update: Our guess - Likely resigns with the Giants as part of a tandem backfield.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: Probably has more in the tank than most would be willing to admit. Played on a terrible team and defenses stacked the box against him. At his best, he was better than any other free agent RB. Turns 29 in March.
RB Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals: Played reasonably well, but clearly lost a gear and never was that fast to begin with. The next BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Update: Mendenhall hints at retiring?
RB Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts: Great nose for the end zone. Terrible in every other regard. Update: Our Colts insider says he will NOT be back in Indy.
RB James Starks, Green Bay Packers: Going on his seventh undeserved chance.
RB LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots: The NFL is really trending toward big guys with a little bit of burst. Wouldn't be surprised if a team overpays. Somebody call Jerome Bettis and Natrone Means. Update: We doubt somebody steps up to pay big money, so he'll resign with New England.
RB Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings: An underappreciated back who can do just about everything on every down. Will be a steal for someone and a steady backup. Update: Gerhart is itching for a bigger role, perhaps he plays with the New York Giants in 2014.
WR Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants: The constant injuries seem to have caught up to him. Was losing targets to Rueben Randle last year and the second-year receiver isn't even THAT good. Nicks is on the Miles Austin career track. Update: Open to a 1 year contract. Potential suitors are the Ravens and the Jets.
WR Julian Edelman, New England Patriots: Love him if he stays with the Patriots. Anywhere else and he will probably end up with a worse QB and in an offense that needs him to do too much. Update: We doubt New England steps up and pays. Leading contenders: The Texans, the Chiefs and the Browns, are all in need.
WR Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers: The ideal No. 2 receiver in any power run offense. Numbers are sure to decline since the Niners had no one else to throw to last year. Update: Quan signs a 2-year extension with the 49ers.
WR Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers: Coming off his 83rd knee injury, it's difficult to imagine he pulls off yet another miraculous comeback.
WR Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks: An above-average receiver with good ball skills and a little wiggle after the catch. Underwhelming athleticism negates any fantasy upside. Update: Not sure where he'll land, but it won't be in Seattle.
WR Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles: Only one of the most creative, explosive offenses in recent memory turned this non-factor into a playmaker. I'm not holding my breath. Update: Cooper and Eagles agree to a 5 year $25 Million deal.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers: Underachieving slot receiver. Seems like the NFL is chock full of these sorts of guys. Update: Two teams are reportedly linked to Sanders, the Lions and the Jets.
WR James Jones, Green Bay Packers: Leaving THE best place for WRs to flourish and only has one and a half good seasons to show for it. What else is there to say? Update: Packers Colts, Chargers and Jets all in the mix, but we doubt he returns to GB.
WR Jacoby Jones, Baltimore Ravens: Still employed in spite of himself. Update: The Ravens have made an offer.
WR Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers: More like Brandon LaForgetAboutIt. - Update: We could see him a Redskin opposite Garcon.
WR Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: We all can dream, can't we? If your draft goes 50 rounds deep, he's worth a flier. Update: Seems like a player the Jets or Patriots would sign and depending on which team does, we know how it will end up.
TE Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens: Can't imagine the Ravens not re-signing him given their atrocious WR corps. Should be a mid to low-end fantasy TE1 perennially. Update: Pitta gets paid $32 Million over 5 Years and resigns with the Ravens.
TE Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers: Just like James Jones, never seemed to quite put it all together for the Packers. Leaving an ideal passing team situation to test the market and it's not a given he will ever be the same physically again. Epitome of risk.
TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions: Another TE who is leaving a great passing team situation who never performed consistently. Update: The Lions aren't bringing him back, maybe the Patriots bring him in.
TE Garrett Graham, Houston Texans: Played well in an offense which uses the TE well. Can't see more than a career backup given the influx of athletic TEs entering the league each year. Update: We think he goes back to Houston.
TE Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: Couldn't stay healthy and underwhelmed when handed the reins from Chris Cooley. Still has a ton to prove and few chances to make it happen. Update: NFL Suspends Davis indefinitely.