FA Expectancy: Alshon Jeffery

Updated: July 16th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Alshon Jeffery – WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Nobody was really surprised when Alshon Jeffery signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after he was linked to signing with either them or the Tennessee Titans before free agency opened. What was a surprise was the length of the contract, a single year at $9.5 million. I expected there to be some built-in insulation against Jeffery’s past injuries concerns but he still deserved at least some long term commitment. This contract suggests that either there was not as big a market for receivers as many would have thought or the offers were too low for Jeffery’s comfort and he settled for a “prove it” deal to try and cash in next offseason.

Fantasy players seem perplexed also in how to value Jeffery fairly. Nobody is questioning his talent but they are concerned with the consistency issues that separate the first tier of receivers from all others.

Seasons Games Played Rec/GM Yds/GM TDs/GM FP/Game
2013-2014 100% 5.4 79.8 0.5 16.6
2015-2016 66% 5.0 77.5 0.3 14.5

Over the last two seasons, Jeffery has played in 21 of a potential 32 games but played for a full two seasons in 2013 and 2014. So he is capable of being available. Even last year his four games missed were because of a failed PED test rather than an injury. But his per game production has dipped ever so slightly. Some may attribute this to games that he played in but was not fully healthy, or the lack of QB play that he has been paired with in Chicago. Either way, he’s in Fresh Prince Country now and he needs to step up if he is going to get paid in 2018.

So what does this mean for Eagles players?

The Eagles brought in not only Jeffery but Torrey Smith to go along with Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Nelson Agholor. There are rumors also that the Eagles could take a receiver early in the draft, with John Ross being the common name given.

Carson Wentz definitely will not have the “lack of talent” excuse that many were affording him during his rookie campaign. He threw for over 600 attempts last season (5th in the NFL) which many are not expecting him to repeat. Coach Doug Pederson would like to have a more balanced offense if he can either find a better back in the draft or get more out of Ryan Mathews. Still with this boost to the talent around him his efficiency (62.4% completion rate) and touchdowns (16) should increase. He will be a solid bye week and matchup-based starter in 1QB leagues and a great second option in 2QB (especially on his rookie deal).

The receiving core will be greater than the sum of its parts, with inconsistency being a fantasy nightmare some weeks. Likely Jeffery is used as the primary receiver both on the outside and in the end zone which should hopefully boost his touchdown totals. Those who have or bought into Jordan Matthews should finally see him move to the slot where he should have always been playing. The lack of talent around him the past two seasons forced him to have to be the primary outside receiver. Target volume and yards after the catch will be his key to success. These two should have between 100 and 130 targets along with Zach Ertz who surprisingly had 106 targets last season. He will be a nice low-end TE1 option in most leagues.

Outside of Matthews and Jeffery, it will be hard for another receiver to carve out a consistent fantasy role on a weekly basis. If you are looking for a cheap option that could get an increased role should Jeffery get injured Green-Beckham would fill his role as the big X receiver. Please, just drop Nelson Agholor already. He’s a spot on your roster and dollars in your pocket that could be spent elsewhere.

Boo! Nelson Agholor

So what is Jeffery’s value?

Before his signing with the Eagles, I moved Jeffery for the 1.07 in the upcoming draft. While that was lower than what I thought I could get from him I was glad to get out from his remaining 2 year/$60M deal. That owner subsequently flipped Jeffery and the 2.06 for Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Maclin, and a 2018 2nd. Based on these moves and conversation about acquiring costs in other leagues Jeffery seems to be a hold for now. The community is split on whether Jeffery still belongs in that WR1 conversation and his future is still technically unknown as he could be on the move again next season. It is unlikely that owners would be willing to part with more than a late 1st for him. If you want to risk it he could pay dividends to a contender that needs another good receiver.

So what does it mean for Bears Players?

We haven’t talked much about the Bears yet but mostly because the options are limited. Cameron Meredith is a hot take that many fantasy enthusiasts have been propping up as a great 2017 sleeper receiver. Even Markus Wheaton has seen a modest uptick in his ADP by coming over. The Bears could also take another high receiver in the draft but they will likely want to see what they can get out of Kevin White for one more season before hitting the reset button on the position again.  The problem is that none of these players command double coverage which could also hurt Jordan Howard’s value with negative game script and stacked boxes. It will mostly come down to what Mike Glennon can and can’t do in the offense. His ball velocity is one of the weakest in the league and he was a typical game manager during his starts early in his career. One of these receivers will be at least a decent option for deep starter leagues and heavy bye weeks but guessing who that is in April is difficult. Don’t get caught up in a bidding war trying to acquire either Meredith or Wheaton’s services before we learn more in training camp.

Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

2017 Free Agency Preview

Updated: July 16th 2017

Welcome to 2017! Hopefully, 2016 was a success in regards to your fantasy teams. We are less than one week away from the start of the NFL Combine which officially starts the NFL offseason activities. While many people will have their attention focused on the incoming rookies, rightfully so, this will also offer the first major opportunity for the rumor mill to start for players set to hit free agency on March 9th. We will have to wait and see which players are ultimately tagged by their team but this could be a great year for dynasty owners that like to take risks on relocating free agents. Along with these free agents, there may be a star-studded group of players that are cut. Once the draft comes around there should be a large number of big names that will be changing uniforms.

To prepare you, the owners of RSO, for the whirlwind that is NFL free agency I’ve gone to the liberty of making a list of the most fantasy relevant players that are either free agents or could be moving teams next season.

QB RB WR TE
Colin Kaepernick (Cut) Adrian Peterson (Cut) Adam Thielen (RFA) Cameron Brate (ERFA)
Jay Cutler Alfred Morris (Cut) Alshon Jeffery Gavin Escobar
Jimmy Garoppolo (Trade) Andre Ellington Brandon Marshall (Cut) Jack Doyle
Josh McCowan (Cut) Benny Cunningham Brian Quick Jared Cook
Kirk Cousins Chris Thompson (RFA) Cordarrelle Patterson Jermaine Gresham
Mike Glennon Christine Michael Danny Amendola (Cut) Jordan Cameron
 Tony Romo (Cut) Danny Woodhead DeSean Jackson Julius Thomas (Trade)
Tyrod Taylor (Cut) Darren McFadden Eddie Royal (Cut) Lance Kendricks (Cut)
DeAngelo Williams Eric Decker (Cut) Larry Donnell
  Doug Martin (Cut) Kamar Aiken Luke Willson
  Eddie Lacy Kendall Wright Martellus Bennett
  Isaiah Crowell (RFA) Kenny Britt Ryan Griffin
Jamaal Charles (Cut) Kenny Stills Vernon Davis
  James Stark (Cut) Markus Wheaton
Jonathan Stewart (Cut) Marquess Wilson
Latavius Murray Michael Floyd
  LeSean McCoy (Cut/Trade) Pierre Garcon
  LeGarrette Blount Robert Woods
Le’Veon Bell Taylor Gabriel (RFA)
  Mike Gillislee (RFA) Terrance Williams
Rashad Jennings (Cut) Terrelle Pryor
Rex Burkhead Willie Snead (ERFA)
Ryan Mathews (Cut) Victor Cruz (Cut)
Terrance West (RFA)
 

Coaches

 

New

 

Former

Anthony Lynn Chargers (HC) Bills (OC/HC)
Chris Ballard Colts (GM) Chiefs
Doug Marrone Jaguars (HC) Jaguars (OC)
Kyle Shannahan 49ers (HC) Falcons (OC)
Mike McCoy Broncos (OC) Chargers (HC)
Sean McDermitt Bills (HC) Panthers (DC)
Sean McVay Rams (HC) Redskins (OC)

 

Throughout the offseason I will be working on a collection of articles focusing on some of these players as they sign new deals (either with a new team or their current team) and the impact they will they have as well as what this means for the players around them. I will also look at a couple of coaching and management changes that you should be aware of and what it means for your players that aren’t moving.

In the meantime make sure to buy-in to your leagues and start those trade conversations again with other owners. The best way to prepare for free agency is to have a list of what other owners may be looking for before your rookie draft. As players begin to sign with new teams having an open communication with your league mates will put you atop their list of first contacts when they want to start trading.

If you want to start a conversation about what any player’s impact could be if they move to a new team reach out to me on Twitter @naandrews19.

2017 Top 25s: WRs and TEs

Updated: July 16th 2017

Since RSO has rolled over to 2017, now’s the perfect time to revisit your rosters and start planning for the next season!

Do you have any players on your team that warrant a franchise tag?  Is it time to shop a player who’s 2016 didn’t meet your expectations and now burdens you with a high salary contract?  My “way too early” PPR rankings, known as my 2017 Top 25s, are here to help with those decisions!

If you missed part 1, I explored quarterbacks and running backs.

In part 2 of my 2017 Top 25s, I’ll finish by examining the wide receiver and tight end positions:

 

Top 25 WRs for 2017

While several of the top WRs didn’t pan out in 2016, I wouldn’t shy away from a WR-heavy strategy in 2017. The top 7 in my rankings have shown year-over-year consistency, which should ease the minds of those recently burned by Hopkins and Robinson. In 12 team leagues, I’d want to leave the auction with at least 3 WRs from this list. since the depth from 13 to 25 is much stronger at WR than it is at RB.

 

Top 25 TEs for 2017

In 2017, I plan to target Gronkowski, Kelce, and Reed with AAV (average annual values) over $10 million per season. If I strike out on the three of them, I’m likely to wait and select 1-2 TEs from the 9-18 range of my rankings and hope that one can turn into someone I’m comfortable starting on weekly basis.

My Recommendation

Take an hour this weekend and send out personal emails to all of your fellow owners. Get the trade conversations started because they likely won’t come knocking down your door to acquire one of these players you’re looking to vanquish from your roster. Explain what you’re looking to accomplish, who interests you on their team, and provide an idea of how a potential deal could be reached. If you’re in an active league, you’ll be surprised at the quality of responses you receive.

I followed this recommendation last year, revamped one of my teams almost from scratch, and ended up winning the league.  Have a few minutes?  Read my article on Pressing the Reset Button to find out more about how this strategy can work for you.


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

Ups and Downs of the RSO Playoffs

Updated: December 24th 2015

golden-tate-nfl-new-orleans-saints-detroit-lions-850x560

They say it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. To win Reality Sports Online league titles, it seems like you have to be a bit of both. Hit on your rookie draft picks, don’t spend big dollars on busts and get your multi-year deals right, don’t have player injuries and then have it all align in the playoffs.

So, after being in my main league for three years and the Writers League for two years, I can honestly say I haven’t won a championship and am still after that holy grail. As someone who is their own worst critic, and who writes strategy pieces for the website, that makes me feel like a little bit of a fraud. I know I’m beating myself up on this, but let me share my two league circumstances with you this year.

I welcome any of you who suffered a similar loss to Tweet me or contact me as some form of therapy. I have writing about this experience as my therapy, so let me be the one you vent to after reading this if you are in the same boat as me.

First, I’ll start with my Writers League with folks who I write with at Reality Sports Online and numberFire mainly (some have moved onto other sites like Rotoworld and ESPN). I finished 11-2 in the regular season with the highest scoring team by far. That earned me the #2 seed and a matchup against my friend @GrahamBarfield, the #3 seed in the league, while 12-1 #1 Seed @LeoHowell8 played upstart first-year owner and Baylor Law Professor and late summer league addition #4 seed (brought in via Twitter to compete against writers) @RoryRyan in the other playoff matchup.

Buoyed all season by a Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski stack, Devonta Freeman and Eric Decker, my team was stacked and I have most of these players (and Todd Gurley, Demaryius Thomas) for several more years. In round one however, I went into Monday Night Football with a 16 point lead and Graham having Lamar Miller remaining. Miller scored two touchdowns by halftime and my highest-scoring team in the league (and second highest among 10 teams that week) was toast.

On the other side, Howell, who has lost exactly two regular season games in two years in the league, put up a dud and lost to Ryan, who inherited one of the worst teams in the league mid-summer, was awarded T.Y. Hilton by the league on a two year, $40.0 million contract and left to his own devices to turn the rest around. He slid into the playoffs behind some good moves and then, wouldn’t you know it, won the whole thing while Howell and I put up very high totals in the third place game.

Rory Ryan Shocks the Writers League

Basically, Ryan capitalized on being healthy and opportunistic,  and a few solid moves. Here’s his summary of what lead to his success (in his words):

“As I looked around the locker room before the championship match, I decided we needed to do something unusual. We went around the room and introduced ourselves–as six of the ten starters were waiver-wire pickups. As I drove my family back from the Polar Express train ride during Monday’s finale, I kept getting SiriusXM updates that were good. Then better. Then — victory. To say the team I inherited was in “rebuilding mode” would be an understatement. But we were able to scrape out just enough wins and ride a whole lot of luck to the title. “

“Although (to quote Nuke Laloosh) “winning is like . . . so much better than losing,” the year was great either way. As I told folks on social media, it was fun playing against the guys whose advice I use when setting my lineups in other leagues. And the RSO format really does make even traditional dynasty leagues seem primitive. The contracts, waivers, salary cap, etc., make up the way fantasy ought to be played. “
“The opportunity to play this format against these guys was too much to pass up — despite my (formerly) firm rules against not playing in leagues with kickers, defenses (if I can help it), and true decimal scoring. But I’m still looking forward to next year, where hopefully my roster will be slightly more settled. “

“So what was my strategy? When I entered the auction, there were few (no) stars and plenty of money. So prices were inflated. I went after some grinders who I’d always feel OK inserting into the lineup: Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, and Doug Martin (didn’t get him). But I spent little money. Instead, I saved most of my cap room, knowing that injuries and sleepers would emerge, and I would have the big bankroll. DeAngelo Williams, Danny Amendola, Antonio Gates, Dion Lewis, and Zach Miller all played important roles during the season.

“As for the future — we will see if my strategy works. Since there were no stars to lock down, I went after a group of guys who I thought were more talented than their projections, hoping that at least one of them ends up in an ideal situation. The prices are low enough that hitting 1/3 and cutting the other two will more than pay for itself in savings, despite the cap penalty, as I’ll avoid waiting for the player to demonstrate the market value. So, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith, and Markus Wheaton — please answer the phone if the Patriots call.”

A Rivalry Is Continued in Reality Sports Online

Let me set the stage for you a bit with some history. My best friend since our freshman year at Miami University, @MarkPesavento and I have been in fantasy football leagues together since 1996. He is my biggest rival and our fantasy matchups have quite a history of craziness as you can imagine for anyone playing against each other for that long. Since he works in sports and I don’t, there is an extra layer of who is the smarter football mind is between the two of us.

With that in mind, Mark and I left an ESPN keeper league a few years ago in search of something bigger, something more challenging that was fully customizable. As part of his work at the time, he discovered Reality Sports Online and we’ve been hooked ever since. Together we are co-commissioners of the Not Quite Gentlemen’s League, a super-customized PPR league with 12 teams and lineups consisting of only one required running back, three flex positions, and where turnovers are heavily punished (-5 points for interceptions, fumbles) and the 5th and 6th playoff seeds are determined solely based on total points scored.
RSO Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office Stephen Wendell is now in our league too, which adds to the competitiveness. Pesavento finished first overall at 11-2 with the highest point total (he won the league in 2014), newcomer Wendell finished 9-5 and was the #2 seed. I was the second highest scoring team, but finished 7-6 and got the #5 overall seed.

My high-scoring team proved no fluke in the opening round of the playoffs, winning 321.54-179.99 and a Week 15 rematch with Pesavento, who I was 0-2 against on the season, loomed.

Setting the Stage-Week 12

First, though, let me take you back to Week 12 where Pesavento and I squared off in an epic battle. He staked to an early lead behind Odell Beckham Jr., Philip Rivers, and Spencer Ware that seemed insurmountable at the time. Then late in the late games, my quarterback Russell Wilson hooked up with Doug Baldwin for an 80 yard touchdown, en route to a 72 point fantasy performance.

I was close going into the Sunday night game where I had Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots DST to his Broncos DST. Behind a Gronk touchdown and subsequent Gronk-spike and an inteception by the Patriots D, I staked out to a fairly decent lead (like 20 points). As the clock turned to the 4th quarter, I instant messaged Pesavento saying this game seems like it is over.

And then the collapse happened. The Patriots muffed a punt, Denver’s running game started picking up steam and the Patriots were bleeding out yardage allowed and points scored. The game was getting much closer. All I needed was another Gronk catch and I’d be fine.

Then Gronk got called for offensive pass interference on a big catch that was nullified. A few plays later, then he was carted off with a knee injury. So my happiness of likely winning the game turned into losing my key league advantage (and someone I’d like to franchise tag on a good deal for 2016) for the season, and potentially this game as well.

The Broncos scored to take the lead and all I then needed (while I was frantically worried about Gronk’s health for the rest of the season) was the game not to go to overtime. Well, we all know Stephen Gostkowski is fantasy gold and the game went to overtime. In overtime, as long as the Broncos didn’t score a touchdown, I’d win.

I think you know the rest. C.J. Anderson scored on a 48 yard touchdown scamper to end the game and Pesavento beat me by .25 points, continuing a series of close calls in recent match-ups.

The Worst Possible Way To Lose?

Heading into the Week 15 playoff matchup of the two highest scoring teams in the league, Pesavento was favored, yet he had some of his best players with tough matchups (Beckham Jr vs CAR, Antonio Brown vs. DEN DST, DEN DST at PIT) while mine on paper seemed favorable (A.J. Green @SF, Wilson vs. CLE, Devonta Freeman @JAX, Gronkowski vs. TEN, NE DST vs. TEN).

I staked out to a decent lead as Beckham Jr. didn’t have any catches through three well-documented quarters vs. shutdown corner Josh Norman. While I was watching on the NFL Game Mix (8 games at once on a not so-huge TV on DirecTV), I noticed that things were getting super chippy and was waiting for OBJ to get ejected by referee Terry McAulay’s crew for the punches thrown and the cheap shots.

I usually don’t get “holier than though” watching football, but by the time the Giants started their comeback and OBJ started racking up fantasy points I was on my high-horse and stark-raving mad that Beckham Jr. hadn’t been tossed. Heck, I’ve been tossed from rec-league basketball games for way less.

However, his Alshon Jeffery only had one catch for 10 yards and a touchdown, my Patriots DST had a good game and I was hanging in with him heading into Wilson’s huge matchup against my hometown Browns. Knowing that Wilson was hot and the Browns defense is porous, I knew Russ would deliver for me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was Brown scoring 70 points against his Broncos DST. So as the Steelers/Broncos game wore down and I was hoping the Broncos would give up more points, I was hoping that another player would score the final touchdown of this game. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and when Ben Roethlisberger threw an egregious interception on a terrible pass to his Denver defense right before the two minute warning that I coined the “Class of 1998 Miami University Fantasy Football Scholarship”, I knew that 5 points for the Broncos would loom large.

And as Brown caught another ball, I found myself down 15 points heading into Monday Night Football where it was my Golden Tate vs. his Tim Hightower for the right to survive and advance. Tate was coming off his best game of the season and was facing the porous Saints secondary. Hightower was coming off a solid game. Game flow seemed to favor Tate, but I figured the 15 points would loom too large for Tate to overcome.
As the game started and Tate scored two early touchdowns I found myself up in the game. Hightower scored right before half, but the play was called back on a lineman failing to report. The two of us went crazy over IM the remainder of the game.

At one point, unsolicited my wife and 5 year old son and 1 year old daughter started chanting “Golden Tate, Golden Tate!” pleading for him to get the ball when the Lions were on offense. It was super cute to see my daughter who talks but doesn’t know too many words saying this.

I was clinging to a slight lead and game flow took Hightower out of the game mostly. As I watched the Lions fumble away a few possessions that Tate could’ve had opportunities and the Lions DST unable to force punts to Tate as the returner (we get punt return yards for individual players in our league), I knew this was going to come down to the wire.

With five minutes left and me clinging to an ironic .26 point lead (basically the Week 12 margin of defeat), I paced around knowing that if Hightower got one more carry I would lose. I made it basically to the end of the game where the Lions were running out the clock unscathed. Alas, they didn’t have the ability to run off the entire clock and in came Matt Prater to kick a chip-shot field goal to end the game. Prater then missed, and I knew anything could happen.

The Saints had a few plays left and surely would be setting up for a Hail Mary after gaining a little bit of yardage. Initially seeing C.J. Spiller as the receiving back in the game, I figured I was fine. On a play with 14 seconds left, Drew Brees looked and pump faked at Hightower, but threw elsewhere. With six seconds left to go, folks in my league (including Pesavento) were congratulating me on the win.

Talk about Dewey vs. Truman. The last play should have been a Hail Mary. Instead, Brees decided to pad his completion percentage and throw a dump-off to Hightower. The yardage didn’t matter-I had lost after overcoming a deficit, in another crushing close defeat to Pesavento. Again on the last play of the game.
I wish this writing was fiction and not fact. I had seemingly overcome some poor performances by Green, T.Y. Hilton (who I started over Danny Woodhead based on recent history, Matt Hasselback starting, and Hilton’s history against Houston). I think back to all the dynamics of the matchup- Beckham not getting ejected and missing a for sure deep touchdown early in the game, two straight fade routes to Gronk in the end zone late in the Patriots/Titans game that came up just short, pass interference calls covering my Randall Cobb in the end zone, the Broncos late interception, and finally Hightower’s catch with the Saints down 8 points on the last play of the last game of the week, and I realize that the Reality Sports Online holy grail is a temptress. I easily could have lost by 50 points, won by 20 points or won by .26 points, but instead I lost by a few points and now wish Pesavento good luck in the finals (without Beckham and potentially Jeffery) while I play Wendell for third-place this week.

Only a combination of luck, health, and solid roster moves will result in winning this thing and I hope that my championship window with the same core I have locked up through 2016 will bring me better results next year. There’s always next year.

Please feel free to reach out to me with similar stories, start/sit questions for your big week 16 championship, or to call me a fraud via Twitter @Mattgoody2.

Mastering Year 2 On RSO

Updated: August 21st 2015

Chasing Quarterbacks is one strategy not to follow in your second year league.

Chasing Quarterbacks is one strategy not to follow in your second year league.

This article is dedicated to those owners in their second year of their Reality Sports Online leagues. If you are in your first year of your Reality Sports Online league, my high level advice is to not get too caught up in the hype of the auction. Make sure you are spending your big dollar contracts on players as close to birds in the hand as possible. If you ask anyone who plunked 3 years and $85 million on Trent Richardson a few years ago, they’d tell you the biggest objective in year one is basically what I tell my young kids-“don’t wet the bed”. Matt Papson’s  7 Basic Auction Principles and Bo Wulf’s Four Years of Commitment are essential reading for the rookie Reality Sports Online GM.

If you are in your third year, you have things pretty much figured out by now and are looking forward to some of the two-year studs from your rookie season being available in the auction. Teams in rebuild mode are hyped about rookies and sleepers and championship contenders are going all out to win the league for the first (or maybe even second or third) time.

To me, the second year is the most difficult year in terms of team strategy. Several of the top players are still locked into multi-year deals, so there may be slim pickings in your auction. The rookie draft is really the only way to get a player you want without competitive market dynamics but if you’re in the back of the draft that may not even be possible.

So let’s walk through some scenarios of potential challenges a second year owner may face. I won’t go too deep into rookie draft strategy, because let’s face it, I essentially did my best to drop the mic with my What’s A Rookie Draft Pick Worth? article a few weeks ago.

1) Don’t Go Chasing Quarterbacks

The best part of being one of the potential owners who doesn’t have a quarterback locked up long term is that your counterparts do. While some of them may try to price enforce to make sure that you are having to pay fair value for your quarterback, if you get into the scenario where you and maybe two other owners in a 10-12 team league is searching for a signal caller, it doesn’t necessarily matter which one you grab, so long as you get them on a good contract. Those other price enforcer owners know they don’t want to get left holding the bag on two starting quarterbacks, especially if your league doesn’t have many teams that trade often. This strategy landed me Russell Wilson on a 3 year, $26 million deal as I was one of two teams out of twelve needing a quarterback.

Additionally, if you are one of these owners who had a one year contract quarterback last year and there are plenty of suitable starters in the free agent market, franchise tagging a quarterback is essentially bidding against yourself. I don’t care if you can have Drew Brees for another year, don’t bid against yourself when Ben Roethlisberger will be just as good and a fraction of the cost.

So make it one of your top priorities to get a quarterback you are happy with on a term and contract value you are good with. There should be no shortage of those candidates this year as in most leagues, you’ll only need to start one quarterback.

2) If You Didn’t Have a Strategy in Year One, Figure Your Strategy For Year Two Out Quick

You may have taken year one to get acquainted with the platform and didn’t want to wet the bed. Year two is when you start formulating your multi-year plan on how your team can capitalize on its championship window, whenever you see that being. The offseason is the ideal time to do that and you may still have a few days left to shape that strategy with your franchise tag and before your rookie draft.

The type of moves that teams may take depends on where you finished last year and what talent remains on your team. However, there are several tactics that a team can use to rebuild on the fly. The first of which is to trade a high-priced player. Burned by Adrian Peterson last year, turn his big salary into free cap space and a draft pick and use that money to get three guys who can help you over the long term.

3) Don’t Be Afraid Of One Year Contracts

Just because Reality Sports Online leagues are customizable in the number of multi-year deals you may offer in your auction doesn’t mean you need to use them all or every one you use needs to be on a marquee player. Year two may not have that deep of a free agent pool in your auction, but I guarantee you that year three will. My upcoming third year league has 7 of the top 10 ten scoring running backs available heading into the auction. To take advantage of a similar situation next year, second year owners may want to keep their future year cap flexibility open and not overcommit on a second year free agent crop that frankly may not be that appealing.

Basically, most of the players entering free agency are players that other teams weren’t confident enough to sign to multi-year deals in your first year of the auction or guys picked up during the season on free agent deals. While some of those players like Justin Forsett and C.J. Anderson may have been franchise tagged or will be the marquee free agents this year, they do come in with question marks based on not having the proven track record others on multi-year deals may have. So the question, similar to the ABC Show, becomes “What Would You Do?” if you had to choose between signing Forsett to a two year, $30 million deal or grabbing Lamar Miller on a one year deal for $17 million. I’d take Miller (who is a 2016 NFL Free Agent), who will most likely be both more productive and give you a flexible cap for 2016 without batting an eyelash.

Another strategy on the one year players is to follow the “Old Guys Rule” strategy. Other owners may not think much of Frank Gore or Andre Johnson, but the two former teammates from “The U” are perfect one year candidates who buy you a share in the explosive Colts offense. So if you have a solid core that already screams playoff contender, you can paint the edges with older players and contend if you don’t have the budget or inclination to go after the big names in second year free agency.

4) The Franchise Tag May Be Your Friend

If you are in Year Two and the contracts doled out in year one at certain positions isn’t overly ridiculous (or even if they are), if you are one piece away from a championship in your head, go for the gold, especially in a year where the pickings are slim in free agency. I’ve already tackled Franchise Tag strategy deeply in my Giving Up the Franchise? article.

This period may have passed in some of your leagues or is rapidly approaching. Trading for someone else’s franchise tagged player is certainly a possibility as well and those teams looking to rebuild may be able to get something for a player they were planning on not getting anything for by doing this. Just make sure you hammer out your details and look into the website platform timing to execute the trade around the restrictions and trade deadlines between the period three days before the rookie draft and three days before the free agent auction.

5) Use One Multi-Year Deal on a Developmental Player

The tendency in formats like this is to grab studs on long-term deals and combine those with your rookies to have the best chance of winning a championship. However, there are multiple ways to win the championship and one strategy I really like is to use at least one of your multi-year deals (assuming an allotment of 3 two-year deals, 2 three-year deals and 1 four-year deal) on a developmental prospect who either didn’t get picked in your rookie draft or a free agent.

You’ll have to do your homework on who those players are for you. Last year, I used my second year multi-year deals on Lance Dunbar (2 years, $4.5 million), Aaron Dobson (3 year, $8.5 million) and the undrafted in our two-round rookie draft Teddy Bridgewater (2 years, $1.5 million). As I mentioned before I already had Wilson as my starting quarterback and was able to trade Bridgewater and Larry Fitzgerald early last season for a one year Alshon Jeffery rental.

While those players may not jump out at you and other than Bridgewater didn’t really pan out last year, they didn’t cost me much and both Dunbar and Dobson have potential to play significant roles in excellent offenses this year. If I need to drop them, I can do it without much hesitation, but they also offer upside.

Conversely, some of my league mates were getting into long term deals with players like Reuben Randle for 4 years and $25.0 million. While others were successful in nabbing DeAndre Hopkins on a four year deal for $28.5 million (we essentially didn’t have a rookie draft in year one so owners could get a good feel for the league, something I’d actually advise against which made Hopkins available in 2014), those home runs were few and far between in last year’s auction. That’s what happens when guys like Toby Gerhart and Shane Vereen fetch big dollars in free agency as some of the top second-year free agent players available.

These are really just some examples as full disclosure, I did not win my league in my second year as I lost in a playoff game in which Julio Jones destroyed me. I still retain a core that I’m super excited about for the next two years, years which I basically consider my championship window.

Basically, year two is about cementing your strategy and executing on it. Figure out when your championship window is and go get it! Thanks for reading and I’m really appreciative of all those who reach out to me with questions/comments on Twitter @mattgoody2

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.