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