FA Expectancy: Veteran RBs

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. I decided that we should talk about these three veteran running backs in the same article as I see them fitting similarly with their new teams.

Marshawn Lynch – RB, Oakland Raiders

Marshawn Lynch signed a two-year deal with his hometown Oakland Raiders and I mentioned in my last article what I think he can bring to the team. To save you the full read I think unless you are: a) contending b) desperate at running back AND; c) can acquire him for very cheap I don’t think he’s worth having an investment in before we see something from him on the field.

Adrian Peterson – RB, New Orleans Saints

Adrian Peterson also signed a two-year deal to play with the New Orleans Saints. Mark Ingram owners immediately cursed Sean Payton’s name when the news broke. To go along with that they drafted Alvin Kamara in the third round and now people are scrambling to see what they can get for him. The Peterson signing was an interesting one as the Saints are a “spread’em out, aerial assault” offense that would have been better suited for a shifty pass catching back more like the next RB I am going to talk about. Peterson has always been a downhill runner that benefits more from a lead blocker. This could be a situation where they just don’t utilize him properly, he becomes frustrated with his role and New Orleans becomes just a one year footnote in his otherwise outstanding career (à la Emmitt Smith with the Cardinals).

Jamaal Charles – RB, Denver Broncos

Jamaal Charles signed a one-year deal with the rival Broncos to further question what the resigning of CJ Anderson was for last season. Anderson hasn’t been healthy since he broke out 3 years ago so this makes sense as a cost-saving insurance plan but why not get younger at the position through a draft that featured plenty of running back depth. Unless they think that they are still competing with New England, Pittsburgh and Oakland as favorites to win the AFC and Charles can cover up the obvious limitation of their current quarterback situation it’s a real head-scratcher.

The amount that Charles signed for shows that there wasn’t a market for aging backs that have been banged up this season. Of the three of these backs, I think Charles has the lowest floor. He fits well with what the Broncos usually have tried to do with a zone running scheme but he might not have anything left from his two knee injuries that limited him to a handful of snaps last season. I honestly would have liked to have seen him retire to cement his name atop that yard per carry career record that he deserved during his KC tenure.

So what does this mean for their new teams?

Oakland RaidersIn short, probably not a whole lot. I don’t see the Raiders becoming a ground and pound team but rather using Lynch similar to how the Patriots had deployed LeGarrette Blount recently with a steady diet of touches inside the 20s and to salt game away late. Therefore, it could have a negative impact on the available red zone targets that Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and other receivers earn. It can, however, help keep safeties in the box and away from the deep routes for David Carr to throw passes to. This, of course, is all predicated on Lynch being “Beast-Mode” and not a guy who is over 30 years old and took a year off of playing professional football because of back and other injury concerns.

Saints LogoPeterson probably fills the same role as Lynch and will be very touchdown dependent in 2017. Again, the Saints receivers probably get a downgrade in red zone targets but an uptick in favorable coverage situations. With the amount that Drew Brees works it around, I don’t see it being as big of a knock as it would be to the Raiders pass catchers.

I have no idea what this means for Mark Ingram though. When they signed Peterson I thought that he might slide into a more pass catching role but with the drafting of Kamara, I don’t see how he fits at all. Both he and Jeremy Hill are two veteran runners that I can see playing in a different uniform before the season starts. He could be a smart hold/buy really low in fantasy right now in case they move him before training camp to a team that he could once again be the primary back. He still has valuable talent left but Sean Payton just has what seems like a personal vendetta against utilizing him.

broncosCharles is likely the least impactful to the players around him by signing with Denver. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still going to produce WR2 numbers whether it’s Charles, Anderson or whoever else is lining up in the backfield. This should still be Anderson job to loose unless Charles returns to 2013 form. Either way, it’s a risky move to invest in anyone from this backfield right now.

So what does this do for their values?

In standard leagues, I think if they are cheap to acquire (both in cap space and in traded assets) then Lynch and Peterson could have some value with their touchdown upside. In PPR leagues I just don’t see either one being more reliable than anything else that you could acquire at auction for much cheaper. If any of these guys are undervalued it’s likely Charles who you might be able to get at the minimum in your auction depending on your league’s perception of him. In all cases, I would just avoid making a move for any of these backs before seeing whether they have something left in the tank. If they show some value and you need a second or third runner for the playoffs you will likely still be able to acquire them for late seconds and even third round picks.

Does this mean anything for their previous team?

All three players were a non-factor for their teams in 2016 which is why they were let go in the offseason. Seattle added Eddy Lacy to complement C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls, the Vikings signed Latavius Murray and drafted Dalvin Cook, and the Chiefs drafted Kareem Hunt to go along with Spencer Ware. Of these three vacated situations I would guess that Hunt has the best chance to separate himself and become prominently featured.

It is definitely a murky time to be acquiring running backs. My strategy for RSO auctions this season will be to acquire the cheapest asset from several backfields on one-year contracts and hope that one or two can take the reins by midseason. That way if they hit I have a low-cost starter to leverage spending elsewhere if I need to make a playoff push. Alternatively, I can move them to contenders for middle round picks if my team is floundering during the heavy bye weeks in midseason. Either way, I do not want to be investing too much future capital in high-risk veterans this year and will wait till 2018 to see if any rookies are able to cement a role in their offense.

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? Look for my polls to cast your vote or send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

Hold’em or Fold’em: Part 3

Updated: October 17th 2016

Fantasy football has to be one the most gut-wrenching hobbies to have. You can spend months studying, analyzing and preparing for the season and have it all over before the leaves start to turn. With the amount of injuries that have plagued some owners, there is a chance that even those who started off well may also be in selling mode. Seriously, if someone went into the season with the core of their team being Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, Ameer Abdullah, Charles Sims, Sammy Watkins, Kennan Allen and Eric Decker one would say that they had a decent chance this season. Yikes!

Now that we have five weeks of football to gauge our team, we can look back at our rebuilding process for those that used my offseason rebuild article. For those who might be thinking about starting their rebuild this year, you can look to parts 1 and 2 on the basic fundamentals. In part three we are going to look at evaluating our team as it is right now and what to do with the rest of the 2016 season.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Seasonal records are a hard stat to judge a fantasy team by since they have no way to defend their scores. One may have their best statistical output any given week only to have it be counted as an “L” due to what we will call the “Julio effect.” Therefore, looking at a team’s weekly points for and against will offer a greater understanding of who they really are. For teams that are 4-1 or 3-2, are you winning games against teams that are weaker? Are your points for significantly lower the other teams that have strong records? For teams that are 2-3 or 1-4, have you been playing against the weekly high scorers? Are your “points for” still competitive with the teams at the top of the standings? RSO has a great tool built right into the standings page to measure exactly how your team is against the rest of your league. If you go to Standings, then Breakdown, the site gives you an overall record against each opponent for every week. If you really want to have a record to brag about to your league mates then this is the one that you should be using. For instance, I am 3-2 in one of my leagues where I thought I had one of the strongest teams. When I look at the breakdown records it shows that against all opponents each week I have a 49-6 record as well as the highest points for. This indicates to me that I have had two games where my opponents had gangbuster weeks and I shouldn’t be concerned. You need to look at each of your teams as it pertains to the rest of its league and answer these questions before making any moves involving pushing ahead or selling the team this season.

How to Move Forward

Now that there is a guide for whether you are likely in or out this season you can start to plan ahead for the next 8-9 weeks before the playoffs. Let’s start with the contenders. If you are in- go ALL in. Find the good players on teams that are well behind the 8 ball and start making offers. Ideally, you would want to look for guys that are on one year/final season deals or ones that are older veterans and are not likely to be in that owner’s future plans. Don’t try and low ball them with players they won’t use. This won’t happen in an experienced league. Instead offer rookies, picks or longer contract players that will hold value into 2017. A perfectly reasonable starting point for a contending team to offer a rebuilder would be Derrick Henry and a 2017 1st for Le’Veon Bell.

For everyone else, look to the players that still have strong value in your line-up and start shopping them around. The worst thing is waiting until after the other rebuilders flood the market with usable talent to fill the needs of the few contenders. Or worse you could be waiting to see if you have a chance and then your player gets injured; not only crushing your chances of winning but also decreasing their value in a trade. In season is the best time to acquire picks because most owners are focused on winning, and they are willing to put future rewards on hold. While not the opposite of contenders, rebuilding owners should target: draft picks, injured/slumping players, and risk/reward contracts. Depending on the length of the rebuild or available cap space a fourth player to target would be the bad contract players.

Ultimately your goal for this season is to hold as many draft picks as possible, clear all cap space of players that hold their maximum trade value and acquire talent that might be useful in the next year or two. The big thing to take away from here is that when shopping players don’t ask for players that are a key part of that team’s starting line-up unless you are giving up something better. A great example would be to offer players that have already had their byes so the new owner can just plug-and-play them for the rest of the season. Meaning shares of Ryan Mathews, Jamaal Charles, Doug Baldwin, Jeremy Maclin, Eddie Lacy, and Drew Brees are easy selling points to a contender for a 2nd round pick and a project player.

Hopefully, I have helped lay the groundwork for what should be a busy month of buying and selling players. If you complete any big trades using this strategy make sure to tweet @RealitySportsOn to have yourself featured in our trades of the week. Also, if you have any questions about whether an offer is good enough make be sure to ask any of the RSO writers on their thoughts.

Week 1: React to Overreact

Updated: September 14th 2016

What an exciting first week of football! There were a lot of surprises, both good and bad, in the fantasy community that have owners either patting themselves on the back or pulling out their hair. Tuesday after week 1 is one of the largest scrambles for the waiver wire in the year so I wanted to go over a collection of players that I felt needed to be talked about. Note that this is just the first week of the season and you shouldn’t be basing all your hard offseason work off of 60 minutes worth of football. Instead, evaluate your own team and its performance and be prepared to throw around some serious dollars. Let us begin.

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

Keenan AllenWhat a buzzkill this was. After an entire offseason that led many to believe Allen would return healthy and back to his WR1 form his knee gives out. Ending his season before the second half of game one, Allen owners are now left holding the bag with a big hole in their fantasy line-ups. It will be tough to say who on a game to game basis will immediately benefit from his absence. Danny Woodhead seems to have held off the doubters based on his performance and, along with Antonio Gates and Travis Benjamin, will have the first opportunities to increase their targets. Undrafted rookie Tyrell Williams looked good in the preseason and had two catches for 71 yards after Allen went out. With the other three likely being owned already Williams would likely be your immediate replace for Allen owners. Just don’t expect to see consistent fantasy results on a week to week basis.

Spencer Ware/Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Talk about feeding off of other’s misery. For Charles owners who were unable to handcuff Ware in the offseason, they were shedding tears at the near 200 total yard performance that he was able to put up in a thrilling come from behind win. Word is spreading that Charles may also be sitting a second week which leaves Ware owners foaming at the mouth. While there’s not much Charles owners can do at this point other than wait and see, it’s not time to panic just yet. Too often coaches ask players to come back before they are ready (i.e. Lynch, Dez, Romo, John Brown.) This just hurts the player’s value more by starting and subsequently leaving games early. Hopefully, Andy Reid is taking it slow with his star running back and he will be 100% healthy soon. When he does return though, it would be a surprise if he took the lion’s share back after Sunday’s performance by Ware.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills

Sammy WatkinsSpeaking of letting injuries heal, reports are surfacing that Sammy Watkins is still feeling pain in his surgically repaired foot which could be affecting his performance. It was suggested that the team could be shutting him down for a significant amount of time but those reports were quickly shot down and he is said to be ready to play on Thursday night. Still, we have seen what a receiver trying to play through a foot injury looks like, Dez in 2015 and A.J. Green in 2014, with unimpressive results. If Robert Woods isn’t already owned in your league I would definitely be picking him up and stashing him. Either way, it is hard to own Watkins at this point as he could be a major dud due a lackluster passing game and now his lingering injury. If you can move him for any other WR2 or a 2017 1st and a replacement receiver I would be getting out now.

Tevin Coleman/Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Tevin ColemanThis was an interesting turn of events with Coleman looking more efficient with his 32 snaps (117 total yards) than Freeman’s (40 yards) on 36 snaps. Dan Quinn has stated that he will continue to use the committee approach making all those who spent big offseason dollars acquiring Freeman very nervous. Even more nerve-racking was how efficient Coleman was in a receiving role (95 yards) which was assumed to Freeman’s role. After being a fantasy beast early last season Freeman’s big knock was his inefficiencies without volume down the stretch. With a healthy Coleman (who remember was handpicked by this coaching staff in last year’s draft) this could be an early candidate for the one year wonder RB.

Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Fisher*Cricket… Cricket…* that’s the sound of the second Monday night game as the Rams looked awful; being shut out by a team that many expected to win less than five games this season. While the Rams may not offer much in terms of startable fantasy players (except Gurley), you would like to see them put up at least something to build off of. Touted as the best prospect since Adrian Peterson, Gurley seems to have the same trajectory of having to play on a bad offense that doesn’t scare the defense from stacking the box unforgivingly. You can’t help but wonder how successfully he would be if he didn’t have Jeff Fisher holding him back.

As for San Francisco call me a doubter but I have seen this narrative play out before; in last year’s opening Monday night game in fact. The 49ers held Peterson and Vikings in check and started the season 1-0 only to win four of their next fifteen games. It was nice to see Hyde play well and score two touchdowns but it will take a few more games before I see anything on this offseason as a consistent fantasy play.

Press Your Luck

Updated: September 4th 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love the Game Show Press Your Luck (Editor’s Note, this is my (Stephen’s) favorite game show of all-time). While I’m sure this makes it easy to guess my age, a young me loved the days on winter break or off from school when I was in front of a television with those hilarious whammies and contestants yelling, “Big Bucks! Big Bucks! STOP!” For those of you who have never seen the show, check out a link here.

While the Reality Sports Online Free Agent Auction offers way more substance than those sophomoric whammies, sometimes it becomes necessary to go against your initial instincts and press your luck to go all in on a player. What I mean by this is like the famous saying from the WWE’s Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase that “everyone has a price”, sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone bid wise to get the player(s) that makes you the league favorite.

Today, with many of you yet to have your auctions before the season starts, I will outline how I employed that strategy in two writers/expert leagues the past few weeks and in what situations/scenarios you should consider making bold moves. I’m predicating all of these scenarios based on you having adequate cap space to carry out this strategy without overextending yourself. Of course, another good strategy that sometimes works is making trades pre-auction so you don’t have to pay market prices for players you covet if most of the best players are under contract.

Scenario #1) Only One or Two Elite Free Agent Options Available in Your League

This very scenario occurred for me in my numberFire and friends writers league a few weeks ago (I hate to call anything an “experts” league because to me there’s always someone who I don’t know who I feel is an awesome fantasy player and to this point, a non-writer won the league last year). I was coming into this 10 team, third-year league with a team that has not gotten in done in the playoffs the past two seasons in spite of a combined regular season record of 19-7 and being the highest scoring team in the league the past few years. In my mind, my starting receivers of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were solid, but didn’t offer the upside to compete with the elite receiving options in the league. Most top receivers are concentrated on a few teams that in my opinion pose the biggest threats to me-ESPN’s Leo Howell’s team (Antonio Brown,Mike Evans, Allen Robinson), FantasyGuru.com’s Graham Barfield’s team (Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery) , and numberFire’s Tyler Buecher (Julio Jones, Brandin Cooks).

So, when I took inventory of this and found that Leo Howell would not be franchise tagging DeAndre Hopkins for a second straight year, I determined that my bidding strategy on Hopkins was to win him at all costs because it strengthens my position while weakening one of my chief competitors, one who has gone 24-2 the past two regular seasons.

My $91 million in cap space and the need really to only fill two flex positions in my starting lineup helped justify the massive expense on Hopkins, who by far was the best free agent available in this league and especially so at a position of need for me. So my pre-auction plan was to win Hopkins at any cost for four years-my pre-auction budget was around 4 years and between $140 million and $150 million total. However, Howell had plenty of cap space too and was targeting a return of Hopkins as well.

I ended up signing Hopkins to a 4 year, $171.5m deal which was the biggest contract I’ve seen in any of the three leagues I’m currently in. It sent some shock waves to the rest of the league (and a few Twitter followers) and honestly pushed my comfort zone somewhat because I do think Hopkins may experience some regression this season. However, it was definitely the right move for my team based on him being the premier option in the auction and fitting a team need.

Later in the auction players who are solid starters but not necessarily difference makers fetched big prices as a result of the Hopkins auction and teams being flush with cap space-for instance Randall Cobb received 3 years, $96.5 million and Jeremy Maclin signed for 4 years, $102 million. In essence, I may have set the market on receivers by my huge Hopkins bid and based on what happened afterwards, I’m happy that I added an elite option to my team that I hope puts me over the top.

Scenario #2) You Have Very Few Roster Spots Left

Especially in leagues where you have more than two rounds of rookie draft picks and carry roster sizes in the 20’s, by the time you get to a third-year auction, roster spots may not be plentiful when your auction rolls around. So, you might as well spend your cap space and get what you want, even if some of the pricing runs counter to what you are comfortable with. Sometimes that may involve you winning a player you don’t necessarily want via price enforcing, but more often than not, it will help you carry out a strategy.

For instance, RSO President and Founder Matt Papson and I got into a slight bidding war on Arian Foster, who he ended up signing for one year, $19.5 million. I’m sure that he was probably hoping to spend less, but he only had four roster spaces open coming into the auction for a team he took over and got value where he saw it. If Foster returns to previous year’s form, he fits well into Papson’s lineup (especially since he owns Jay Ajayi also).

But the key to me is that if Foster gets hurt again, Papson is still protected with only a one year deal. This is in and of itself a strategy-Papson is a chess-player and he may already be eyeing some of the 2017 free agents and his option value on Foster is huge. It also capitalized well on his bountiful cap space for very few roster spots.

While I’m advocating for spending your money in your auction, I’m not suggesting giving risky players multiple years on a big contract, however. Sometimes it is better to have the option value, even if the upside is lacking.

Scenario #3) Capitalizing on/Extending Championship Window

Let’s face it-not every team in your league is built to win for extended periods of time. You have to strike when the iron is hot. So if you’re only a flex player away from winning the whole freakin’ thing, go get your player and worry about the contract dollars on the back end later.

For me, furthering my example from #1, I arguably have the best and cheapest starting running back tandem in the league in picking Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley in consecutive rookie drafts. Since I only have this combination again this season (before franchise tags kick in) for a combined $7.7 million, winning time is now (or worst case next year). Heading into that auction, I also had Rob Gronkowski for another two seasons (before franchise tags) for around $15 million a year.

Taking into account Hopkins and the contracts I have, I feel that adding Hopkins extended my window to contend another two years beyond this year and leverages my Gronk and running back core.

Scenario #4) Your League Employs Late Round QB Strategy

If any of you reading this are doing multiple fantasy leagues and not following my numberFire editor JJ Zachariason, he is really one of the true visionaries in fantasy football these days. Plus, he works incredibly hard, is an overall nice guy, and offers tons of strategy and podcasts in terms of how to stream positions like quarterbacks and tight ends.

While the RSO format with multi-year contracts makes it a little more difficult to “stream” QB’s than a redraft league, there are certainly leagues which devalue QB play in your auction market dynamics. My numberFire writers league is exactly that. I mean, prior to Hopkins coming up for auction, I had to sit idly by while Aaron Rodgers was signed by defending champion Rory Ryan on a 3 year, $11 million contract. That may be counter-intuitive to some of you, yet that’s the Late Round QB strategy in full effect and while I would’ve loved to hope in that Rodgers bidding, I had to stay in my swim lane in order to be able to get Hopkins.

Basically that school of thought says to pay in auctions for wide receivers and running backs as QB play is usually not that differentiated (this works differently in two QB leagues). Anyways, if your entire league or most of it employs Late Round QB dynamics (or you at least do), you’ll have tons of money to spend on other players and if you combine that with only a few elite options in free agency and having few roster spots left, you’ll start breaking the bank for guys like C.J. Anderson and Michael Floyd who went to Leo Howell for 3 years each at $88 million and $72 million respectively-not a bad combined use of the money that would have otherwise went to Hopkins.

Scenario #5) You’re Typically Conservative 

If you have been in a league for a few years or start your first year auction super conservative, sometimes you have to throw your opponents for a loop. Some of your leaguemates have certain owners typecasted on who will bid on which players and then you hit them with a surprise left. When they look at your roster and see your biggest contract is $15 million a year, they don’t think you’ll go big on someone like Jamaal Charles. And then you do and he helps you big time.

The key is mixing in risk in years when you need that extra push to contend vs. not overextending yourself with players who may be dead money in other years. Who is in the free agent pool certainly matters and so does using player’s ages, sample sizes and gut instincts when awarding multi-year contracts.


numberFire Writer’s League Likely 10 man starting lineups

So as I went all in for Hopkins, here are the likely 10 man starting lineups for each team. Curious what everyone’s thoughts are. The league is 0.5PPR and starts a QB, Two RB’s, Two WR’s, TE, DST, K, FLEX, FLEX

University of Phoenix Online (Brandon Gdula, numberFire) 

Dalton, Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Jordan Matthews, Kelce, Broncos, Crosby, Ryan Mathews, Baldwin

The Quickie Martin (Sam Hauss, numberFire)

Mariota, Doug Martin, Lacy, Nelson, Maclin, Fleener, Panthers, Walsh, Duke Johnson, Delanie Walker

Hospitable Takeover (Matt Papson, President and Founder, Reality Sports Online)

Wilson, L. Murray, Ingram, Beckham Jr., Edelman, Maxx Williams, Bills, TBD, Foster, Langford

Team: Great Odin’s Raven (Dan Pizzuta, numberFire)

Newton, David Johnson, Yeldon, Cooper, Watkins, Olsen, Texans, Tucker, John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders

Team: gingersauce4u (Tyler Buecher, numberFire)

Fitzpatrick, DeAngelo Williams/Bell, McCoy, Julio Jones, Cooks, Reed, Eagles, Vinatieri, Marvin Jones, Desean Jackson

Team: SamHerbie (Sammy Light, Reality Sports Online)

Rivers, Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Landry, Hurns, Graham, Rams, McManus, Cobb, Hyde

Team: Cleveland’s Award Tour (Matt Goodwin, Reality Sports Online & numberFire)

Roethlisberger, Gurley, Freeman, Hopkins, Decker, Gronkowski, Seahawks, Catanzaro, Demaryius Thomas, Diggs

Team: Leo Howell (Leo Howell, ESPN)

Brees, Charles, C.J. Anderson, Antonio Brown, Allen Robinson, Ertz, Chiefs, Gostkowski, Evans, Floyd

Team: Funky Monks (Graham Barfield, FantasyGuru.com & Rotoworld)

Luck, Lamar Miller, Riddick, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Gates, Bengals, Hauschka, Jeffery, Fitzgerald

Team: Loss Aversion (Rory Ryan, Baylor University Law Professor)

Rodgers, Rawls, Gore, Hilton, Marshall, Bennett, Cardinals, Bailey, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith


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) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally provided that reality! 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.

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.

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.