Understanding Free Agency

Updated: April 17th 2016

2016 has seen a splurge of free agency spending by NFL teams in a year without top tier talent in the pool.  The total value of contracts given to free agents by NFL teams has topped the $2 billion mark already.  A number of large contracts were given to NFL free agents, many of whom are considered marginal talents by some analysts or playing at a non-premium position like running back.  Are these contracts really as bad as some suggest?  This article provides some context into reasons for the league free agency spending splurge in 2016 and why this might not happen again for a few years.

A few key provisions of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement contributed to this year’s free agency spending splurge by NFL teams.

Salary Cap Rollover

NFL teams may carry over unused salary cap space, with year-end adjustments, each year by submitting notice to the league office.  The Jacksonville Jaguars team gives us a great example of how this can be used by NFL teams as they have had the most cap space of any team each year from 2013 onward with 78 million in 2016.  Table 1 details the Jaguars adjusted salary cap in relation to the league wide salary cap number.  We should also note that the league salary cap has increased more than 25% from 2013 to 2016.

2013 2014 2015 2016
Jaguars 146.2 151.8 168.5 190.3
NFL 123.6 133.0 143.0 155.3

Table 1. NFL Salary Cap vs Jacksonville Jaguars Adjusted Salary Cap (in $ Millions)

Minimum Team Cash Spending

The “89 percent” rule specifies each team must spend, in cash, 89% of the total NFL Salary Cap for each of two 4-year League periods including 2013-2016 and 2017-2020. This means NFL teams must spend about $494 Million from 2013 to 2016. This minimum spending requirement is not an issue for the large majority of teams in the NFL with the average amount of cash needed to be spent to meet the minimum at about $103 million for 2016.  This number is well below what most teams will spend in 2016.  A few teams will have to spend significant dollars to meet the minimum spending threshold, however.  There is not really much of a penalty for not spending the minimum cash amount.  A team must pay any shortfall to players on the roster during the time period, allocated according to rules setup by the NFLPA.  In reality, a team will not purposely miss the minimum threshold as no reason exists for the team to pay money for past performances when it can allocate cash to players who will help the team in the future.  Table 2 lists salary cap space, minimum amounts of total cash spending needed to meet the minimum threshold, and total free agency spending for the four largest free agency spenders in 2016.

Team Salary Cap Space Min. Cash Spending FA Spending
Jacksonville 78 158 222
Oakland 74 144 169
Houston 40 132 139
NY Giants 59 98 202

Table 2. Team Cap Space and Minimum Cash Spending (in $ Millions)

The median amount of total free agent spending per team is about $49 million in 2016 at this point. Our top four spenders averaged $183 million.  It is fairly evident that those teams who needed to meet the minimum threshold and had large amounts of cap space tended to spend big in free agency.  Cleveland and San Francisco, two teams with plenty of cap space, conversely spent very little in the free agent market.  Neither team needed to spend money in free agency to meet the minimum cash spending limit.  There is also the question of where each team is in the development cycle.  Neither the 49ers nor the Browns will likely compete for a division championship for a couple of years at least.  Both teams are beginning the rebuilding process accumulating many draft picks this year.  Our four highest spenders are each expected to challenge for playoff spots soon.

You might also ask why each team did not use their cap space to lock up their own players for the long term, particularly Jacksonville and Oakland with lots of cap space and many young emerging stars. I believe Oakland would have loved to sign Mack and Carr while Jacksonville could have locked up Bortles and Robinson for years to come.  The CBA limited each club in this case.  Contracts may only be renegotiated after three years for drafted players and two years for undrafted players.  The young players mentioned above have only in been in the league for two years and were high draft picks.  Allen Hurns, however, is a prime candidate to receive an extension with the amount of cap space Jacksonville has and 2016 being the last year of Hurns’ undrafted rookie deal.  It is also possible each club would have chosen not to extend their young players given that the teams have control of each player for two more years on cheap rookie contracts.

Cash Spending vs. Salary Cap Hit

The difference between cash spending and salary cap hit also needs to be addressed before we look at individual contracts. Table 3 details a hypothetical 4-year $60 million dollar contract with a $16 million dollar signing bonus and progressive salary increases each year.  The signing bonus is prorated to each contract year for salary cap purposes resulting in a $4 million cap hit each year from the bonus.  The entire signing bonus is applied in the year given producing a large cash charge in the first year.  Giving large signing bonuses to free agents or converting future salary to signing bonus on existing contracts is an effective means of meeting the minimum cash spending limit.  Conversely, many teams with cap struggles restructure contracts by converting a portion of the current salary to a signing bonus.  The current cap hit is reduced while increasing in future years.

Year Bonus Salary Salary Cap Cash
1 16 8 12 24
2 10 14 10
3 12 16 12
4 14 18 14

Table 3. Cash Spending vs Salary Cap Charge (in $ Millions)

Overspending?

The casual NFL fan may not have heard of Malik Jackson (5 years – $85.5M), Olivier Vernon (5 years – $85M), and Kelechi Osemele (5 years – $58.5M), but NFL teams have paid handsomely for their future services as a few of the highest paid free agents from 2016. However, these deals are not quite what the big numbers would suggest when we examine the contracts closely.

Let us look at the Malik Jackson deal for example. Jacksonville may cut Jackson after the 2017 season with only $6 million in signing bonus left to count against the cap.  A portion of that cap hit may be moved further in the future with a June 1st designation.  This is an overriding theme for most of the large contracts signed this year.  In reality, the contracts are four or five year contracts in name only.  Most are more accurately described as two year contracts with team options for two or three additional years and a minimal cap hit relative to the projected cap if the player is released.   This is further demonstrated by the fact that only $863 million is guaranteed out of the $2 billion in contracts signed in free agency.  Expect release or renegotiation of contracts in the future for many of the players signed this year.

Conclusion

The 2016 free agency spending extravaganza is an event we likely won’t see for another four years. The end of the first four year minimum cash spending period and multiple teams with accumulated excess cap space likely contributed to teams spending more on free agents this year.  Teams will always spend big money on premium free agents, but premium players hitting the free agency pool is becoming very rare given cost controlled rookie contracts and the leverage teams have with the franchise tag.

References: The data used in writing this article came from Spotrac and Matt Papson’s Salary Cap Analysis Series on Reality Sports Online.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

One is the Loneliest Number

Updated: April 17th 2016

I have recently joined two new RSO leagues. For most when you join a new league you look at the scoring and rules to see if there will be any major discrepancies in terms of player value. Obviously certain RBs and WRs lose value in non-PPR leagues; while earning points for kick return yardage and touchdowns places slightly more value on those Swiss Army knife players. Most of the leagues that I have participated in, redraft or dynasty, feature some combination of half to full point PPR and start between two and four RBs and WRs with flex players mixed in. These are almost the new standard for fantasy football leagues. However one style seems to be less prevalent and sometimes actively avoided across the community, 2QB.

Starting two quarterbacks seems counter intuitive to some owners as they want the closest experience to being a real general manager in the NFL. That is why RSO owners choose the site since the salary cap and contracts are as realistic as possible. Therefore if you want the real experience why would you ever want to start two quarterbacks in fantasy when there is only one on the field? While it may not seem realistic, fantasy owners do need to remember what position is most important on the field, the quarterback. Depending on scoring formats of the top 20 scoring players in 2015, eighteen were quarterbacks!  Despite this, the smart owners know to not overspend in auctions, and to invest lower or no draft capital in the position. Fellow RSO writer Dave Sanders wrote an article explaining how to hold your dollars and picks for other positions instead of investing heavily in an elite quarterback.

Stacking the Deck

If we know that football’s most important position is now being undervalued due to an influx of usable options, how can we fix leagues to make quarterbacks more valuable in terms of contract dollars and trade value? Simple, you start two of them! The chart below shows the average points per game that the first ranked player earned over the 10th, 20th and 30th ranked player at each position. Since most leagues start more than one WR/RB this is why these two positions on most championship teams earn contracts in the $20-$30million/year range while the starting quarterback contract is between $8-$15million/year.

Position PPG 2015

To further illustrate my point that leagues should be 2QB as a standard I am going to use a formula that some of you may already be aware. I like to think of this formula as one similar to the WAR score (wins against replacement) that is frequently referenced in baseball. The principles are the same; the higher the score the better that player is against the average replacement player at his position. The use of this formula is to set contract values for each player in your free agency auction based on their expected fantasy points. In my next article I’ll breakdown the formula in more depth when I show you how to prepare your budget for your auction draft. For the purpose of this article I’ll just be showcasing the result comparing a 1QB vs. 2QB league.

2QB 4TD Contracts

Comparing four of the most valuable quarterbacks and two elite players at both running back and wide receiver shows the big disparity between the values. Elite skilled positions are at a greater premium and therefore command a greater amount of the annual salary cap. However, when owners become forced to use the 20th ranked QB (and up to 30th in the case of bye weeks, injuries, benching etc.) the point differential increases to the level of starting three RBs/WRs. The value of these elite quarterbacks then rises on average over 170%. When we make this same comparison in a league that uses six points for a passing touchdown instead of four the gap is almost completely lost. As seen in the chart below the values of the quarterbacks actually leapfrogs the running backs and rivals that of the wide receivers.

2QB 6TD Contracts

Now we see the most valuable position in football start to hold similar value in fantasy football as it does on the field. In a league with this format it would make it much easier to justify trading, drafting and paying for quarterbacks. Additionally, this helps leagues that lack trades because it creates opportunities for teams to have different strategies to build a championship team around. In the case of leagues bigger than 10 teams however, I recommend utilizing only one quarterback and offering a superflex position instead. This allows teams that are not able to have three starting quarterbacks on their roster to still compete each year since there would not be 36 starters each week to use.

Arbitrage Time

Updated: April 8th 2016

In the Zone

For those of you reading me for the first time (thank you), I love movies. I quote them incessantly, especially my favorite ones. Glengarry Glen Ross is one of them based on an all-star cast and intense, gripping dialogue (if you haven’t seen it and are a House of Cards fan, picture Kevin Spacey on his heels the entire movie getting chewed out by Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, amongst others). The movie centers around selling of investment properties and who can “close” the most to win the monthly sales contest (first prize Cadillac El Dorado, second prize set of steak knives, third prize is you’re fired).

Since you are all going after the Cadillac El Dorado and not you’re fired (or some humiliating punishment for finishing last if your league is super intense), every now and then I’m going to write about arbitrage opportunities in your leagues-essentially where you may be able to take advantage of the market on a certain player to gain competitive advantage. To me, for 2016 the lowest hanging arbitrage fruit comes in Washington Redskins Tight End Jordan Reed. Reed is owned on multi-year deals about a third as much as Rob Gronkowski in Reality Sports Online leagues and has favorable contract metrics (1.2 average years remaining, $5.7 million average contract remaining). That’s cheaper at this point than the Jason Witten and Kyle Rudolph deals currently out there.

The Opportunity

A few years ago, I wrote this numberFire article comparing Reed to the contents of the envelope of the frozen concentrated orange juice crop report from Trading Places. This came at a time when Reed hadn’t proven himself to make it through an entire season and was more about potential than production. His 9 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown on a whopping 17 targets vs. Green Bay in the playoffs quelled any further talk of potential as Reed has established himself as a Preseason Top 5 fantasy tight end.

However, in spite of the Preseason Top 5 distinction, based on his concussion history, Reed’s 2016 auction price likely has a fair bit of buy-low upside in it, especially against the competitive set at the tight end position who in some cases, have experienced worse injuries. Gronkowski (ACL, Back, Forearm in the past), Jimmy Graham (Patellar Tendon in 2015), Travis Kelce (Microfracture Knee Surgery in 2013), and Julius Thomas (Hand Surgery in 2015) all carry similar if not worse question marks with way higher Reality Sports Online price tags. Only Greg Olsen has managed to escape missing significant game time in the past few seasons.

So your auction offer for Reed has to consider both his concussion history, the fact that he played like a Top 5 tight end last season (87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games),  Reed being a 2017 real-life free agent, and the competitive set of who is actually a free agent at the position. I’m even suggesting you take it one step further and consider Reed as a flex-worthy receiving option to pair with the tight ends above or in lieu of spending big on a free-agent wide receiver as well. This accomplishes two great things for you: 1) it dilutes the already not deep pool of tight ends for those in your league needing them, and 2) it gets you a flex playmaker with potentially the same upside and similar stats for cheaper. In plain terms, you can try to get cute and hope for this season’s Gary Barnidge or you can make the market for one of the best tight ends in the league who still has significant upside.

Think about it this way-if you had to choose between Reed and last year’s early-season target monster Keenan Allen, is it really that big of a slam dunk for Allen? I’d say not as Allen is coming off a lacerated kidney which ended his season and while he posted a 67-725-4 line in only eight games, and often runs fairly short and intermediate routes (2.16 yards per route run per Pro Football Focus), which is actually less than Reed with less red-zone potential as well.

If you are considering using your franchise tag for the tight end position, the average of the Top 5 tight ends across all RSO leagues is $13.5 million and that feels like a fairly good barometer for an annual Reed contract in an auction as well. I love the yearly option value of the franchise tag, especially if you took Reed last season as a flier with upside or someone off the waiver-wire. Remember, $13.5 million is the average Top 5 tight end contract across all leagues, yours may be lower. If so, Reed presents a significant opportunity to profit.

Competition for Targets? 

Washington certainly will have an interesting offense in 2016 with Kirk Cousins, fresh off getting the franchise tag around $20 millon for 2016 slinging the football to a ton of weapons and a ground game featuring the punishing second-year pro Matt Jones. The way Jay Gruden’s offense is constructed with DeSean Jackson (in the few games a year he’s healthy) taking the top off the defense on deep balls, allows perfectly for Reed and Jamison Crowder to own the middle of the field, with veteran Pierre Garcon opposite Jackson to get the rest.

So then, what was the need for the team to sign Vernon Davis, you ask? Personally, I think the Davis signing is more Reed injury insurance than anything else (remember Niles Paul is still making his way back from injury, too). GM Scot McCloughan drafted Davis and he played at the University of Maryland, so in essence this is a double-homecoming for him in the event Reed’s pending free agency and injury history catch up to him. However, if you have nervous owners in your league who are worried about Davis you can certainly benefit even further by the target uncertainty facing Reed.

In the end, Reed is a wide receiver playing tight end who makes way too many plays like these for a relatively low cost. So if you want the El Dorado this year, you may need to get on the Reed train this year.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

 

Taming the Wild

Updated: March 31st 2016

How many times has this happened to you? Your phone buzzes and you read a trade notification email and you are left pondering, “What is that guy thinking!?”  You try to research information that you may have missed that would change your opinion on the trade but cannot find a thing. You then label that owner as a scrub and throw a terrible trade offer their way to get in on the reaping. They feel insulted and reject the trade. You are then left wondering why they would accept the first trade but see your offer as heresy. Sound familiar?

While ADPs are always the easiest reference points to compare two players against one another there will be biases towards certain players that an owner always has. What I have found is that there are four different types of owners found in every fantasy football league. These four types can be characterized as: the elephant, the hyena, the vulture, and the mouse. Over time everybody in fantasy will be one of these examples. Hopefully I am able to help you recognize where your league-mates are in their strategies, and how to best approach each of them with trade and counter trade offers.

The Elephant

A wise and intelligent owner, they often know a dearth of football knowledge. They have likely been playing fantasy football for a number of years and have a solid foundation for how they want to approach their strategies. Unfortunately, this knowledge can often hinder their decisions related to trading, cuts and drafting as they are set in their process. Players that are perceived as bad stay bad, and those that had a good year in 2013 are still those same players despite the ever changing situations in the NFL. An example would be those who held Peyton Manning as their QB1 heading into the season because he’s been the stud for the last two decades, reasoning why would you need another QB1?

The Hyena

Almost an opposite of the elephant owner, the hyena seems to be always changing what they perceive a player to be valued at and what their strategy will be. They are always on top of what the latest buzz news is around the league and try and jump ahead of the crowd without concrete analysis. While they may be sneaky to trade for the big name free agent before he moves to the ideal new team but they also get burned by the news that a player is meeting with another team only to end up in a much less opportune situation. Think those who trade for Trent Richardson after hearing about his move to Indy or traded away Doug Martin before last season’s rebound.

The Vulture

This owner is always waiting for a player to have an injured or bad season and will then look to pick them up across several teams. While in trade conversations they will often talk down the players that you have as old, broken or not that good while every player they have on their team is the next Randy Moss or LT. They will often also send out the most trade offers per season to which you wonder who would ever accept these crappy offers? However, at some point each season a league-mate or two makes a deal with this owner, whether out of necessity or to fit their own strategy, that everyone else in the league is left scratching their head.

The Mouse

These are the owners who keep their players close to the vest. While not all of these owners are inactive because they don’t pay attention, they definitely don’t make as many moves as the rest of the league. Think the same strategy as the Packers in terms of free agents. Similar to the elephant this could be because they have a set strategy to which they do not need to make a large number of trades. They instead would rather build their team through the draft (rookie and auction) without moving much of their own capital. That’s not to say they will not trade but they are more calculated in when they initiate and accept trade offers.

Developing a Strategy

Now that I have outlined the four types of players we can see a friendly illustration below of how each of the owners interact with one another.Trade Circles

As you can see each has two owners that they can frequently negotiate with and one that it is more difficult. This makes sense as someone who is set in their ways (elephant) is not likely to be swooned by someone with sudden and aggressive trade offers (hyena). Alternatively an owner who is savvy and recognizes someone panicking over a player’s situation (vulture) or someone who sees a player who fits well into their roster (mouse) will always investigate the owner’s interest.

It is now easier to see how strategies will develop when approaching trades with these owners in your league. The main point to get across regardless of who you are dealing with is COMMUNICATION.  For different reasons and motives it is always important to stay in constant communication with everyone in your league. The second point is to know that every owner will fall into all four of these broad categories at some point with each of their players. The goal to being successful in dynasty is to recognize what their impressions are regarding each player and approach accordingly. This is ultimately where you are able to create tremendous value in trades.

Do’s and Don’t

Here is a quick list of how to approach each owner type:

Elephant

  • Do offer the studs on the decline, especially if you are in a rebuild. Capitalize on that top dollar before your players retire or meet father time (ex. Forte, Marshall, AP).
  • Don’t target their core players using savvy values. If you are in championship mode and looking for a few veterans to help your run don’t expect much for aging discounts on the players above.

Hyena

  • Do try and capitalize on hype players. No player is untradeable and you should at least see if anyone will pay the moon for one player. (Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler, Ladarius Green)
  • Do establish a value for dropping ADP players. If an owner is souring on a player’s new situation try and see if you can pounce. (ex. Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory)
  • Don’t get sucked into the snowballing trade; keep your focus on a certain player. Often a trade starts one for one or two for one and then it snowballs into trading half your team for half of theirs.

Vulture

  • Do listen to each offer that they send. Even the most ludicrous of trade offers can be narrowed down to be something that would hold value.
  • Don’t feel you need to do any trades because you are rebuilding or strapped for cash. Just because you might be placed in less than ideal conditions doesn’t mean another owner should be able to buy your players for eighty cents on the dollar.

Mouse

  • Don’t approach with too vague an offer. Starting a conversation with, “I’m looking at X, what would you value him at?” will usually go nowhere. Do your homework and have a flexible list of players and picks that you would be willing to offer.
  • Don’t start the conversation involving their core players unless you are willing to offer up one or two of yours. Unless they are in a rebuild a mouse will usually only do ancillary deals to fill holes rather than changing the foundation of their whole team with one trade.
  • Do offer savvy veteran pieces if they are in a championship run. While they might not offer the top dollar for aging players like the hyena or the elephant they will see value and will often be easier to negotiate with.

Hopefully from reading this article you are now able to recognize the different personas that are in your individual leagues. Remember that any one owner can be all four of these characters at once so you need to keep in communication about their impressions from one player to another. As each league gets closer to their rookie and auction drafts strategies will change and player values will fluctuate. For those of you that read my Fold’em or Hold’em article in the second part I will frequently reference these types of owners when it comes to developing a strategy leading into next season.


Bio: Nick is a Sports Administration graduate in Canada who has worked/interned with two NFL organizations. His 7 championships allow him to mock and ridicule relentlessly across his three different family and friend’s leagues to a point of annoyance. While the value of those championships is meaningless in terms of his professional enhancement he will subtly place them as “related skills” in his work applications. 

Will DeMarco Murray Thrive in TEN?

Updated: March 28th 2016

DeMarco Murray, a Tennessee Titan?  That will take a few preseason games to get used to.  Will the polarizing running back now thrive away from Chip Kelly?

Scheme-fit

MurrayThe popular narrative surrounding DeMarco Murray’s dreadful 2015 was that he was misused by the Eagles coaching staff as he turned out to be a poor scheme fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.  Utilized out of shotgun on nearly 85% of his runs, Murray stumbled in Philadelphia – averaging 3.6 yards per carry out of the shotgun, after averaging 5.3  yards per carry on just over 100 carries out of the shotgun in Dallas according to Mike Clay of ESPN.  His declining performance eventually led to Murray being phased out of the offense as the season progressed.  After letting go of Chip Kelly, Eagles Interim Head Coach Pat Shurmur ran Murray frequently under center in the Eagles Week 17 win over the New York Giants.  Aside from a 54 yard touchdown run where Murray ran untouched straight through the Giants defense, Murray only gained 15 yards on the other 11 carries.  Excluding the long run on a missed assignment, Murray wasn’t effective in this game even with Bradford under center.

DeMarco Murray should see a more consistent workload in Tennessee

DeMarco Murray should see a more consistent workload in Tennessee

In Murray’s introductory press conference, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey stated that Mariota will be under center more than he was last year, likely more frequently than in shotgun.   At first glance, that would appear to be good news for Murray as nearly 91% of his 2014 carries came with the quarterback under center.  Mularkey’s strategy runs contrary to the league wide trend of increasing shotgun snaps every year since 2011.  Across the NFL, 62% of snaps in the 2015 season came out of shotgun, a number that’s grown every year since 2011 when only 41% of snaps came under center according to Jared Dubin of CBS Sports.  The reasoning for this makes perfect sense as shotgun snaps have resulted in between 0.9 to 1 MORE yards per play EACH SEASON than snaps under center.  Moving under center more frequently could hurt the Titans offense enough to limit his workload due to negative game flow.

Impact of 2014 Workload

DeMarco Murray record 497 touches for Dallas in 2014

DeMarco Murray recorded 497 touches for Dallas in 2014

497 – That’s the number of touches DeMarco Murray had in 2014.  Coming into 2015, many wondered what toll this workload would take on the then 27 year-old running back.  Aside from not adapting well to the Eagles’ offensive scheme, Murray looked like a player in decline as he lacked explosiveness, seemed a step slow, and wasn’t able to cut upfield when there was an opening in the Eagles’ zone read attack.  His decline is best quantified through Pro Football Focus’ running back grades.  According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, Murray went from the 2nd best running back in 2014 to the 2nd worst running back in 2015.  Murray also broke significantly fewer tackles in 2015 as he averaged one broken tackle per 8 carries in 2015 vs. 5 carries in 2014, according to John Breitenbach of Pro Football Focus.  After weeks of low production, Murray slipped significantly on the depth chart, even at times falling behind journeyman Kenjon Barner.

Expected Workload in Tennessee

This is where the outlook turns positive for Murray.  He should clearly be the lead back in a Tennessee backfield that desperately lacked production in 2015.  After taking on his sizable contract, the Titans will be plenty motivated to feed DeMarco and make their investment worth-while, especially as they attempt to lower the burden on second year quarterback Marcus Mariota.  Mike Mularkey’s history, as both an offensive coordinator and head coach, also points to a heavy workload for Murray, as he has a history of leaning heavily on star running backs like Jerome Bettis, Willis McGahee, and Ronnie Brown.  This is best exemplified by his use of Michael Turner from 2008 to 2011 in Atlanta.  Turner averaged 21 carries per game over these 4 years with Mularkey as Atlanta’s OC.  21 carries per game for 16 games projects to 334 carries per season.  In a league where two and three-headed running back committees are becoming more common in today’s NFL, Murray’s projected workload definitely boosts his fantasy value in Tennessee.  There will be very few running backs projected for more carries in 2016.  How productive he will be remains to be seen, but efficiency only matters in fantasy football if it leads to a declining workload which likely won’t be the case in Tennessee.  A consistent workload should put DeMarco Murray back in the RB2 (RB ranked 11-20) discussion, strictly due to volume.  Projected 2016 Stats: 275 carries – 1045 yards – 9 TDs; 41 receptions – 291 yards – 0 TD

Implications for RSO Leagues

After signing with the Eagles in the 2015 off-season, Murray was an attractive player in RSO auctions.  Across all 2015 RSO auctions, he received an average contract of approximately $20.2 million per year for nearly 3 seasons.  Rolling these contracts forward to today, many owners still have Murray contracted for 2 or more seasons at a rate of over $20 million a year.  I cannot recommend owning Murray on any contract longer than one season as I’m terrified that he won’t be as productive as the Titans are expecting, which could lead to a more limited role in 2017.  For anyone who owns Murray on a multi-year contract, I’d rush to place him on the trading block and start fielding offers today.  There likely are a few owners in your league who expect big things out of him in Tennessee for years to come and I’d be willing to dump him for second round rookie pick value, which I believe you could get.

Time will tell on how DeMarco Murray fairs in Tennessee, but I certainly don’t want to be the owner paying more than $20 million for Murray in 2017 and beyond.

Running on Empty?

Updated: March 17th 2016

In the Zone

As evident in NFL free agency, the three-down running back is a dying breed and one that has diminishing value for most teams in a league that has morphed into a passing league. Your Reality Sports Online league is probably no different. After all, you left the comfy confines of traditional leagues where you are forced to start two running backs and came to our platform, seeking more dynamic scoring and customizable lineup options.

With that said, the running back position is somewhere you may not want to allocate a large percentage of your $155.3 million in 2016 cap space. If your league is like mine, you may just need to hit on one running back one way or another and then spend your long-term contracts on other positions with more predictability and longevity. In that scenario (especially in PPR leagues), you can get away with someone like Danny Woodhead (who finished 8th in my league’s RB scoring) for cheap production.

Let’s jump in to what’s happened in the 2016 offseason already using Average Years and Average Contract Dollars remaining to assess some scenarios and decisions that our general managers may face in the upcoming months. First though, I’d like to be explicit in saying that while most think that the NFL running back cliff is the age 30 season, I’ve seen studies where the production slip is much sooner than that, so plucking running backs in the Rookie Draft (especially this year when the wide receiver class seems a little shaky and not deep-sorry but I just can’t get excited about someone like Ohio State’s Michael Thomas being any better than a player I’ve seen him compared to-Michael Crabtree).

Basically, you are better taking the risk on a 22-year old on a rookie deal than a player with question marks as some of the players I will dive into have. More importantly, while I don’t watch that much college football (when compared to the NFL), I watched more Ohio State games than any other college team over the past few seasons. Based on that viewing, I see things in rookie runner Ezekiel Elliott that warrant him being the #1 pick in all your rookie drafts, and someone with more upside than Doug Martin types. Elliott is one of the best pass blockers I’ve seen in college footage, has a second level acceleration that is rare, and likes to dole out punishment. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield (even if Ohio State relied more based on their personnel with some gadgetry and wide receiver screens), making him a true three down back. In a win-now scenario with a hulking offensive line and Tony Romo returning, I think the Cowboys taking Elliott at #4 would get them back in the playoff picture immediately, even if that is too high of draft capital to spend on a running back these days.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.3 average years remaining, $15.9m average remaining contract)

While it seemed unlikely at the beginning of the 2015 season, Martin was awarded with a 5 year, $35.75 million deal with $15.0 million guaranteed after a prolific 2015 season. You have to like Martin’s 4.87 yards per carry in 2015, but his line of 288 carries for 1,402 yards and 6 touchdowns was boosted by 14 plays over 20 yards, which is always subject to regression. I really like the team’s signing of J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks, who recently said how much he loves to run block.

However, Martin is significantly hampered by teammate Charles Sims in the receiving game. Sims had 51 catches to Martin’s 33 and had over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage.

Assessment: Most Martin owners are in two buckets: 1) fourth-year league players who paid big for Martin following his breakout rookie season and have him for one more year at a super high salary, or 2) owners who took a flier on Martin based on less-productive 2013 and 2014 seasons. If you are in the first group, consider moving Martin in the trade market and if you’re in the second bucket, hold on to him and hope for similar production for the next season or two.

Arian Foster, Free Agent (1.3 average years remaining, $16.6m average remaining contract)

Unfortunately, yours truly faces an offseason decision regarding Foster. I got overzealous and signed him to a two-year deal in last year’s auction trying to get my team over the hump and am facing paying Foster $26.3 million this season or getting 50% of his contract value back by cutting him.

It is well documented that Foster has a lot of things going against him, including his entering his age 30 season and his multitude and history of significant injuries. Nobody questions his work ethic in recovering from them, but the question in fantasy circles is what team will take a chance on Foster, if any, as it appears that Foster is planning on signing with a team later in the free agency period and focusing on recovering from an achilles tear, one of the more difficult injuries to come back from with a small sample size of running backs coming back from them. Note that Demaryius Thomas is one player who successfully came back well from this injury, if you are looking for a glimmer of hope.

I really liked the possibility of Foster reuniting with former coach Gary Kubiak in Denver, but with C.J. Anderson returning to Denver now, that looks moot.

Assessment: There is no need to hurry and cut Foster. If you can somehow package low draft capital to get his full contract off your books, this rookie class may be weak enough to warrant that. I’m not excited about Foster going into a timeshare anywhere (even Seattle) as of now and that or Miami seems like the best scenario he’ll find himself in now that Denver matched Anderson’s offer sheet.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (1.5 average years remaining, $19.9m average remaining contract)

With Foster getting cut, the Texans turned to Miller to be their new top runner on a 4 year, $26.0 million deal. For GM’s owning Miller, this should increase his utilization.

Miller doesn’t turn 25 until next month and is a very good receiver out of the backfield as well (47 receptions in 2015). There is no reason that he shouldn’t shine in the Texans offense and head coach Bill O’Brien is certainly not afraid to run the ball frequently.

Assessment: Miller truthers finally will get to see him get the opportunities he was lacking in Miami. While the Texans offensive line is fairly pedestrian, Miller is a special talent with very little competition and should be a trade target of GM’s.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (1.6 average years remaining, $37.4m average remaining contract)

At $23.4 million annual average contract, and coming off his second torn ACL, Charles is for the first time finding himself outside of the fantasy elite at the running back position. Both Charcandrick West and bruiser Spencer Ware played well in Charles’ absence. However, the Chiefs are fiercely loyal to their star running back and he’s under a reasonable real-life contract.

Charles turns 30 in December, which doesn’t help matters as well.

Assessment: Overall the Chiefs are trending up as a team and they have doled out big money this offseason to extend tight end Travis Kelce and sign right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. While the Chiefs brass says that Charles is “ahead of schedule”, I’m expecting there to be a more concerted effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs with the production of West and Ware.

While his trade value is low coming off of injury, I’d test the waters to see what other owners may be offering at the very least. If something is attractive enough, consider moving Charles.

Matt Forte, New York Jets (1.4 average years remaining, $26.9m average remaining contract)

Forte figures heavily into the Jets passing game as a premier receiver out of the backfield.

Assessment: Forte’s value is heavily dependent on who is throwing him the ball in Chan Gailey’s offense. I love the move if Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signs with the team, especially given the attention Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker command. If the quarterback is someone along the lines of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III, you can take Forte down a peg.

An annual average of $19.2 million seems potentially high right now for Forte, but he can remain productive for the 2016 season.

Some of the Rest

In terms of other running back moves, I’m not excited about the timeshare in Jacksonville between newly signed Chris Ivory (1.3 average years, $9.1 million average remaining contract) and T.J. Yeldon. I dislike it more for Yeldon owners as you probably snagged him in your rookie drafts last season and loved how much tote he was getting. For Ivory owners, the price tag and years aren’t much of a concern anyways.

I’m not buying the “coachspeak” about DeMarco Murray and still would shy away from his 1.7 average years and $32.7 million average remaining contract. He may be “fresh” from not getting much work in Philly last year, but I can’t trust his production right now in Tennessee of all places. On the flip side, I’m interested to see what Ryan Mathews can do with the Eagles (1.2 average years and $6.8 million average remaining), as his contract is fairly favorable and he looked good at times last season, averaging over 5.0 yards a carry in spite of having to have groin surgery following the season.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.