Is Your QB Franchise Tag Worthy?

Updated: March 24th 2014

Much like Elaine on Seinfeld, who went around hoarding sponges and interviewing men to see who was “sponge worthy”, we all debate what is worthy of our time and money.  As a parent, I’m always debating what plans are worth paying for a babysitter.  You should be conducting similar analysis at the QB position in your Reality Sports Online league, so let’s take a look at the process an owner should go through to determine whether to use their Franchise Tag to keep their signal caller for another year.

First off, you have to ask yourself some fundamental questions about using your Franchise Tag on any expiring contract player, as you are committing to giving that player a one-year deal at the greater of (a) 120% of his previous year’s salary or (b) the average of the top 5 salaries at that player’s position for the current year (like the NFL you may use the tag again for a second year).

1)  Is the juice worth the squeeze? A franchise tag salary in most positions for a one-year deal is a lot of money.  You must be pretty confident that the player you are tagging is in for a big year and you have the cap space to address your other team needs. Do the math and find value.  For instance, the Tight End position may have a more reasonable franchise tag salary than the Wide Receiver position.

2)  Can I live with not having this player on my team next year? If you can’t see yourself throwing a player back into the Free Agency pond, even if that means paying him franchise tag money, then you probably should hold onto that player. Considering that the player is someone that may have been on your team for multiple years before being franchise eligible, you need to tread carefully on this one.  Know when to let go.  We are all football fans and have certain favorite players, but we are playing in dynasty leagues, which means our sense of strategy and competition is at a heightened level.

3)  How many pieces am I away from being a serious contender in my league?  If you are stacked at multiple positions and think that keeping this one player (even at the expense of the Free Agency Auction) will win you the title this year-remember that Flags Fly Forever.

4)  What kind of deal would this player command on the open market? If there is a good possibility of getting this player back in the Free Agency Auction on a multi-year deal with more favorable terms, then maybe you pass up using your franchise tag.

5)  How does this player fit into the dynamics of your league?  If your league scoring system is skewed to a certain position and this person has a relative advantage, consider using the tag on the player.  For instance, I’m in a league where QB’s who have high completion percentage are amongst the best fantasy points guys.

6)  Upside/Option Value? Perhaps this player is someone who has very high upside, and you’d rather have the option of cutting bait without a penalty at the end of the season if they don’t fulfill the upside.  In this case, the franchise tag may be a creative way to keep your talent if they perform without risking losing a player in Free Agency.

So, let’s get into the Quarterback position.  Let’s assume for starters that Brees, Rodgers, Luck, and Newton are signed to multi-year contracts.  We’ll put Matthew Stafford on the fringe of that too and for Top-5 average franchise purposes, let’s put Stafford in that mix.  We’ll also assume a 10 to 12 team league that starts one quarterback.

The No-Brainer Franchise Tag

Peyton Manning- If Peyton Manning was on your team in 2013, you were a contender in your league.  While there is a likely drop-off from historic levels, you probably took Manning on a one-year deal with concerns about his neck.  With a clean bill of health and with Manning not included in the Top 5 average multi-year deals, Manning not being the top paid QB in your league means a serious coup for you.  This is like having 20 in blackjack.  Tag him.

The Great Debates

Nick Foles- Fantasy owners loved the production last year.  In the 7 fantasy regular season games he played significant time in or started, Foles had 18 TDs and no INTs (granted 7 TDs were vs. the Raiders).  I’ve watched the tape and Foles got plenty lucky vs. Green Bay on underthrown balls and deflections that went for scores.  That said, he’s accurate (63% completion rate), poised and has a bevy of weapons back who will only get better and the team was missing the intermediate element at times last year that Jeremy Maclin can help with.  The only thing I’m skittish on is if his 2014 season resembles Colin Kaepernick’s, but the weapons make me more confident about Foles.  I think most would rather have him on a multi-year deal as his upside is high, but the franchise tag gives you 2nd year option value to cut bait if he disappoints.  If you’re in a league where QBs like RG3, Wilson, and Kaepernick are protected in addition to my list above and only a few teams need QBs, you may be able to get him on a better multi-year deal.  Thinking $20M a year would be his tag # in most leagues.  Tag him.

Colin Kaepernick- To really assess Kaep, I think you need to look at how he played in the playoffs as it was really the first time he had Crabtree at 100%.  The running totals are great there, but the turnovers are alarming and the completion % must get better.  I like the fact that he has a full year of weapons and think it would be wise that the 49ers get a tall stretch the field and big red-zone target like Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin in the draft.  What scares me more about Kaepernick (and I own him on a 3 year, $43.5m deal) is that in a 13 week fantasy season, he’s not startable vs. Seattle (twice) and a bye.  That’s 25% of the fantasy season and the NFC West has great defenses as well.  I think he’s the type that if you have on a multi-year deal, you expect a better 2014, but if you are thinking franchise tag, I just don’t see it.  Throw him back.

Russell Wilson- He just seems to have this intangible to go down as one of the best ever as a winner.  The Seahawks love to run and will probably mix in other backs a bit more to spell Beast Mode this year and they will throw bubble screens and really utilize Percy Harvin if he can stay on the field.  That said, Wilson only attempted 305 passes in the fantasy regular season and even if that number improves by 100, it is still way less than your average QB.  Wilson is probably a better NFL QB than a fantasy QB (think Troy Aikman), a guy you can start with confidence every week, but not one I think you’re paying the big bucks for unless you are in a deep, deep league.    Throw him back.

Others to Throw Back-RG3, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan

NFL Free Agency: Running Backs

Updated: April 21st 2015

Since the dawn of time, Running Back has always been the most important position in traditional fantasy leagues. The fantasy points delta from the top starter in the league (RB1) to the bottom (RB20-24) has always been high. Today, premier Running Backs receiving 20+ carries per game are more rare than ever and a fantasy luxury that few can afford, especially in contract terms.

In 2003, thirteen Running Backs received 300 or more. From 2011-2013, only nine Running Backs received more than 300 carries. Twice, in those three seasons (2011 and 2013), only two Running Backs got 300+ (there were five in 2012).

nfl-running-backs

During that same time period, the average number of carries for the NFL’s top 10 rushing leaders declined from 344.8 (2003) to 284.2 (2013).

nfl-rb-free-agents

Today, there are a lot more two and three back systems in the NFL than there once were. The average age of the league’s leading rushers have remained remarkably consistent during that time period, ranging from 26.8 (2003) to 25.1 (2009), and was 26.6 in 2013. Running Backs really only get one crack at a big contract. Typically, a back would be entering his contract year between the ages of 24 and 27, but most of the time, either (a) teams convince the good ones to sign an extension before reaching Free Agency, or (b) the players and agents demand new contracts before reaching the expiration of the deal. In both scenarios, someone makes the players realize the very real risk of injury and the chance that they’ll never get their big pay day.

During Free Agency in 2008, Michael Turner received a 6-year deal from the Falcons, but he was Ladanian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego. In 2007, 28-year old Jamal Lewis, who had carried the ball over 1,800 times for 7,800 yards during six seasons with the Ravens, received a 1-year deal from the Browns. The last really big splash for a Running Back in Free Agency? You have to go all the way back to 2006, when the Cardinals gave Edgerrin James a four-year, $30 million contract.

I don’t expect anybody to break the bank in Free Agency this year, but there is an interesting crop of young players with a lot of upside.

1. Ben Tate

Ben TateBefore the 2011 CBA, first-round picks received 5- or 6-year contracts, and everybody selected after the first round received 3- or 4-year contracts (almost always depends on team preference). Tate hits Free Agency a year earlier than his 2010 Round 1 counterparts, C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews (recently retired Jahvid Best was also taken in the first round that year), and is the top available back almost unanimously. The Texans have to pay Arian Foster handsomely for three more seasons, and are unlikely to try to retain Tate. Several teams are in need of a feature back and I expect Tate to be a starter in week 1.
Best Fit: Cardinals, Packers, Browns, Jets
Most Likely: Cardinals, Packers, Browns, Jets, Jaguars, Raiders, Dolphins

2. LeGarrette Blount

darren-mcfaddenI, personally, am a big LeGarrete Blount fan. Jeff Fisher admitted to making a mistake when he cut Blount in hopes of placing him on the Titans Practice Squad in 2010. The Buccaneers claimed Blount off waivers. Blount had 1,000 yards during his Rookie season with the Buccaneers in 2010. He received fewer carries in 2011, but still had a productive season, gaining 781 yards on 184 carries. In 2012, Blount fell victim to the regime change in Tampa. Greg Schiano replaced Raheem Morris and the team drafted Doug Martin in the first round. In 2013, Bill Belichick traded for Blount, sending track star Jeff Demps and a first rounder to Tampa. Blount fought his way through a crowded and talented backfield, averaging 5.3 yards per carry from week 3-17. Relative to his production, Blount hasn’t made much money in his NFL career, so I expect him to take the biggest payday he can get, regardless of fit.
Best Fit: Jets, Rams, 49ers
Most Likely: Jets, Patriots, Raiders, Rams, 49ers

3. Knowshon Moreno

knowshon-morenoMoreno, the first Running Back selected in 2009, had his first thousand yard season in 2013, his fifth season as a pro. Moreno struggled as a Rookie, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and notably struggling to pick up the offense. In 2010, Moreno was part of Josh McDaniel’s Tim Tebow experiment. In 2011 and 2012 Willis McGahee took the majority of the carries. Then, in 2013, the team drafted Montee Ball in the second round. Moreno held off Ball and Ronnie Hillman during a breakout season in which he gained nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage. So, why isn’t Moreno at the top of the list? In 8 games, Moreno rushed for less than 50 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. His 2013 statistics may be misleading, as his performance may very well be attributed to defenses respecting Manning and his aerial weapons. I see Moreno ending up in a timeshare. The place where he ends up (likely the place he’ll receive the most touches), may not be the best fit.
Best Fit: Broncos, Chargers, Cardinals, Browns, Falcons, Patriots, Colts
Most Likely: Broncos, Chargers, Cardinals, Browns

4. Darren McFadden

lagarette-blountAlmost universally pegged as injury plagued, McFadden hasn’t played more than 13 games in any of his six NFL seasons. He’s only played in 29 games over the last three seasons. However, the fourth overall pick in 2008 is still only 26-years old and hasn’t exactly played behind a stellar line or high-power offense. He could be a great addition for a team in a non-feature role, provided he doesn’t see himself as an every-down back. The Raiders are not likely to retain McFadden, and are just now starting to unearth themselves from years of Salary Cap disaster. As an aside, from 2006-2010 the Raiders selected five players in the top 10; they traded their 2011 first round pick to New England for Richard Seymour; they traded their 2012 first round pick to the Bengals for Carson Palmer. Out of those seven players, Darren McFadden was the only one who played for the Raiders in 2013. Reggie McKenzie continues to have his work cut out for him.
Best Fit: Jets, Cowboys, 49ers, Ravens
Most Likely: Jets, Cowboys, 49ers, Jaguars

5. Toby Gerhart

toby-gerhartIn four years with the Vikings, Gerhart received 10+ carries only nine times. It’s no surprise that Gerhart wants to leave Minnesota, in search of a better opportunity. Players are expected to make the most of their touches, but it’s very difficult to get in the flow of a game carrying the ball only once or twice. Gerhart played very well in three of his last four games, against Seattle, Green Bay, and Baltimore (he only received two carries in the overtime win vs. CHI). There will be a market for Gerhart. He only has 276 career carries, and is only 26 years old, but I can’t place him any higher on the list because of the sample size. I very much expect Gerhart to be part of a Stanford reunion in Free Agency, the only question for me is whether it will be in San Francisco, with Jim Harbaugh, or in Indianapolis, with Andrew Luck.
Best Fit: 49ers, Colts, Jets, Ravens
Most Likely: 49ers, Colts

Other Top Free Agent Running Backs:

6. Andre Brown – When healthy, Brown has shown some flashes of brilliance in the last two seasons. He’s reaching Free Agency at an interesting time, since the Giants have only David Wilson and Michael Cox under contract (Brandon Jacobs retired and Peyton Hillis is further down on the list). It’ll be interesting to see if the Giants make a run at someone higher up on this list, or try to resign Brown.

7. Ahmad Bradshaw – A hard, one-cut, downhill runner, Bradshaw has always been somewhat underappreciated, and he’s still only 27. His career yards per carry average is 4.6, and he only had one season (2011) where it was less than 4.5. Bradshaw, who signed with the Colts late in Free Agency because of a foot injury, only played three games with the Colts before suffering a season ending neck injury. I would not be surprised to see the Colts resign Bradshaw, given the uncertainty of Trent Richardson’s stardom (or mediocrity). I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradshaw end up back with Big Blue.

8. Maurice Jones-Drew – After eight seasons with the Jaguars, MJD is reaching Free Agency for the first time. He’ll be 29 later this month, and is coming off two rough seasons, one in which he missed 10 games, both in an abysmal offense. Jones-Drew can still be an effective runner in a role where he doesn’t have to carry the ball 300 times per year. Look for him to return home to Oakland, or nearby San Francisco.

9. Rashad Jennings – I really liked Jennings coming out of Liberty in 2009. He backed up MJD during the height of his power, and did not get his first real opportunity until 2012 after MJD was injured. Unfortunately for Jennings, that opportunity was within the NFL’s least talented offense, and he did not have much chance for success. He had several good games for the Raiders in 2013, and found his most success in the games which he received 10+ touches. Jennings may be back in Oakland, but I believe he’ll be able to do better than 1-year deal he signed with the Raiders in 2013.

10. Donald Brown – Much like his 2009 first-round counterpart on this list, Brown did not have much success until 2013. He was thrust into a bigger role than the team had planned for him, after Ahmad Bradshaw was injured and Trent Richardson struggled. I believe that Brown would make a solid third down back for several teams, and there should be a market for his services.

11. Rashard Mendenhall – Bruce Arians sure seemed determined to keep the reigns on rising star Andre Ellington. Mendenhall received the bulk of the teams carries in every game which he played, despite never rushing for more than 76 yards, and never averaging more than 4.7 yards per carry. If Mendenhall doesn’t resign with the Cardinals, he’s likely to end up in a secondary role somewhere. His days as a starter are over.

12. Anthony Dixon – Dixon won’t remain in SF, but he’ll latch on somewhere as a short yardage back.

13. Peyton Hillis – From Madden cover to out of the league in less than 2 years, Hillis eventually landed with the Giants in 2013, and played well enough to earn himself another year in the league.

14. James Starks – He gradually saw his role reduced after a 20 carry, 132-yard game in week 2. I don’t see him returning to the Packers, and he may struggle to find a home early in Free Agency.

15. Bernard Scott – only played in two games for the Ravens in 2014. He’ll be on a roster this summer but may not be able to survive camp cuts.