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

Arbitrage Time

Updated: April 8th 2016

In the Zone

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

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

The Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Competition for Targets? 

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

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

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


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

 

Droppertunity Knocks

Updated: April 21st 2015

Drew Brees

As a parent of two young kids (probably not alone among the demographics of Reality Sports Online owners), I must say that outside of watching sports, I don’t get out too much or get to watch too much TV either. My Friday nights are typically spent going out to dinner with the family, putting the kids to bed and watching one of the few exceptions-Shark Tank. My wife and I started watching “The Tank” about two years ago. I went in with low expectations, dipping a toe or two into the water in fear that Mark Cuban would be the same guy he is as an NBA owner complaining about the refs. I really didn’t know the other “Sharks” prior to watching for the first time.

However, aside from when Sharks like Robert Herjavec get on their high horse and throw a tantrum because a contestant actually wants to hear all the potential offers before making a decision or when Kevin O’Leary offers a royalty-laden deal where he basically wants perpetuity rights for “loaning” money, I love the show. I pause it like it is a football game and discuss the strategy with my wife. Perhaps it appeals to my business school self – as it represents a part of business school I ignored–I went to a Top 20 MBA Program but never took any entrepreneurship classes, which is something I definitely regret.

What I like most about the show is seeing the good ideas and hearing the passion in the voices of the entrepreneurs. Frankly, it is exactly why I’m drawn so much to Reality Sports Online and Matt Papson and Stephen Wendell who run it. It doesn’t hurt that these two share my passion for sports and are genuinely really good people as well.

At the same time, sometimes the best part of the show is when these slick-talking entrepreneurs who resemble Kentucky Coach John Calipari come in with a non-viable product or idea and the Sharks find tactful (Lori Greiner and Barbara Corcoran are best at this) or insulting (Kevin O’Leary) ways of rejecting the entrepreneurs. The conclusion typically ends in “For these reasons, I’m out!”. Cuban, frankly, is the best at rejecting the scheisty snake-oil salesman. He cuts them off, rolls his eyes, insults them casually and makes it clear he’s ending it, typically within one minute of their pitch.

With that, this article is centered around dropping your multi-year contract players and the strategy behind that. I’ll get into the RSO contract database some and discuss average contract lengths and dollar figures and walk through some strategies centered around cutting bait with past contracts you regret.

Before getting into that though, let’s talk Le’Veon Bell and his suspension for a minute first.

How Do I Value Le’Veon Bell This Season?

Bell was no doubt the best running back last season. With his three game suspension announced (pending appeal), RSO owners are left trying to figure out how to value Bell. For starters, let me be painfully obvious- you are not dropping Bell. No way, no how.

If you are weighing whether or not to use your franchise tag on Bell (a topic we discussed in detail last week), it is probably a yes at RSO league averages of around $21.2 million, especially if you are good at finding replacement value those first three weeks. If the price tag in your particular league is higher than that, high level I’d probably say no simply on the premise of knowingly paying for someone who is missing a decent chunk of time.  The good news is that at least you’ll be paying for someone who is missing time without an injury. I hate knowingly picking injured players, especially on a one-year contract.

Take your league dynamics and the type of running backs available in free agency into account when considering franchising Bell. As some of you may know, I write for numberFire as well and my colleague Joseph Juan did an amazing study  on running back longevity this week. If you are considering Bell against someone who has already hit the 1,800 carry cliff, eat the three games and stick with Bell.

If you have Bell on a multi-year deal, it is probably below market value and there is significant value in that. Just simply hold and paint around the edges in your auction to get someone who has a favorable schedule the first three weeks of the NFL season when Bell is suspended.

If he’s a free agent in your league and you are trying to figure out how to value Bell for your auction, the suspension really is a non-factor, especially if you are looking at him on a multi-year deal. If owners in your league are skittish about Bell, you may be able to achieve a little bit of savings on him. I would avoid signing Bell to a one-year deal unless you are taking advantage of his suspension to get him cheaper than you’d otherwise be able to get him.

Remember, Bell is no Josh Gordon. Gordon who was suspended for two games in the 2013 season, was coming off his rookie season and was not as proven as Bell at the point of suspension. The risk and dollars invested in a fantasy league consequently were much lower, even if Gordon ended up having a historic season in the 14 games he did play.

So, no need to channel your inner Shark on Bell. You’re not out!

Droppertunity Knocks?

First, I’d like to note a few things about dropping a multi-year contract player before we talk specific players.

1. Dropping a Multi-Year Player is often a last resort.

I feel like I see a few tweets every year from RSO owners that imply impulsive cuts are coming from them as soon as their league reopens. I don’t want to sound like captain obvious here, but eating 50% of future years is not a desired outcome, but sometimes recouping cents on the dollar may make more sense for your RSO franchise. This is especially the case when the NFL gifted RSO owners another $10.3 million in cap space for our 2015 season. The extra money can also work the other way as another reason to go big in free agency and start getting out from your undesirable contracts.

Also, you have to assume that your player in most circumstances will not get claimed on waivers and save you from 100% of the player’s contract.

2. If the player is still in a good situation, try packaging him in a trade before dropping him.

If the player is still talented, but overpriced, try trading him in a package to another team. Say you overpaid for C.J. Spiller a few years ago because you got drawn into the “run him until he pukes” coachspeak. Spiller still has talent and may be an interesting play on the Saints. However, are you really interested in paying him another 2 years and $13.5 million a year? The answer is a definitive no.

If this is your reality, before cutting Spiller, you may want to get creative. If you are one piece away from winning this league and are entering a plum free agent market, while I generally don’t like trading first round rookie draft picks, if it gets you out of 100% of Spiller you have to seriously think about it. Say Spiller and a first rounder for a second rounder. This frees up good cap space in your auction.

3. How many years a Multi-Year Player has remaining is critical in this equation.

A multi-year player with one year remaining is easier to trade, cut, or justify keeping. If you’ve already weathered a year of zero production from Adrian Peterson your mentality of cutting him in 2015 is different if he has one or two years left at his high salary. If you have two years left, you want him gone. If one, you are really thinking about what you want to do.

4. With very few exceptions, if your player is not currently on an NFL roster, drop them.

I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on the Chris Johnson (1.3 years remaining average, $7.5 million annual average) and Ben Tate (1.7 years remaining average, $5.9 million annual average salary) types in this article. If a team hasn’t thought enough of your player to sign him (even as a backup), what are you waiting for? Get your 50% back and start planning your 2015 roster.

5. Don’t think you have to make a splash dropping players to be effective in doing it.

Just because someone like Miles Austin or Aaron Dobson isn’t someone you are paying $10.0 million a year to, if you get back money that you think you can repurpose better in the Free Agency Auction on a player that has a very low probability of being in your starting lineup on your fantasy team, do it. To me, there’s no ego in admitting a mistake, just roll with it and at least appreciate that this mistake was a low dollar one that you can course correct this year.

At the same time, though, don’t get too deep into this. If you have someone like Antonio Gates on your roster for another year at $2.0 million, his expected value is better to you than what you can do with 50% of his money.

Full Disclosure- How I Did in 2014

In 2014, I was most successful in advocating dropping running backs. While I incorrectly said to hold onto Trent Richardson for another year (drop him immediately if you still have him), I got Ray Rice, David Wilson (hate being right about career ending injuries), and Maurice Jones-Drew right. I didn’t get Lamar Miller right, but I attribute a lot of that to Knowshon Moreno getting injured in Week 1. Funny how a year changes things as Miller is really interesting to me for 2015.

I also did well on Wide Receivers, telling you to drop Danny Amendola, Dwayne Bowe, and Kenbrell Thompkins. I said to stick with Roddy White and while he didn’t quite get to 1,000 yards this season, he was productive. The question is did his production warrant his price.

I didn’t take firm stances on quarterbacks (don’t worry I will this year), so there are no conclusive results and the tight end pool I talked about was not very exciting. I’d say I missed there as Owen Daniels became a solid Dennis Pitta injury replacement and Coby Fleener had a pretty solid season even if I don’t think he’s a very good football player.

Top Drops for 2015

Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints– First into the tank is Brees (2.2 average years remaining, $19.9 million annual average), who led the NFL in passing yardage in 2014. While Brees still of course has top QB potential, I’m downgrading him not only because Jimmy Graham is now in Seattle and Kenny Stills is in Miami, but due to New Orleans increased focus on the running game as well. This takes away Brees’ ability to take the roof of the Superdome with the deep ball and limits his big play making ability, effectively turning him into the dinking and dunking of the QB (watch last year’s home game vs. the Bengals for an example) who replaced him in San Diego. Adding insult to injury, his replacement Philip Rivers (1.6 average years, $4.4 million annual average) is significantly cheaper. Do the math, drop Brees, pay around $10.0 million in dead money and pick up Rivers (Big Ben, Tony Romo, a similar quarterback) for around $5.0 million and have $5.0 million in dispensable income in your auction for similar expected production to Brees. You also could get lucky and someone could bail you out and relieve 100% of your Brees obligation on waivers, even on name recognition. For those reasons, “I’m out!”

Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers– If you still have him, you are paying Kaepernick (2.2 average years remaining, $8.9 million annual average) more money than most owners are paying Big Ben and Romo. That salary is for “bad decision, no weapons Kaepernick” as opposed to “destroying Green Bay in the playoffs with his legs and arm Kaepernick.” Kurt Warner may be working with him on his mechanics, but there is nothing about Kaepernick as a pocket passer that excites me with how big his sample is starting to get. I don’t need Rob Lowe telling me what to do here, “I’m out!”

Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings– I’m looking at Peterson (2.2 average years remaining, $23.0 million annual average) from a potential production standpoint against price only. He’s 30 years old now and while he barely had any tread last year and finally gets an opportunity to play with his best quarterback in awhile, I just like the financial freedom that comes with cutting him if you can’t get trade value for him, especially if you only have a year left. If you have more than a year, you may be in a rebuilding situation that warrants moving on from AP as well.

Andre Ellington, Running Back, Arizona Cardinals– You may be surprised seeing him on this list as a third year NFL player who has a second gear, however Ellington (2.4 years, $11.1 million annual average) is someone I’d think of moving on from. His coach seems to think he can’t hold up with a bell-cow workload and neither do I. Additionally, he simply wasn’t productive with the opportunities he had, as one of the least efficient rushers in the numberFire database. I wouldn’t move on from him unless the Cardinals draft a running back high because 50% of his savings may not be enough to find his replacement. On the flip side, someone else would potentially pick him up on waivers based on his “upside” and free you completely from him.

Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, New York Jets Don’t pay for Top 5 receiver Marshall on the Bears (2.1 years, $18.6 million annual average) for an older, lesser version on the Jets. I’m out faster than Cuban on this one.

Julius Thomas, Tight End, Jacksonville Jaguars- I know that Thomas (1.8 years, $13.9 million annual average) has had double-digit touchdowns (12 each year) two years in a row. Alas, Peyton Manning could teach my five year old son how to catch touchdowns. The Jaguars are building a nice offensive nucleus, but when you combine Thomas’ history of ankle injuries, the Jacksonville offense, and simply not being in Denver, you can’t justify paying Denver prices for him in your RSO league. For those reasons, “I’m out!”

Other Players to Cut Without Hesitation:

C.J. Spiller, Running Back, New Orleans Saints (2.0 years, $13.5 million annual average)

Zac Stacy, Running Back, St. Louis Rams (2.3 years, $8.3 million annual average)

Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts (1.5 years, $9.6 million annual average)

Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants (1.9 years, $10.6 million annual average)

Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings (2.6 years, $7.9 million annual average)

Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers (1.7 years, $6.7 million annual average)

Other Players to Think About Cutting:

Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Chicago Bears (1.7 years, $5.3 million annual average)

Christine Michael, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks (2.3 years, $3.3 million annual average)- especially if the team drafts a running back, but noting that Robert Turbin is a free agent in 2016.

Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals (1.7 years, $11.0 million annual average)

That’s all for now, fellow sharks. I sincerely hope you enjoyed and this is helpful. Feel free to reach out to me with key decisions you are facing via Twitter @mattgoody2 . I’m more than happy to help you with your key decisions.

Free Agent Frenzy

Updated: April 21st 2015

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

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

1) Jimmy Graham Gets Traded to Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Orange Julius Changes His Color

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

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

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

4) The Colts Get Some Vets

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

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

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

5) Jeremy Maclin’s Homecoming

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

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

6) Other Notes

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

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

Time for Some Auction!

Updated: June 25th 2014

If you’re a returning Reality Sports Online user and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been studying potential free agents since your last game of 2013.  Some of you may already have had your rookie drafts.  The typical RSO user is pretty strategic and dedicated, so most owners who are going into their 2nd Free Agent Auction are probably looking for guidance on who to target and how much to offer up for potential free agents.  If you are a new user, the last piece I wrote “Drop ‘Em Like It’s Hot” should help give you a feel for contract values in existing RSO leagues for your first action-packed Free Agency Auction.

To further analyze the database of league data I sifted through in my last article, I’m preparing Free Agent Rankings and analysis for your benefit for players who are owned by less than 50% of 2013 RSO users on multi-year deals.   I will have two lists, the first being Top 25 Free Agent rankings in this article and the second being a 26-50 Top Free Agents list in an article coming soon.  Either way, these rankings and analysis represent players, which depending on your team needs and salary cap situations, should be available in most leagues and who I believe should be targeted most.

Before we jump into my rankings and analysis, I do want to share a little bit of auction strategy for you. First off, you’ll see some quarterbacks on my lists. You may say, well, I already have that position taken care of.  The point is, someone else in your league may not, and just like the NFL, you want to have valuable pieces on your team no matter what your relative need may be.  Plus, don’t let someone get a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger for $1M a year just because you have RGIII wrapped up for 3 years and you are high on your incumbent.  Bid up quarterbacks as much as you can without overextending yourself to a point you are uncomfortable with if that player landed on your team.  Basically, don’t give your rival owner a free pass to talent on the cheap because you already are taken care of at a certain position.

When the 2014 RSO Recommended Contract Values came out, I was floored to see someone like Matt Ryan at a 3 year, $4M contract and went back and forth with the RSO guys on that one, while begging to get into their league this year if that’s how little they value Matty Ice. Remember, a few owners will be desperate in season for talent, and when you have the surprise QB or the well known one who turned his game around on a friendly contract or that they can’t live without, you will get value for them in a trade assuming you are in a league with rational decision makers.   Also, some owners may have approached last year’s inaugural auction like an NBA lottery pick that just got his first paycheck, so they may be capped out. In essence, don’t let the owners who spent wisely get every available talent on the cheap. It also never hurts to have a good backup as owners of Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick found out last year.

Additionally, consider how the NFL values a position before you are throwing premium dollars at the wrong player or a player at the wrong position. Remember that the shelf lives of running backs tend to decline around the 2,000 carry landmark (which players like Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster are rapidly approaching).  All things being equal, a premium wide receiver is among the most valuable players to target for multi-year deals.  They play a position valued in today’s passing league and can at a high level deeper into their 30’s.  If I’m paying premium dollars for a running back and putting three years into him, rest assured I want someone young and at least slightly proven.  Otherwise, I’m comfortable just being somewhat conservative at running back and finding value wherever I can on a budget.  Think players like Rashad Jennings and Danny Woodhead, etc.

You definitely need to consider your league scoring system and how many players your league starts at certain positions as well.  I’m in a league with three flex spots and only one starting running back required out of 10 starters.  It is also a full point PPR and a league in which quarterback sacks and incompletions are punished with negative points and interceptions are worth -5 points.  For perspective, I currently may be entering 2014 with no running backs on my roster, which I know I’ll need to address, but with only one starter spot potentially to fill, I don’t have to overpay for the best free agent running back available if I value someone else more.

Look at the player’s real contract too.  If you are targeting a “system” guy, make sure he’ll be in the system for the length you are signing him up for, or if he’s a pending free agent, that he stands to benefit from being a free agent.  The RSO Free Agent Auction moves lightning quick and you don’t have time to check on a player’s real life contract status in the middle of the auction.

Last disclosure before I dive into my rankings-there are no kickers or DST’s listed in these rankings as essentially all of them were owned by less than 50% owners on multi-year deals.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you know I love the Seahawks DST and there a few others that maybe worth holding onto or getting on a two year deal.  I wouldn’t recommend going more than two years on a DST as these tend to shift quickly production wise with free agent moves.

Rank Player POS % Owned Rec Contract Value
1 Alshon Jeffery WR 26% 3yrs, $60m
2 Andre Ellington RB 19% 3yrs, $50m
3 Josh Gordon WR 48% 2yrs, $30m
4 Nick Foles QB 6% 2yrs, $32m
5 Julius Thomas TE 5% 2yrs, $38m
6 Jordan Cameron TE 22% 3yrs, $35m
7 Michael Floyd WR 33% 3yrs, $33m
8 Shane Vereen RB 33% 2yrs, $25m
9 Joique Bell RB 3% 2yrs, $20m
10 Rueben Randle WR 24% 2yrs, $18m
11 Pierre Thomas RB 8% 2yrs, $18m
12 Julian Edelman WR 5% 2yrs, $22m
13 Jeremy Maclin WR 26% 1yr, $10m
14 Emmanuel Sanders WR 12% 2yrs, $20m
15 Toby Gerhart RB 1% 2yrs, $15m
16 Kendall Wright WR 27% 2yrs, $16m
17 Terrance Williams WR 26% 3yrs, $20m
18 Jordan Reed TE 23% 2yrs, $18m
19 Kyle Rudolph TE 40% 2yrs, $15m
20 Rashad Jennings RB 1% 1yr, $9m
21 Philip Rivers QB 14% 2yrs, $14m
22 Dennis Pitta TE 11% 2yrs, $15m
23 Zach Ertz TE 34% 3yrs, $24m
24 Khiry Robinson RB 0% 2yrs, $12m
25 Anquan Boldin WR 18% 1yr, $8m

1.  Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

The prize of the free agent class.  He’s in the best duo in the league arguably and one of the best offenses, even if Jay Cutler has history with Brandon Marshall.  Jeffery shows amazing timing and fights for the ball with corners and his best is yet to come.  Also in his third year, where most wide receivers show the biggest improvement.  Way less downside risk and injury risk than running backs.

2. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Exactly what I look for in a fantasy running back, Ellington is young and electric, flashes excellent pass catching ability and can make the big play.  He’s also on a loaded offense with an established receiving corps and the team addressed their offensive line needs in the offseason.  The contract value is based on potential and how much speed he has.  Should put up Top 15 performance at his position for the season and get plenty of activity in a really good offense in spite of his diminutive size.

3. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

Obviously his value takes a hit if he’s suspended for all of 2014, but talent wise he’s a Top 5 wide receiver and did so much with so little offensive support or quarterback play in 2013.  $15m a year for Gordon is a bargain if he doesn’t get a full year suspension and the two years are factoring in he’s on his last strike with both the Browns and the NFL drug policy.  Worst case if you get him and he’s out for the year is that you put him on injured reserve and get 50% of your value back.  I wouldn’t give Gordon more than two years based on the suspension risk.

4. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Already tackled Foles in a franchise tag article, but I’m highest on him of all the QB’s who may be available via free agency.  Foles has tons of weapons and benefits from Chip Kelly’s offensive system and pace.  He also seems to have the tools and makeup to succeed over time.  I wouldn’t give him more than 2 years, just in case Foles regresses significantly this season if other defenses figure him out.

5. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning loves targeting the Tight End when he has one worth throwing to, especially in the red zone.  Thomas was highly efficient with 65 catches on 89 targets in 2013 with 12 TD’s in 14 games. He also had two games with over 100 yards and 2 TD’s in the same game.  Tight End is a relative value position and Thomas is a Top 5 option for certain.  My only hesitancy here is that he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and nobody knows how much longer Manning will remain a Bronco.

6. Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns

Cameron’s value for 2014 is somewhat tied to Josh Gordon playing, but let’s assume that the Browns resist the urge to start Johnny Football and Brian Hoyer wins the starting job.  In two full games with Hoyer, Cameron was a beast with 16 receptions on 23 targets for 157 yards and 4 TD’s.  Cameron will benefit with or without Gordon as Head Coach Mike Pettine’s plan with OC Kyle Shanahan is to feature a running based attack and if the defense throws an extra man in the box, Cameron, like many Shanahan coached tight ends in the past will exploit that matchup every time.  He is a 2015 unrestricted free agent, but word out of Cleveland is that he’s a prime candidate for the Franchise Tag, so I feel pretty good about a 3 year RSO deal.

7. Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Was a star in 2013, but many fantasy owners didn’t even notice.  Made the most of his targets and had 17 catches over 20 yards in 2013.  Has the size and speed to be targeted more in the red zone and Arizona’s offense as noted above in Andre Ellington’s synopsis will be much better.  Floyd is in his third year and expected to break out as his teammates have showered him with praise this offseason and Larry Fitzgerald becomes more of a possession receiver in 2014.  A free agent in 2016, but a star in this league in 2014 who has Dez Bryant type upside.

8. Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots

A PPR league’s dream running back.  Vereen had 21 catches for 162 yards and a TD in the three games he played together with Rob Gronkowski, and then had 12 catches for 153 yards in the game Gronk went down with his ACL injury.  With LeGarrette Blount now in Pittsburgh, perhaps Vereen gets more of an opportunity to run the ball too, especially if Stevan Ridley continues his fumble issues that has landed him in Coach Belichick’s doghouse. Vereen is expected to see more snaps this season and flashed his rushing potential in Week 1 last season vs. Buffalo with over 100 yards rushing and 58 yards receiving on 7 catches.  Vereen is a 2015 free agent, but is worthy of a short multi-year deal as his versatility is a differentiator.

9. Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions

Bell is an underrated back from 2013 who figures to be more involved in the Lions rushing game.  With so many passing weapons taking the pressure off of Calvin Johnson, Bell also figures in the screen game as well.  He did miss OTAs with a knee injury, but figures to be ready for training camp.  Also benefits from being in same backfield as the brittle Reggie Bush.  He just signed a three year contract in 2014 offseason.

10. Rueben Randle, WR, NY Giants

Figures to be the touchdown maker for the Giants receiving corps this season and figures to build more chemistry with Eli Manning, as he has been talked up in OTAs.  Will benefit heavily from OC Ben McAdoo (formerly of the Packers) offense.  Free agent in 2016.

11. Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints

Seems boring, but his production is not.  Rumored to be in the role vacated by Darren Sproles.  His 77 catches in 2013 were huge and he did have 147 carries in 2013.  Don’t expect that type of workload necessarily, but the Saints did just sign Thomas to a three year extension in spite of his missing the playoffs last season with a chest injury.  Rumors also have the Saints moving to more of a balanced offense as well.

12. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

Was a PPR stud who the Patriots re-signed in the offseason. His value is somewhat tied to how the other wide receivers perform and mostly to Rob Gronkowski’s recovery from injury.  You still want to own the slot WR in the Patriots offense, but tread carefully.

13. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Should probably be on the “comeback” list, but I like Maclin enough on the regular auction list on a one year RSO deal. While Jordan Matthews could contribute right away as a rookie, Maclin is the most talented wideout on the Eagles and remember, he was a first round draft pick in 2009.  Should bounce back and intentionally signed a one year prove it deal to highlight his value in free agency.

14. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos

Call this a good situation. I don’t love Sanders, but I love how the Broncos could use his versatility in the next few years.  Remember, he’s not Eric Decker, but he should be used frequently and could occupy Wes Welker’s slot position if he leaves after this season.

15. Toby Gerhart, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

As a general rule, I usually don’t draft Jaguars as I can’t stand watching their games (just too boring). However, Gerhart was brought in for a reason-to be the bell-cow of the Jags’ offense.  They like his leg drive and ability to gain yards after contact and Gus Bradley seems to be trying to build a version of the Seahawks in Jacksonville.  Maybe Gerhart’s low mileage could make him a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch.

16. Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans

Another PPR machine.  Had 94 catches for 1,079 yards in 2013, but only 2 touchdowns.  Perhaps Ken Whisenhunt can turn him into the Keenan Allen of the Titans, but he will need better QB play to make that happen.  A free agent in 2016, so a two year play is smartest.

17. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Had a very solid rookie campaign and flashed big play ability and consistency, as well as ability to get into end zone. On a very talented Cowboys offense who figures to be in a lot of shootouts again in 2014 with a weak defense.  Will make teams pay for double-teaming Dez Bryant and fits in well with new OC Scott Linehan’s scheme.  Under contract through 2017, so plan accordingly.

18. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

Has top 5 tight end potential if he stays healthy.  Should benefit from a healthy RGIII and Desean Jackson free agent signing.  A serious red zone threat who opens up the middle of the field and gets chunks of yardage.  Big concern is concussion and injury history, which tempers enormous potential. A two year, $18m deal best balances the injury risk and the upside.

19. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings

Yes, lots of tight ends on my list, so you could get the right one as a value if you wait to grab one that you like. New OC Norv Turner loves using the tight end position and Rudolph provides a big target with good hands for whomever starts the season at QB.  He’s in a contract year, so don’t overextend yourself.

20. Rashad Jennings, RB, NY Giants

The best option on a team that likes to run the ball and was outstanding in 2013 for Oakland.  Solid in pass protection and currently working with the first team offense.  Only threat is if David Wilson comes back fully healthy.  I wouldn’t go long-term on Jennings because he is 29 and has been a career journeyman, but for 2014 he could make you a smart owner.

21. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Was a top 5 QB in many leagues last season.  Showed poise and better decision making and has plenty of dump-off options and better young talent than he’s had in years with Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green expecting to have prominent roles in 2014.  Represents a great value and I’d even consider paying $7m a year for him to be my backup or spot starter as he is a rhythm QB who can be scorching hot at the right time in your fantasy season.

22. Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens

His big contract extension in 2014 shows the Ravens’ need for a middle of the field receiving option. New OC Gary Kubiak loves throwing to tight ends and Pitta has a solid track record and appears to be fully healthy.  Solid production expected.

23. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Most tight ends in recent history have had their breakthrough in Year 2.  Ertz didn’t see many snaps in 2013 namely due to his blocking deficiencies.  However, most within the Eagles brass are assuming a prominent role for Ertz this season and that could have been part of the decision to rid themselves of Desean Jackson.  Has Gronk like upside and a huge 6’5, 250 lb. frame, so get on board on the ground floor and enjoy the ride.

24. Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints

I could have put more obvious guys here like Ladarius Green or Ben Tate; however, Robinson is type of runner you want to have in a New Orleans offense that is trying to be more balanced in 2014.  He runs angry and hard and Bill Parcells said he reminds him of Curtis Martin.  He really impressed me with 13 carries for 57 yards and a TD vs. Seattle in the playoffs.  With Mark Ingram potentially on the way out after the season, Robinson holds future value too.

25. Anquan Boldin WR, San Francisco 49ers

I know the 49ers get Michael Crabtree back for a full season and have added Stevie Johnson, but I don’t really care. Boldin is a game-changer, plays aggressively and the team wins when he sees the ball.  85 catches for 1,179 yards and 7 TD’s in 2013 as a 32 year old receiver, followed by a strong playoffs.  Boldin still figures to see 8-10 targets a game and does the most with them.  I could even justify an extra year on the contract if you wanted to get the average value down a little as he is a free agent in 2016.