Giving Up The Franchise?

Updated: April 21st 2015

A few weeks ago, I wrote a strategy primer Top 5 Offseason Questions that teased the question How Can I Most Effectively Use My Franchise Tag? With the offseason now in full gear and the NFL Draft around the corner, the time to at least start your analysis on your team’s free agents and whether you want to protect one of them is now.

This analysis will take a look at all existing Reality Sports Online (RSO) leagues and show what the average positional contract values are for purposes of calculating what the Franchise Tag amount would be by position. I’ll then analyze the five players in the Top 5 pool and let you know whether I think their juice is worth the squeeze, essentially whether you should pony up and franchise that player in general. Of course, since all league dynamics and scoring systems may be different, which is part of the beauty of RSO being fully customizable, a one-size-fits-all approach to using the franchise tag would be a naive approach to this. So, along the way, I will try to provide some strategy and context to potential franchise tag decisions you face and what the likely ramifications would be if you let someone back into the free-agent pool.

Remember, for your leagues, the value of the franchise tag is the higher of the Top 5 Positional Average from your league or 120% of the 2014 contract and players on expiring deals can be franchise tagged twice at most. Now, let’s jump in.

Quarterbacks

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Rodgers $22,620,135 $27,144,162 18.9%
Brees $19,939,216 $23,927,060 16.7%
P. Manning $19,249,096 $23,098,915 16.1%
Luck $15,773,949 $18,928,739 13.2%
Brady $12,930,500 $18,102,579 12.6%
Top 5 Average $18,102,579

I touched on this a few weeks ago, but with few exceptions, I really think using a franchise tag on a quarterback is foolish, with few exceptions. First off, to me it is essentially bidding against yourself. What I mean by that is that in a 10-12 team league, every team has a starting quarterback, but there is still significant value beyond the multi-year deals. While Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are two guys you’d definitely pay the price listed above for, are the others really worth that much more than quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger at this point? 

The answer is a definitive no and all these quarterbacks based on age scream one year guys. I’d much rather have Romo at his annual $5.5 million average and the extra cap space than have a quarterback that is better, but not enough to justify the franchise tag cost. Additionally, streaming quarterbacks has become en vogue for a lot of different league players, especially in redraft leagues. In a dynasty league, you may think differently than this, but there is a happy medium between rolling the dice on a starter like Matt Cassel and spending $23.1 million on Peyton Manning. 

Second, you really want to game the free-agent market for quarterbacks. If you are in a league where the majority of the teams have a starter locked up, you should be able to get one of the remaining ones of value for cheap. Some owners don’t have the cap space to price enforce and the ones that do may have their limits. For instance, last season my team had a really nice core and the only real starter I needed was a quarterback and 10 of the 12 teams in my league had that need taken care of. I was able to get Russell Wilson on a nice 3 year deal for $26.0 million for someone who ended up being a Top 5 scoring quarterback in my league.

Additionally, some quarterbacks with serious upside potential in good offenses are practically free in some RSO leagues. Count Eli Manning ($2.4 million annual average) and Carson Palmer ($1.8 million annual average) among one year quarterbacks that fit this mold on the super cheap.

Please note that all league dynamics are different. I’m sure some of you have a stacked team that will likely finish top three in your league and are like “Well, Matt, I can franchise Peyton Manning at $23.1 million and wreck this league.” In that case, I would call it a coin flip whether you want to use a high franchise tag price. I still think you could probably do better to get that quarterback back on a one year deal on the open market, but if you are afraid of losing them and your competitive stronghold I’m good with you protecting your quarterback if he’s the missing piece to your championship.

Explicitly, the only quarterbacks who I think are worth the franchise money for 2015 based on the above are Rodgers and Luck. I could debate the Peyton Manning scenario if you are a top three team in your league. At this point, though, Drew Brees is overpriced.

Running Backs

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
McCoy $25,155,474 $30,186,569 21.1%
Peterson $22,951,390 $27,541,668 19.2%
Charles $21,930,732 $26,316,879 18.4%
Forte $18,268,179 $21,921,815 15.3%
Martin $17,707,444 $21,248,933 14.8%
Top 5 Average $21,202,644

The running back position while not valued as much in today’s NFL, is a very dynamic one for RSO owners. A running back that was highly valued just one or two years ago (think Doug Martin) may be in a committee or have lost their starting gig (Montee Ball anyone?) Others who you are potentially considering for your franchise tag may not have even been on your opening day roster last season (C.J. Anderson for one).

First off, the only two running backs from the table above of Top 5 Running Back salaries that are worth their franchise tag cost based on the averages set out above are Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte. I’d gladly pay for focal points on offense and even though Marc Trestman is gone in Chicago, Forte is in the last year of his real NFL deal, so a one year franchise tag feels like the right contract for him.

If you weathered last season of Adrian Peterson and his legal troubles and now he’s off contract for you, you take his $27.5 million of cap space and treat it as found money instead of doubling down on him again. Sure he may be productive, but let that be someone else’s risk. As for Lesean McCoy, I talked about him going to Buffalo extensively in Free Agent Frenzy. $30.2 million is definitely overpaying Shady based on the Buffalo quarterback situation and a less dynamic offense. I’ll chalk Rex Ryan’s goal to run 50 times a game as offseason coachspeak.

However, there are plenty of running backs that you’d have to think about at the $21.2 million average that aren’t on this list. Le’Veon Bell is someone that is currently averaging around $9.9 million and 2.4 years average contract length. Assuming the league discipline he faces results in a suspension of less than 4 games, I’d gladly pay $21.2 million to keep a dual catching and rushing threat like Bell. DeMarco Murray on the Eagles is another situation that I like. Surely his volume will come down from last year and the offensive line in Philly isn’t what he had in Dallas, but Murray certainly would be worth consideration for the franchise tag. I’d probably lean against the move because the team still brought in Ryan Mathews as well and $21.2 million is too high to pay for what may amount to a running back in some form of a rushing timeshare and a third-down back in Darren Sproles in place as well.

Eddie Lacy and Marshawn Lynch are the other two running backs who fit the bill as one year type guys who can produce heavily. Lacy is probably on rookie deals in most leagues, so I doubt he’d be available to use the franchise tag on. Lynch is the ideal franchise back- someone who gets good volume, is a go-to player in the red zone, and plays in pain. Plus, he’s on a one-year NFL deal for all intents and purposes and you wouldn’t want to risk additional RSO years on him. Simply put, pay the man the franchise tag!

I like Arian Foster’s productivity, but his injury history makes me skittish on using the franchise tag on him, especially at $21.2 million. I’d try to get him cheaper in free agency on a one-year deal. C.J. Anderson is probably someone else I’d roll the dice with in free agency just in case a coaching change leads to Anderson not being the man. All accounts are that he will be the lead back, but Denver has a stable of talented running backs and the ones who pass protect for Peyton Manning will get the most run.

Lastly, while Lamar Miller certainly figures to be a trendy pick this year to increase his production, based on his age and skill set, I like him more as a multi-year contract signing as opposed to using the franchise tag on him.

Again, your league dynamics matter. If 7 of the top 10 running back scorers from 2014 are free agents like in my league, I’d strategically use the franchise tag asset elsewhere. Remember, due to their short NFL shelf lives, the window to grab running backs and expect optimal production is from their rookie season through age 26 or 27, even though most experts cite age 30 as when running backs fall off the cliff. So using the franchise tag on a running back may be the perfect stopgap to committing to a potential decline.

Wide Receivers

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Ca. Johnson $24,748,605 $29,698,326 20.7%
Green $22,938,371 $27,526,046 19.2%
D. Thomas $20,901,796 $25,082,155 17.5%
Ju. Jones $20,626,900 $24,752,280 17.3%
D. Bryant $20,606,394 $24,727,672 17.3%
Top 5 Average $21,964,413

To me, wide receiver is the position that a platform like Reality Sports Online is all about. You want these playmakers locked up as your premium assets, especially as the NFL is a passing league. The highest positional average of $22.0 million reflects that wide receivers are at a premium in RSO leagues. The names in the table above show exactly why as all five of these receivers are as relevant today as when they were originally signed to contracts. They are all worth the franchise tag designation if you have them.

The thing is- so are several wide receivers who aren’t on this list of Top 5 guys. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash franchising the ever consistent Antonio Brown or Jordy Nelson at $22.0 million if they were expiring from my team last season. However, that is probably where I’d draw the line on the franchise tag between those two receivers and the ones in the table.

You certainly could debate tagging receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb. Frankly, I like Jeffery more as a multi-year play and Cobb too for that matter. If you see value in both, you’ll want to ride out their expected production over multiple seasons and not just one. As I mentioned before, I don’t expect Cobb to score 12 touchdowns again as he’s due for some type of red zone regression. I know how valuable he is in creating mismatches and how Rodgers had the best passer rating of any QB-WR combo when he threw to Cobb. $22.0 million is just a lot to pay to a slot receiver and if I’m thinking about that, I might as well have him longer than a year.

As the wide receiver pool is fairly deep and the one that has the least risk in the rookie draft, several elite type wide receivers are locked up on contracts, so if you have any of the nine wide receivers I mentioned on expiring deals, you’d certainly have to think long and hard about what to do with them. At the same time, if you had the unique option of choosing to franchise tag an elite wide receiver or elite running back at similar cap hits, I think you’d have to go with the receiver nine times out of ten because of the scarcity of elite wide receivers not on contract in RSO leagues.

Tight Ends

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
J. Graham $21,297,379 $25,556,855 17.8%
J. Thomas $13,919,621 $16,703,545 11.7%
Gronkowski $13,115,578 $15,738,694 11.0%
Cameron $6,692,963 $12,342,597 8.6%
V. Davis $6,687,446 $12,342,597 8.6%
Top 5 Average $12,342,597

Tight end is a very interesting position for analyzing to use the franchise tag. Your league dynamics will dictate market prices and some leagues may see some seriously depressed prices for tight ends. This means that if you are in the right league, franchising a tight end could be a strategic move that really helps your team.

First, let’s get the easy and obvious out of the way. If you have Rob Gronkowski on a multi-year deal that is expiring (his system wide averages were 2.3 years and $13.1 million per year), spend the $15.8 million (likely the 120% raise category) and franchise tag him. I’m in this exact scenario and practically at the same money and unless Gronk tears his ACL walking down the red carpet at the Entourage movie premiere or breaks his wrist playing beer pong with sorority girls this summer, I’m going to wait out the summer and use the franchise tag on him in August before our league rookie draft.

The thought with Gronk is this- you took a risk on him two years ago when he was coming back from multiple surgeries, so you may have paid less for him than you otherwise would have. You weathered a few injuries and last year he dominated for you. There is no way you let that domination and point differential at the position go when you have a series of two one-year options on him at below market prices. Plus, with Gronk’s injury history, you probably don’t want to commit to him long term anyways.

With respect to the others in the table- Jimmy Graham is someone that has more NFL value in Seattle than fantasy value and at $25.6 million you throw him back into the pond. Julius Thomas’ RSO contract reflects Broncos tight end value and he’s no longer a Bronco. No way are you spending $16.7 million on him. I wouldn’t pay the $12.3 million tag prices for the oft-injured Jordan Cameron or unproductive and unmotivated Vernon Davis.

Further the only other tight end that I’d pay $12.3 million for that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Travis Kelce, who was quietly very good last season and was actually limited in use due to his coming back from microfracture knee surgery. Without the kid gloves on this season, I expect huge things from Kelce. Greg Olsen (1.4 years average, $3.9 million annual average) is coming off a huge season, but I can’t justify more than $8.0 million on him and even that makes me a little nervous.

If your league dynamics are good and franchising a tight end like Owen Daniels or Antonio Gates is an option at between $2.0-$4.0 million, go for it. Otherwise, look to pick up someone in free agency.

Defenses/Special Teams

Player Average Salary 2015 Franchise Tag Cost % Cap
Seahawks $4,458,064 $5,349,677 3.7%
49ers $2,578,016 $3,093,619 2.2%
Panthers $2,347,314 $2,816,777 2.0%
Bengals $1,676,682 $2,524,468 1.8%
Cardinals $1,562,263 $2,524,468 1.8%
Top 5 Average $2,524,468

I’ll admit it: last year I franchised the Seahawks DST. I’d do it again if the market dynamics were right. However, if RSO league averages follow suit, I can’t justify spending $5.4 million on the Seahawks DST for 2015. They simply have too many injuries to start the season in the secondary and that cap figure is too high considering what defenses you can stream that would be effective. You also could probably get an expiring good defense in the free agency auction for less and only the Seahawks and 49ers had multi-year average contracts averaging 1.5 years. This means that almost every defense should be available in your auction unless your league behavior runs counter to the average RSO league.

In fact, the only team in this table I’d use the franchise tag on is potentially the Cardinals at $2.5 million as the 49ers had too many retirements, the Panthers price is based on 2013 success, and the Bengals flat out weren’t good last year. Once you get beyond $3.0 million for a defense you are overpaying for a commoditized position that fluctuates wildly from year to year. Free agency also has plenty of movement that impacts which defenses are good from one year to the next.

League dynamics could make the franchise tag on a defense very compelling, especially if you feel good about your starting lineup and defensive fantasy points are worth a lot in your league. When the only thing between you and league domination is using $1.0-$3.0 million to franchise tag a team like the Houston Texans, make it happen. If your league overprices the skill positions and the only positions you could fathom spending the money on the franchise tag on is a defense or a kicker, it may not be sexy, but you might as well use your franchise tag like an asset.

Kickers

I’m not going to throw in a table because some of the kickers on this list aren’t even NFL starters. However, if you can justify spending between $1.0 million and $1.2 million on a kicker at most and have someone you consider reliable with absolutely no other positions to use the franchise tag on, consider using it on your kicker, because why not? Now, I’m not advocating you bending the rules and trying to franchise tag a kicker you picked up for your playoff run for a pro-rated salary. Most leagues should have a minimum $500,000 contract value and no kicker should be allowed to be franchise tagged for less than the league minimum.

Hopefully this is helpful. My guess is your offseason is just underway, so no need to make any uninformed, rash decisions. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2.

Trying to Build a Champion

Updated: April 21st 2015

My favorite league that I participate in is the Matt Waldman/Rookie Scout Portfolio Experts league. Matt was an early adopter of Reality Sports Online, and was kind enough to start this Experts league two years ago when we were just getting off the ground. If you don’t know who Matt is or what the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is, take a quick tour of the site. If you love the NFL, whether you’re a Fantasy person or not, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is worth the $20. When it comes to Fantasy, I recommend a lot of sites (there are a lot of good ones!), but when it comes to scouting and player evaluation, there are very few I would recommend. I’ve read dozens of player evaluations done by NFL Scouts, and Matt’s stuff is NFL-team caliber. I don’t follow college football as closely as I used to, and Matt’s comprehensive guide actually helps prepare me for the NFL Draft so that I’m as interested in rounds 3-7 as I am rounds 1 and 2.

The league has great Fantasy experts from many different sites:

I took over an immediate rebuilding project after both the Rookie Draft & the first year Free Agency Auction were complete. An Owner had to leave the Free Agency Auction at the midway point because of extenuating circumstances, so I ended up with a half-way assembled team. I made a flurry of pre-season moves and trades (outlined at the time by Matt Waldman here) to try to position myself for the future. Year one was rough, mostly because I ended up overachieving at 5-8, and ended up with the 5th pick in the 2014 Rookie Draft.

Entering the second year of the league, I was mostly a blank slate, returning Alex Smith (traded for) and a couple of above average Wide Receivers with Antonio Brown (traded for), Michael Crabtree (inherited), and Percy Harvin (traded for). I also had Christine Michael (inherited) and Kyle Rudolph (inherited), who at the time, still held some promise.

I had traded my 2nd round pick away, and entered the Rookie Draft planning to draft a Running Back who would get touches. I desperately wanted to select Carlos Hyde fifth overall, and was certain he was still going to be available. Mike MacGregor held two of the first four selections in front of me in the first round, and he already had a ton of depth at RB. Mike Evans went off the board first, Sammy Watkins second, Brandin Cooks third, and of course, MacGregor selected Carlos Hyde with the 4th pick. In retrospect, at #5, I could have adapted on the fly and selected a WR (Kelvin Benjamin, OBJ, or Jordan Matthews), or took a shot on Jeremy Hill (who was projecting to be in a time-share at best), but I didn’t have my crystal ball with me that day, and I took Bishop Sankey. Even with Sankey and no 2nd round selection, I was still able to salvage the draft (in my opinion) landing Lorenzo Taliaferro in the 3rd, De’Anthony Thomas and Dri Archer in the 4th, and Colt Lyerla and Jimmy Garoppolo in the 5th. Entering their sophomore seasons, I’m more excited about Taliaffero, Thomas, and Archer than Sankey.

In the second-season Free Agency Auction (first with me at the helm), I handed multi-year contracts to Nick Foles (4 yrs/$25M), Vernon Davis (2 yrs/$16.5M), Bryce Brown (3 yrs/$10.5M), Anquan Boldin (2 yrs/$9M), Knowshon Moreno (2 yrs/$8.5M), and Miles Austin (3 yrs/$5.5M). I had a handful of notable 1-year deals (LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Carson Palmer) but ended up underachieving with that group, going 4-9.

Now entering year 3 of the league, I have the 2nd pick in the draft, with picks in rounds 1,2, 3, and 5. If I don’t make any trades or cuts, I’ll have about $70M in 2015 Cap Room entering the Free Agency Auction, plus the players below already on my roster. If I believed either player would be worth it, I could Franchise Tag Frank Gore or LeGarrette Blount for the friendly price of $23.7M. Christine Michael is the only player remaining from the roster I inherited two years ago.

PLAYER POS AGE TM EXP Total Guar Yrs 2015 2016

2017

Archer, Dri RB 24 PIT 2016 $1.95M $974.17K 3 $649.44K $688.41K UFA
Austin, Miles WR 31 CLE 2016 $5.5M $2.75M 3 $1.83M $1.94M UFA
Boldin, Anquan WR 35 SF 2015 $9M $4.5M 2 $4.59M UFA
Brown, Antonio WR 27 PIT 2015 $18.5M $12.15M 3 $6.54M UFA
Brown, Bryce RB 24 BUF 2016 $10.5M $5.25M 3 $3.5M $3.71M UFA
Davis, Vernon TE 31 SF 2015 $16.5M $8.25M 2 $8.42M UFA
Foles, Nick QB 26 STL 2017 $25M $12.5M 4 $6M $6.5M $7M
Garoppolo, Jimmy QB 24 NE 2016 $1.8M $899.88K 3 $599.92K $635.92K UFA
Harvin, Percy WR 27 NYJ 2015 $40.5M $26.6M 3 $14.31M UFA
Michael, Christine RB 25 SEA 2015 $10.2M $6.7M 3 $3.6M UFA
Moreno, Knowshon RB 28 MIA 2015 $8.5M $4.25M 2 $4.34M UFA
Sankey, Bishop RB 23 TEN 2016 $14.43M $7.22M 3 $4.81M $5.1M UFA
Taliaferro, Lorenzo RB 24 BAL 2016 $2.46M $1.23M 3 $820.65K $869.89K UFA
Thomas, De’Anthony RB 22 KC 2016 $1.94M $967.8K 3 $645.2K $683.91K UFA

At this moment, the only player I would consider cutting in advance of the season would be Miles Austin. I’d essentially be able to get out from his 2016 salary by releasing him prior to the season (half of his 2015 $1.83M and half of his 2016 $1.94M would accelerate into 2015). I’ll wait and see where he lands, because even if he’s on my roster Week 1, fully guaranteeing his salary for the year, he’s not a big cap hit.

Even though Austin may be the only player I cut, this is not exactly the roster I envisioned I would have after 2 years of rebuilding. While I can certainly put the $70M to good use, there are four teams with even more space than I have. Outside of Antonio Brown, this team has a lot of mediocrity. Percy Harvin and Nick Foles both have some legitimate upside in their new environments, and Dri Archer, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and De’Athony Thomas are all a teammate injury away from Fantasy prominence. At the risk of one of the other franchise Owners reading this and using it against me during trade talks, I can’t say I’m very excited about Vernon Davis or Bishop Sankey, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

I’m guaranteed to land either Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon with the #2 pick, if I so choose. I will probably do so, or I can trade back. Alternatively, if they end up in a non-Fantasy friendly backfield, I’ll have Amari Cooper as a backup plan. I should be able to land either Winston or Mariota at the top of round 2, but will do so knowing I can’t expect any real production in year one.

There are 157 veteran offensive skill positions players whose contracts expired at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Here’s a look at the top 50 Free Agents (sorted by 2014 Salary). Marshawn Lynch (~$24.8M), Peyton Manning (~$19.8M), and DeMarco Murray (~$23.7M) look like the only players likely to receive Franchise Tags. Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, or Sam Bradford are all sleeper QB tag (~$19.8M) candidates. Teams will have between 18 and 24 players already under contract heading into Free Agency, so everyone will be looking to fill 6 to 12 roster spots. There are a handful of potential gems that are not on this top 50 list, but for the most part…this is it. Some of these guys are going to get a lot more than they’re worth – just like what happens in real life.

PLAYER

POS AGE TM RSO TEAM

2014 Salary

Peterson, Adrian RB 30 MIN Jason Wood $36.21
Johnson, Calvin WR 30 DET Matt Waldman $35.45
Charles, Jamaal RB 29 KC Bob Harris $30.86
Rice, Ray RB 28 BAL Jeff Tefertiller $27.80
Foster, Arian RB 29 HOU Matt Waldman $26.01
White, Roddy WR 34 ATL Mike Clay $21.50
Kaepernick, Colin QB 28 SF Evan Silva $20.91
Lynch, Marshawn RB 29 SEA Russell Clay $20.66
Cruz, Victor WR 29 NYG Mike Clay $17.60
Johnson, Andre WR 34 IND Rivers McCown $16.58
Fitzgerald, Larry WR 32 ARI Matt Deutsch $16.07
Manning, Peyton QB 39 DEN Jim Day $16.07
Brees, Drew QB 36 NO Mike Clay $15.30
Murray, DeMarco RB 27 PHI Matt Deutsch $15.30
Jackson, Vincent WR 32 TB Mike MacGregor $15.05
Crabtree, Michael WR 28 SF Matt Papson $14.03
Smith, Torrey WR 26 SF Ryan McDowell $14.03
Miller, Lamar RB 24 MIA Mike MacGregor $12.75
Bowe, Dwayne WR 31 KC Matt Deutsch $12.50
Jennings, Rashad RB 30 NYG Bob Harris $12.50
Wayne, Reggie WR 37 IND Jim Day $12
Johnson, Chris RB 30 NYJ Jim Day $11.50
Gore, Frank RB 32 IND Matt Papson $11
Jennings, Greg WR 32 MIN Mike Clay $11
Garcon, Pierre WR 29 WAS Jeff Tefertiller $10.71
Welker, Wes WR 34 DEN Russell Clay $10.71
Wallace, Mike WR 29 MIA Mike Clay $10.50
Bush, Reggie RB 30 DET Jason Wood $9.44
Jackson, Steven RB 32 ATL Sigmund Bloom $8
Jackson, Fred RB 34 BUF Russell Clay $7.50
Wright, Kendall WR 26 TEN Jim Day $7.14
Ridley, Stevan RB 26 NE Ryan McDowell $6.63
Baldwin, Doug WR 27 SEA Jason Wood $6
Palmer, Carson QB 36 ARI Matt Papson $6
Bradford, Sam QB 28 PHI Sigmund Bloom $5.87
Holmes, Andre WR 27 OAK Mike Clay $5.50
Smith Sr., Steve WR 36 BAL Bob Harris $5.50
Johnson, Stevie WR 29 SF Bob Harris $5.10
Jones-Drew, Maurice RB 30 OAK Matt Deutsch $5
Manning, Eli QB 34 NYG Evan Silva $5
Rudolph, Kyle TE 26 MIN Matt Papson $4.59
Tannehill, Ryan QB 27 MIA Ryan McDowell $4.59
Dalton, Andy QB 28 CIN Bob Harris $4.50
Roethlisberger, Ben QB 33 PIT Sigmund Bloom $4.34
Stewart, Jonathan RB 28 CAR Sigmund Bloom $4.34
McFadden, Darren RB 28 OAK Matt Deutsch $4
Amendola, Danny WR 30 NE Rivers McCown $3.50
Blount, LeGarrette RB 29 NE Matt Papson $3.50
Rivers, Philip QB 34 SD Jason Wood $3.06

Perhaps I was scarred by my real life experiences, but I’m not one to hand-out mega-contracts. As you can see, the multi-year contracts I handed out last year were relatively low dollar amounts. That means I’m not going to be competing (unless I’m helping enforce fair value) for AP, Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, or Arian Foster.

Admittedly, at the moment, it’s hard to see an easy path to being a contender. I have two of the most valuable pieces in the league right: Antonio Brown at only $6.54M, and the 2nd overall pick – which comes with an affordable contract. Sometime here in the near future, I’m going to have to decide if it’s better to sell those pieces and make a run in 2016, or hope guys like Nick Foles, Percy Harvin, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and some Free Agent signings have big years.

What do you guys think? Does this roster have championship hope in it? Let me know on Twitter @RealitySportsMP

Look for more coverage of this league on the Reality Sports Online Football Ops page as well as on Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

Free Agent Frenzy

Updated: April 21st 2015

Last week I opened up our offseason strategy series with Top 5 Offseason Questions, which hopefully you’ve read by now. It took a high level look into how you can best assess your Reality Sports Online team as the league offseason is now underway. After one of the craziest weeks of free agency ever and NFL General Managers acting like fantasy football owners at the trading deadline, moving star players around like they were football cards, I figure we should analyze the potential fantasy impact of new landscapes for key fantasy players and other players in those offenses.

I won’t get into players who stayed with their current teams, because we are fairly familiar with what type of production you can expect in those landscapes, although I’m sure many Randall Cobb owners are among the happiest during the free agent period based on him staying with the Packers very productive offense.

1) Jimmy Graham Gets Traded to Seahawks

Of all the days I ended up being away from Twitter for a few hours, I picked a day where NFL GM’s were acting like people selling Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice on the trading floor in Trading Places. I think at one point the internet may have broken when it was announced that the Seattle Seahawks traded Max Unger and the 31st pick overall to the New Orleans Saints for Jimmy Graham and a 4th round pick. The move helps the Saints cap wise as Graham was on a 4-year, $40 million contract signed in 2014 , but leaves a big void by virtue of getting rid of Drew Brees‘ biggest and best target, especially in the red zone.

Seahawks Impact: The Seahawks have been one of the most run heavy teams in the NFL the past three years. That doesn’t figure to change, although having Graham will certainly change the matchup possibilities. Seattle was clamoring for a red zone threat who could win balls in the end zone and in traffic. Graham is that guy, but not someone who is going to cut into Marshawn Lynch’s touchdowns much (maybe Russell Wilson’s rushing touchdowns a bit). Expect the touchdown totals to be down around 8-10 per year and 1,000 yards receiving to be a stretch. I’d move Graham down into a tight end tier with Greg Olsen and a few others. From an RSO standpoint, his average contract of 2.7 years and $57.5 million (average of $21.3 million) is probably about $10.0 million more than you’d want to be spending in the Free Agency Auction Room if he was a free agent in your league. If you can move him and get appropriate value, it may be worth it.

The biggest impact is that this should significantly propel Wilson as a passer. I’d move him into Top 5 quarterback status, passing Drew Brees on the way by virtue of the subtraction of Graham. The Graham acquisition really opens up the middle of the field on intermediate routes with solid depth where the Seahawks like to operate, and also takes the burden off of Lynch a bit. At the end of the day, the Seahawks are still a run first team, but Graham can create big matchup problems (especially in division as teams like the Cardinals don’t perform well versus the position), and this could open up even more zone-read for Wilson. I’m thinking his passing numbers will increase and you may see his first 4,000 passing yard season and his passing touchdowns will be up at the expense of his rushing touchdowns, which one could argue his 2014 total of six rushing touchdowns are headed for statistical regression anyways. If you own Wilson at his average contract of 2.2 years and $16.3 million (average of $7.5 million), you should be getting a great value this year and can improve the other aspects of your team by virtue of having a potential Top 5 quarterback on an amazing contract.  If you are prospecting on any quarterbacks this offseason, I’d have to imagine Wilson would be at the top of your list.

Saints Impact: On the flip side, the Saints re-signing Mark Ingram to a 4 year, $16.0 million deal with $7.6 million guaranteed and making this trade points to them being more of a running team going forward (also added C.J. Spiller)  especially with Unger as their new center. Based on age and losing Graham and Pierre Thomas essentially for cap reasons, I would downgrade Brees to between the 5-7 range among quarterbacks because losing 11.5 touchdowns a year out of Graham is tough to replace and now the team has traded Kenny Stills, there best vertical threat as well. Brees also showed a penchant for turning the ball over last season as well. If you have him and can trade him on name reputation, especially carrying a high-salary deal like the 2.2 years and $43.6 million (average of $19.9 million) deal, I think you would be wise to if you get value you are excited about. Do this especially if lots of quarterbacks figure to be free agents in your league this year as I’m sure you’d rather have Tony Romo for half the price of Brees. I obviously would upgrade Ingram on the Graham deal, but not crazily, in spite of him being a really efficient running back in 2014, he does have a long injury history.

The player I like to benefit most from the Graham trade is second year wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Look for Cooks to move all around in different formations and get a good share of the looks that were headed to Graham and Thomas. It is only a matter of time before Cooks becomes the Cobb of the Saints and if you are in a league where you get fantasy points for returns, he’ll add even more value for you. You probably nabbed him in last year’s rookie draft, as his average deal is 3.3 years and $15.1 million ($4.6 million average). Cooks’ value should be through the roof and I’d hold onto him unless you get a king’s ransom for him.

2) Buffalo Likes Its Sauce Shady Style and Eagles Poach Murray

We all knew that Chip Kelly wants to build his own team. He proved that last year by moving on from DeSean Jackson and cutting several players this offseason. However, we had no clue he’d be trading his star running back Lesean McCoy like two kids trading snack packs in their lunches for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Bills Impact: Coach Rex Ryan gets a bell-cow for his beloved run game. The team clearly valued McCoy by giving him a new deal for 5 years and $40 million with $26.1m guaranteed after the trade. The 26 year old running back has plenty of tread left on his tires, but is coming off a year where his numbers were significantly down, especially in the receiving game. McCoy has a tendency to not be patient and hit the right holes sometimes which limited him in 2014. That said, he still had over 1,300 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns in a down year. Expect Buffalo to run a-plenty in 2015, including using veteran Fred Jackson as well. I think Jackson will still be a big factor in the receiving game. McCoy’s value was obviously higher as an Eagle (2.6 years and $64.7 million, or $25.2 million average). If you can trade him and use the cap space you got to get a younger player with upside, it may be worthwhile and I certainly wouldn’t give him more than $15.0 million a year on a free agent deal, especially with a quarterback like Matt Cassel at the helm.

Eagles Impact: The team moved a high dollar cap contract and thought it was getting a replacement for McCoy in veteran Frank Gore, who ultimately ended up signing with the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles offense is a bit in flux because it is uncertain whether Mark Sanchez or newly acquired Sam Bradford will be their quarterback and who he will throw to besides Jordan Matthews, who is someone I love this year.

However, this all changed when DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles on a 5 year, $42.0 million deal with $21.0 million guaranteed on Thursday, shocking the football world, by not only leaving the Cowboys, but going to their division rival in the process. Murray now joins good friend and ex-college roommate Bradford in Philly. Murray had a ton of carries last year and the Eagles have their third down back solution already. I fail to see how but you pay his RSO 2.0 year, $27.0 million contract with a $13.6m annual average in such a crowded backfield, unless trader Chip has not finished making moves yet.

I’d be more on board with the move obviously if the Murray signing meant Ryan Mathews did not sign with the Eagles, however that’s a moot point now. Mathews signing with the Eagles is a better NFL move than a fantasy football one at 3 years, $11.5 million with $5.0 million guaranteed. While he’s been injury and fumble prone to say the least, Mathews also averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2013 and 4.5 yards per carry in limited 2014 action. Mathews’ average RSO deal reflects his injury history at 1.6 years and $11.1 million ($7.2 million average), which is a lot of money for a backup to Murray.

The big question is what Dallas now does to replace Murray, and it seems like based on cost and availability the team should look to the first round of the NFL Draft to nab their bell-cow. Todd Gurley is personally my favorite running back in the draft by a wide margin (think Lynch with more speed) and worth the injury wait and Melvin Gordon would look nice in the Big D as well.

3) Orange Julius Changes His Color

One can’t help but think that if Julius Thomas was writing thank you notes after getting a big new job in Jacksonville, the first one would be to Peyton Manning for turning him into a touchdown machine the past two years. Thomas cashed in on his 24 touchdowns in 27 games by signing a huge 5 year, $46.0 million deal with $24.0 million guaranteed.

Jaguars Impact: I like giving second year quarterback Blake Bortles a security blanket in the red zone. The team just has to get their first and it would be naive to think that Thomas will come close to double digit touchdowns in Jacksonsville as the pass-catching tight-end. He has great hands, but needs to avoid persistent ankle injuries to live up to the value of his deal. Thomas’ 1. 8 years and $25.4 million ($13.9 million average) should be cut in half or by two-thirds for being in the Jaguars offense relative to the Broncos offense. His volume should increase, but the value of his touchdowns in Denver will be really hard to replicate in Jacksonville, at least the next two years, especially if he can’t stay healthy.

Broncos Impact: Many of Manning’s tight-ends have been the product of his confidence in them and the system. Tight end Virgil Green is a super-cheap sleeper option in your auction. He’s noted as a good blocker as well, which should keep him on the field and in Manning’s good graces. Owen Daniels was a sneaky signing (3 years, $12.0 million) for the Broncos who had success under Gary Kubiak in both Houston and Baltimore. I imagine that will be even more pronounced with Manning and if you are in a league where someone kept him (average deal was 1.0 year for $1.1 million), I really like Daniels as a buy-low and ride high guy.

4) The Colts Get Some Vets

It became clear in the playoffs that the Indianapolis Colts were on the brink of becoming a contender for the AFC Championship every year. Improving on offense was a priority, especially at running back. The Colts did one better. Not only did they pry Gore away from the Eagles to replace a horrid Trent Richardson in the backfield, but they also signed wide receivers Andre Johnson and Duron Carter to provide two huge targets for all-world quarterback Andrew Luck to throw to in addition to T.Y. Hilton, while the team cut veteran Reggie Wayne.

Colts Impact: These veteran signings increase the stock of Luck the most and signing Todd Herremans on the offensive line should be big too. He’d be a top three QB option anyways, but you have to salivate at Johnson getting two shots a year at the Texans as well. Johnson never has been a great red zone receiver (last season with 8 or more touchdowns was 2010), but he can win in the middle more than Wayne can at this point and had 85 receptions and almost 1,000 yards in a down year with a terrible quarterback situation last year. Carter, the son of Hall of Famer Cris Carter, is a project, but provides a huge 6’5″ target for Luck, along with Donte Moncrief, who showed some flashes in an inconsistent rookie season. Johnson’s $9.6 million average on a 1.5 average deal length is more than I’d pay at this point, but it will be interesting to see how he extends his career with Luck.

The Gore signing is better from an NFL perspective than a fantasy one. I think he could score 8-10 touchdowns if given the lead-back role, but at his age, you aren’t counting on him for a multi-year deal or either trading him or trading for him.

5) Jeremy Maclin’s Homecoming

Once Cobb announced early in free agency that he’d return to the Packers, Jeremy Maclin became the prized piece for free agent wide receivers. In a move that probably shocked nobody, Maclin agreed to a 5 year, $55.0 million deal with $22.5 million guaranteed with his former coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. For Maclin it is a homecoming to rejoin Reid and because the St. Louis native went to the University of Missouri. Maclin figures to bolster a receiving corps that had zero wide receiver touchdowns in 2014, compared to Maclin’s 10 touchdowns.

Chiefs Impact: Tough to say because quarterback Alex Smith is a known dinker and dunker. With Travis Kelce emerging at the tight end position, the signing of Maclin was a necessary move, even at high dollars for a receiver that only has cracked 1,000 receiving yards last year (85 receptions for 1,318 yards) and already missed the 2013 season with a torn ACL. Maclin’s injury and free agent status seem to be priced into his 2014 contract values from RSO auctions as his average deal is for 1.7 years and $7.0 million, or an average of $4.2 million. If you own a deal like that, you stick as Maclin should be the focal point of the Chiefs passing game. If you believe Maclin will still be a 1,000 yard and 8 touchdown guy for the Chiefs, you should pursue offseason deals for him as he’s very familiar with Reid’s offense and is a pro’s pro.

6) Other Notes

I think Nick Foles can be a solid starter in St. Louis and love the idea of two teams swapping potential starting quarterbacks in a fantasy-football like deal, but I’m not sure I’m thrilled about paying him $7.8 million annually. Bradford, who he got traded for has too long a history of injuries and inability to hit on big plays for my liking, so I’m staying away from him. Shane Vereen signing with the Giants benefits nobody in the backfield, but should be a significant upgrade for Eli Manning as a pass-catching running back. I’m not afraid to call Eli a sleeper with the weapons he has and I’d gladly pay his 1.2 year contract for $2.8 million ($2.4 million average) even in a backup capacity. The Ndamukong Suh signing in Miami figures to give the team a monstrous front four, but I still think the Miami defense is no better than a fringe top-ten option. I like the potential impact Trent Cole can have on the Indy defense.

That’s all for now, folks, but we’ll continue this throughout the offseason. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2

Top 5 Offseason Questions

Updated: March 4th 2015

Now that the NFL offseason is about to begin, Reality Sports Online (RSO) owners can replace the void of no football games on the tube with offseason strategy. Now is the time that you set the foundation for your team’s future and ideally make moves to build a champion. Like Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always Be Closing”.

Let’s face it- you joined an RSO league because you wanted something more from a fantasy platform, basically the ability to act exactly like an NFL team General Manager. You craved all the strategic decisions a GM makes, including assessing your overall roster and salary cap situation, drafting rookies, and potentially using your Franchise Tag as an asset. Except you get to negotiate with players without them being divas or dealing with potentially greedy agents who are only about “Show Me the Money!”

Being an owner of an RSO team, you hopefully have a keen sense of strategy and utilize many information sources to manage your teams in the offseason and throughout the regular season. Let me first advocate our own Matt Papson’s Off-Season Team Analysis as an incredibly valuable resource. Simply put, it isn’t often that you get free advice from someone who has worked in an NFL front office regarding your fantasy team.

To help you through your offseason key decisions, I’m writing a strategy series that outlines potential decisions you may face as an owner, regardless of when you started your league. Consider this article a primer to that series, which starts out with the Top 5 questions you should be asking when reviewing your offseason rosters. So without further ado, let’s jump in and be “About That Action, Boss”.

1) What is my overall salary cap situation?

First off, the 2015 salary cap in the NFL was announced yesterday at $143.3 million, which is a $10.3 million increase on the 2014 salary cap of $133.0 million.  What you first need to assess is based on the dynamics of your league which players will be the key free agents in your league and what they figure to command.

For instance, if you have a 2015 salary cap of $100 million committed on six or seven starters on your roster before using your rookie picks, you are likely going to be looking at getting one star in free agency  (think like a DeMarco Murray type) and “painting the edges” to fill out your roster. This means that you end up with a few starters you may not be very excited about (maybe that means starting a Tight End like Heath Miller), unless you are good at picking sleepers.

You should also know your league opponents cap situation inside and out. If they are in a dire cap situation, you may be able to take advantage. If they have a lot of cap space, they figure to be your main competition in an auction or a team that may be coming in with less talent on their roster, meaning they could be a prime trading partner.

2) Which players do I think about trying to buy/sell in a trade market?

Offseason trades won the main league I was in last year by another owner as he maneuvered with first round rookie draft picks to separately dump David Wilson and trade for Le’Veon Bell, while having lots of cap space to sign Antonio Brown at a high price. The lesson is to approach the offseason trade market as an opportunity to upgrade at a certain position or hope you can pawn off someone you aren’t high on to another owner.

A key thing to remember is that in a league like this, everything is an asset, including cap space. What I mean by this is that while you may be excited about someone like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and can nab him at 1.03 in your rookie draft, you may be better off packaging your rookie draft pick with a high salary player that you’ve given up on just to have ample cap space in what may be a bountiful Free Agency Auction Room experience.

Along those lines, players like Adrian Peterson, who fetched a pretty penny a few years ago (average RSO contract of 2.56 years and $22.6m annually) should be packaged with first round draft picks if you are looking to unload and value cap space more than players on your roster. For instance if you gave up 1.03 and dumped Peterson’s salary on another owner in exchange for a 2015 second round pick, you essentially created almost $27m of 2015 cap space (more if Peterson had additional years on his contract).

Another thing to think about when trading a player is whether they seem like a regression candidate as well. What I mean by this is that a player who performed well above their expectation may regress to the mean, or average.

One player who I view as a regression candidate (more on him in another section too) is Randall Cobb. While Cobb had the highest WR rating of 134.3 according to Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stats (subscription required), meaning that Aaron Rodgers had the highest QB rating of all quarterbacks when targeting Cobb, it is hard to imagine that Cobb replicates his 12 touchdowns in 2015, even if he remains in Green Bay.  Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards (both career highs), which theoretically he could see again based on volume, but with Davante Adams figuring to get more looks, Cobb could certainly regress in 2015.

As such, you may want to gauge the trade market for the 5’10” slot receiver because someone else may be high on him whether or not he remains a Packer based on his 2014 season and his RSO salary cap figure.

If you are on the buy side, look for players that you think will breakout in 2015. This may be driven by your gut somewhat or based on a player who regressed last year that you may think will return to a certain performance level. This can take many forms in terms of players, so while Michael Floyd was terrible last year, you may be able to buy him cheaply this offseason if you think he’ll return to form.

Additionally an owner may be down on the upside of a player that you think will hit a new level next year. Lamar Miller strikes me as one of those players based on opportunity and at worst, he still was very consistent in 2014.

3) Is There Anyone I Should Cut Bait With?

I know that in a format like this you can get attached to your multi-year contract players. However, sometimes having 50% of their cap space is more valuable to you, especially if you are only eating one year. It killed me to drop Andre Johnson (apparently more than it killed the Texans) with one year remaining at $10.6 million after I lost in my league playoffs. However, the $5.3 million in cap space is more valuable in 2015 to me to fund other roster moves (sadly he cleared waivers and ended up on the league champion).

Remember that in Year 1 of your auction you may not have fully known what you were doing and got carried away in the auction. While dead cap money is essentially paying someone for not being on your roster, and essentially equates to admitting a mistake, the relative value of the flexibility of the added 50% of your cap money buys you all sorts of option value on how to use that money (rookie draft, franchise tag, free agent auction).

I would not advocate dumping someone who has more than one year left on their contract, unless the contract is small enough that the escalators, etc. are insignificant or it is clear this player will no longer be productive and/or playing.

As someone who was born in Cleveland and raised a Browns fan, I will say that I’d cut bait on Josh Gordon in your RSO leagues because the risk significantly outweighs the return unless you priced Gordon’s risk in your winning auction bid and can wait him out.

4) How Can I Most Effectively Use My Franchise Tag

 While the prospect of paying a Top 5 average salary to one of your players may seem outrageous, especially if your auction got out of hand, the Franchise Tag is a very useful asset in RSO. In a format like this, the perception is almost always that locking up good players on multi-year deals is the best strategy. However, there are misses along the way, which make one year deals or option value like the Franchise Tag pretty valuable as well.

In my mind there is a certain type of player who is an ideal candidate for use of the Franchise Tag. Personally, my prototype example is Rob Gronkowski. When I originally signed Gronk to a 2 year, $26.0 million deal, it was known he’d miss some time at the beginning of the 2013 season and then he tore his ACL at the end of the season. However, for $13.3 million in 2014, Gronk ended up being a steal. Given his injury history, it is nice to have two separate one-year options on a player like Gronk, especially given the positional fantasy point differential he will earn me.

Running back and wide receiver positions typically have the largest Top 5 contracts that serve as the average for the Franchise Tag. These numbers may seem outrageous to you- probably around $25 million and up a year. However, if you are in a scenario where your team has one of the best rosters/cap situations in the league and keeping someone like Jamaal Charles for another year works under your cap, you have to think about it.

You should also think about using the Franchise Tag based on what potential free agents are available. If there are seven of the top ten fantasy running backs in terms of scoring available in your auction, franchising your guy is essentially bidding against yourself and causing you to overpay. So then, it is best to see what the positional need is of other owners in the league and franchise the more scarce option if the players are somewhat equal.

Speaking of bidding against yourself, if you are a Peyton Manning owner, I would (and will not) use the franchise tag on him for 2015. While I like the one year option value for a player with injury risk who is a known top producer, I view franchising Manning as bidding against yourself, especially if his salary numbers escalate based on high dollar quarterback values.

Since you only need one starting quarterback in most leagues, the salaries of quarterbacks may be way less than Manning would command. This is the case in my writer’s league. I have the ability to franchise Manning for around $20 million in a league where most quarterback salaries are $5 million because these owners believe in the “Late Round QB” strategy. So for me to franchise Manning would be stupid, especially with Tom Brady on my roster at $3.0 million in 2015 (got him price enforcing in my auction).

Don’t sleep on Tight Ends or Defenses for use of the franchise tag. Their price tags will be significantly less than running backs or wide receivers. I know that tight ends were incredibly inconsistent in 2014 and you may want to wait for the auction to get yours, especially if your options are somewhat boring. As for defenses, if you have the ability to protect someone like the Texans or Seahawks who have most of their core defensive players locked up and defensive scoring is worth solid value in your league, you can probably franchise tag a defense for $2.0 million or less which could be valuable.

5) How Does “Real” NFL Free Agency Impact the Analysis Above?

When you were in the heat of the auction and someone like DeMarco Murray’s name came up, you were high on the guy and had to have him. Last season he made you look smart. But wait, you signed him to a three year deal (no time to really check this in a fast-moving auction) and now he is an unrestricted free agent that the Cowboys may not be able to afford.

This scenario means that you have a real NFL free agent whose value is mainly tied into what offensive system he plays in (same goes for Cobb, my friends). Meaning that if these players moved to an unfavorable situation on a new team – think Cobb leaving the cozy security blanket of having Rodgers throwing him the ball and then Cobb getting his best offer from the Raiders or Chiefs. As they said in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, welcome to “Ouchtown, population you, bro!”

So if you have someone in your league that is a speculative buyer for productive free agents and can make a trade with that owner at a high price, but not necessarily a ceiling price, you may be smart to go for it. Otherwise you could be facing 2014 Eric Decker on the Jets.

Peripherally, you also want to check and see if any stalwart offensive line changes happen in free agency. Not that you’d be giving up on Rodgers if his tackle Bryan Bulaga left, but if you are an Eddie Lacy owner perhaps you’d try to see what value you could get for him if losing a key lineman is something that you think would be detrimental to Lacy’s future production.

That’s all for now, folks, but we’ll continue this throughout the offseason. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2