Training Camp 2015 Edition

Updated: August 3rd 2015

nfl-vets-really-hate-training-camp-images-2015-600x439

It’s hard to believe it, but training camp is upon us. While some of you may have already had your Reality Sports Online rookie drafts, a ton of offseason trades, or both, others may just be picking up serious activity. Either way, we all collectively can’t wait to watch the Houston Texans on Hard Knocks and for kickoff in September. Before that happens, though, there are some major storylines that will unfold in training camp that will help us determine how to tackle our Free Agency Auctions. I’ll skip over Russell Wilson’s contract signing for the most part and similar storylines. Basically the upshot with Wilson is this-now that it is reported he is in Seattle another 4 years, he’ll command big money in leagues where rushing is rewarded heavily and where turnovers are punished significantly (like my main league where turnovers are a negative 5 fantasy points). Moving on, so let’s jump into other topics now.

The Dallas Cowboys Running Back Situation

Demarco Murray made it look easy last season in racking up 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and a career-high 57 receptions behind Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked offensive line. Then the Cowboys decided that Murray was expendable and he went to their division rival Philadelphia Eagles. While many in fantasy circles are holding Joseph Randle in the highest regard based on being the best of a bunch of middling options, only training camp will tell whether Randle can be the bell-cow that Murray was behind that beastly O-Line. Those who want to extrapolate his 6.7 yards per carry on 51 totes for 343 yards and three touchdowns could be left holding the bag on an inflated Reality Sports Online contract if they aren’t careful, especially in PPR leagues. Randle only had 4 catches for 23 yards and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has made a living turning running backs like Moe Williams into serious PPR threats, which seems to indicate that Randle’s ceiling is lower than you’d think. Also take into account that Randle broke more than 10 runs over 10 yards (mostly in games the Cowboys were beating their opponents handily) and had some police blotter last season and you’ll gladly let someone else speculate on him. If you have to have him, keep him under $8.0 million a year annually and avoid a 3-4 year deal at all costs.

However, Randle’s best competition may not even be on the roster yet, especially if the team gives someone like Ray RiceAhmad Bradshaw, or even Chris Johnson (just a saw a rumor that he’s in contact with the team) a chance at winning the job. Based on the injury history of Darren McFadden, your best bet on capitalizing on the high-octane Cowboys offense in the backfield is Lance Dunbar. I know, I know you say, Goodwin you were high on him last year and I listened to you and now am stuck with Dunbar for another two years. Well, your patience may be rewarded this year. It isn’t hard to envision a Darren Sproles type role for Dunbar this year, especially in the passing game . I wouldn’t be betting much on him-a one year deal (Dunbar’s a free agent in 2016) at around $2.0 million feels right.

The Cheap Quarterback Who Will Produce Is…

Well, in terms of guys who may be available who aren’t on multi-year deals, you’ll probably be starting with choosing among the QB Class of 2004-Eli Manning (1.2 years, $2.4 million average), Philip Rivers (1.6 years, $4.4 million average), and Ben Roethlisberger (1.4 year, $2.6 million average). All three play in offenses that are ramping up their weapons and are significant bargains. Keep in mind if most of your league has the quarterback position taken care of, don’t bid against yourself. I personally like Eli the most based on his star wideout Odell Beckham Jr.  and getting Shane Vereen as a legitimate pass catching option out of the backfield, along with the hopeful return of Victor Cruz. Considering he’s in a division with some of the shakiest secondaries in the league, assume Eli will air it out and that he’s a bargain.

If you’re looking for someone not on this list, Ryan Tannehill (1.6 years, $2.2m million average) is on the younger side and someone you may be more willing to sign long-term. His receiving corps had a complete makeover in the 2015 offseason and draft as I alluded to in Marketwatch 2015: Stock Up/Down and the Dolphins signal-caller still remains under the radar as the signal-caller in Bill Lazor’s offense.

The Player Coming Out of Nowhere This Year

Reality Sports Online is every bit the developmental league, especially if your rookie draft goes deeper than two rounds. So players like Jeff Janis may not be under-the-radar. Others may have fallen off your map, but still have a semblance of an opportunity if things go right. I’m not going to pick one guy who may be the guy who comes out of nowhere and becomes the next Marvin Jones from 2013 but definitely look at the requisite prototype for players who can put up stats for you. A few people worth the late-auction flyer (especially if you have a multi-year contract to use late on the cheap) include Aaron Dobson (he’s reportedly finally healthy from various foot injuries and has the frame and speed to be the #3 WR on the Patriots), Marlon BrownTheo Riddick (notice the third down back theme in this article),and Leonard Hankerson are my biggest take a flyer guys. Heck, even Jones himself can be the next Jones (again) if he returns successfully from an injury.

The Tight End Battle in Denver

Peyton Manning has an excellent track record in turning tight ends into touchdown catching machines. Julius Thomas certainly benefitted from this, as did some of Manning’s ex-Colts teammates. The question entering training camp is whether free-agent signing Owen Daniels or young upstart Virgil Green will be the tight end apple of Peyton’s eye. While Green was the recipient of a nice 3 year, $8.4 million contract for his past accolades as a blocker, the team envisioned some upside in the passing game based on Green’s athleticism when the re-inked him. The 6’5, 255 lb Green is a specimen, but beware his 23 career catches, especially with Daniels in town. Daniels was fairly productive and has followed head coach Gary Kubiak twice now (first to Baltimore last season) and now to Denver. Based on his track record, look for Daniels to be the one finding the end zone at least six times, assuming he stays healthy. However, take note of Green’s potential upside and if you can get him on a good deal, take advantage because Green’s been putting in work at Duke with Manning and will be on the field plenty based on his blocking ability on a team that is said to be more run-oriented this year.

The Next Randy Moss?

Dorial Green-Beckham is certainly one of the most polarizing players in your rookie draft. He has boatloads of talent and the size and speed that offensive coordinators salivate over, even if he’s not the best route runner. He was compared to Randy Moss several times in articles such as this one this offseason and much like Moss, he comes into his rookie season with a checkered past and a desire to prove the teams that passed him over wrong.

With an average draft position of the 10.5th pick in the first round of RSO rookie drafts, Green-Beckham represents significant upside and of course downside based on his character. One has to think that early on Green-Beckham will be on his best behavior and quarterback Marcus Mariota will be a positive influence on the wideout as well.

Stay tuned to news out of training camp on how Green-Beckham is coming along from a route running perspective and that he’s overcome his mini-camp hamstring injury. Early word is that the team doesn’t want to “over-rep” him in training camp.

Defense on the Rise in Cleveland

As someone born in Cleveland, it is hard to get too excited about anything Browns related. However, the team invested heavily on the defense in the draft by adding run-stuffer Danny Shelton in the first round and pass-rusher extraordinaire in Nate Orchard, who led the NCAA’s in sacks per game in 2015. Taking into account a very strong secondary already, the team should improve significantly from the worst ranked rush defense last season in a division where teams love to run the rock. While the weak offense may keep putting the defense on the field, expect plenty of impact fantasy plays from Joe Haden and company this season from a fantasy perspective.

The Rookie Most Likely Not to Produce in 2015

New Chicago Bears coach John Fox is notorious for bringing rookie wide receivers along slowly. First round pick Kevin White is coming off RSO draft boards around the 4th pick in the rookie draft. However, when you take into account Cody Latimer’s four-catch 2014 for Fox’s Broncos last season and the fact that in interviews Fox couldn’t even recall whether a rookie wideout has ever started for him, you have to figure that even if White does start, he will be brought along slowly.  It certainly doesn’t help matters than White’s shin injury has landed him on the PUP list for the start of training camp.

Considering that one of the league’s most targeted wide receivers, Alshon Jeffery, starts on one side and that quarterback Jay Cutler typically only has eyes for one or two receivers, the number of targets available for White after Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and even slot receiver Eddie Royal get theirs may amount to crumbs, not a meal.

As a result, my 2015 outlook on White is fairly guarded, especially considering the high draft capital required to nab him in your drafts.

I Put In Work, And Watch My Status Escalate

Obviously last year’s rookie crop of wide receivers was one of the best in NFL history from a production standpoint. That even takes into account the injury to Brandin Cooks and limited production in a non-quarterback friendly environment for Sammy Watkins. That doesn’t mean that the rookie stars from last season are resting on their laurels. Mike Evans has been working in the offseason on his craft with the aforementioned Moss. Evans, who had 12 touchdowns and 1,051 receiving yards as the Z-Receiver with a limited route tree last season, now moves to the X receiver under new offensive guru Dirk Koetter, who groomed Julio Jones into one of the league’s best. The prospect of the kid gloves coming off of Evans, even with a rookie quarterback, is super enticing, especially since he’s still working out with Moss.

From the third year receiver crop and now that all-time leading Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is playing for the division rival Colts, DeAndre Hopkins figures to be the third-year receiver who will fully emerge into an NFL superstar.

Who Starts At Quarterback in Philly?

In one of the more intriguing battles (especially to RSO founders Matt Papson and Stephen Wendell), Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have an interesting quarterback competition. The team paid for a study to see how likely Sam Bradford was to re-injure himself and concluded those chances were low and traded Nick Foles for him. However, last year’s starter at the end of the season, Mark Sanchez, was fairly productive and the team invested a first rounder in rookie wideout Nelson Agholor, who has received rave reviews and figures to start right away, to replace the departed Jeremy Maclin. The team also reinvented their running game with Murray and Ryan Mathews.

It’ll be interesting to see who will win the quarterback battle here, because whoever does has immediately value and when it comes to Reality Sports Online, you’re all about value.

That’ll do it for now and I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoy writing these articles. Feel free to contact me with any questions/feedback you may have on Twitter at @mattgoody2.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Jerry Jones Still Owns the Cowboys

Updated: July 22nd 2015

dez-catch-or-not

Fantasy owners are fortunate that Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys. If Dez Bryant played for a different franchise, one with a shrewder Owner/General Manager, things could have turned out differently. I have read several opinions stating otherwise, but the truth is that the team had all of the leverage in this situation. The Cowboys management surely views the current roster as Super Bowl contenders. They have a ton of young talent on both sides of the ball, but they want to win now. Tony Romo (35) and Jason Witten (33) are not getting any younger, plus Jerry Jones turns 73 this fall. However unlikely it may have been for Dez Bryant to sit out the first nine games of the season, Jerry Jones did not want to risk it. With Dez’s deal in place, not only is Dez a safe bet at WR1 for the foreseeable future, but so are Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones.

It was widely reported that Mike Wallace’s contract was screwing up the Wide Receiver market and was a roadblock in negotiations between the Cowboys and Dez Bryant as well as with the Broncos and Demaryius Thomas. In my opinion, the gap between contract one (Calvin Johnson) and contract two (Mike Wallace) in the Wide Receiver market was a much bigger issue than the fact that contract two was Mike Wallace. Before last Wednesday afternoon, the franchise tag ($12.83M) gave Dez & Demaryius the second highest Average Per Year (APY), despite the fact that the tag is the average of the five highest salaries at the position.

Untitled

Dez & Demaryius both compared favorably to Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, but were not going to be able to command Calvin Johnson money. So the question became, where should they fit in the $4.2M gap? In a normal situation, the team would be incentivized to sign a franchise tagged player to a long-term deal to realize a savings on the player’s cap figure and annual salary. In this case, the teams were actually getting a significant discount via the franchise tag, as both players reportedly rejected offers of $12M annually during the last few weeks. The teams controlled the players’ rights for two years, at $12.83M for 2015 and $15.4M (120% of $12.83M) in 2016, or an average of $14.1M. Those figures represented pretty strong value for the team side, as the Cowboys would have Dez at age 26 and 27, and the Broncos would have Demaryius at 27 and 28, before the price of a potential third consecutive tag would have been extremely pricey in 2017 (at least $22.2M; the greater of +44% and the Quarterback tender).

For the Broncos, this was probably a particularly attractive option, as Peyton Manning has two years remaining on his contract, and there is a greater combined chance that in 2017 he A) retires or B) leaves in Free Agency than C) plays for the Broncos. While Romo is signed through 2019, when he’ll be 39, it’s hard to say with certainty he’ll still be the Cowboys quarterback at that point.

While the leverage was firmly on the team side, the players did have two points of leverage, although one of those points was not particularly strong. First, both Dez & Demaryius are extremely talented football players, each the best player on their team. Some would argue otherwise for Demaryius (Peyton, Ryan Clady, Von Miller, and DeMarcus Ware are all among the best at their respective positions) and perhaps even Dez (I suppose an argument could be made for Sean Lee, Greg Hardy, Tony Romo, or the Cowboys Offensive Line as a unit). Each player has the opportunity to be the cornerstone of their respective franchises for the next decade plus, especially since it’s likely each of their franchise-pillar Quarterbacks will be done playing long before they are. Statistics aside, you know this if you have watched either of them play: each time either player steps on the field, it greatly increases the probability that their team is going to win. That brings us to the second point of leverage…the possibility of either player not stepping on the field this year despite being under contract.

Dez said (in fact, he swore on his children) that he would not show up without a long-term deal.

Twitter Dez

But, was he actually going to make good on that threat? Well, first of all, the tweet was sufficiently ambiguous about what “there” was that he could have skipped training camp and shown up Week 1 without technically breaking his promise. While it certainly made sense to threaten to sit out games without a deal, if the deadline had passed without a deal, nothing would be accomplished by sitting out, other than giving up millions of dollars for spite. Let’s assume for a second Dez was willing to carry out that threat in both 2015 and 2016; He would have given up $16.6M in game checks ($7.55M in 2015 & $9.05M in 2016). That’s an amount he never would have been able to recoup over the remainder of his career, no matter how much bigger he believed his next contract would be after proving he was willing to sit out.

The Cowboys ended up coming to the table with a very fair offer (especially given their relative position of strength) at 5-years, $70M, with $44M guaranteed (reports of $45M guaranteed include what are essentially two $500k workout bonuses). Check out the full contract details here.

Assuming Dez shows up for workouts, he’ll end up earning $45M over the next three years. The Cowboys could cut him before the fifth day of the 2016 league year, but Dez will have pocketed $31.5M by mid-March, 2016 if the Cowboys do so. That’s almost 90% of the total value of what he would have earned under three consecutive franchise tags. Dez is only set to earn $12.5M in each of the final two years of the deal. I can definitely envision a holdout in 2018. Dez will be $45M richer, and $12.5M annually won’t be anywhere near the top of the market at the position after Julio, A.J., Alshon, DeAndre, and some of the studly 2014 WR class get new deals with a rising Salary Cap. Ultimately, it’s a good deal for both sides, though it certainly would have been interesting had the Cowboys decided to flex a little more muscle. Dez Bryant gets the guaranteed money he reportedly needed, and the Cowboys have purchased time.

Despite all the Tweets claiming that the Cowboys and Broncos colluded because the Bryant and Thomas contracts are nearly identical, it’s simply not true. I’m not saying that Stephen Jones and John Elway didn’t collude; rather, I’m just saying that the matching contracts hardly represent evidence of such. Once the Dez deal was done, he immediately became the best comparable for Demaryius Thomas deal. Though the deal was submitted to the league office roughly an hour before the deadline, I’m sure the NFL management council rushed to interpret the values in the contract and communicated them with the Broncos. The Broncos and Thomas’ representatives would have already had the framework for a deal in place, and with Bryant’s numbers in hand, it was just a matter of haggling over a few finer points in the closing minutes.

In the end, the Dez Bryant deal helped eliminate uncertainty for four of the top 10 fantasy Wide Receivers, as both he and Demaryius are under contract, and now the Bengals and Falcons have clear outlines for Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

Tips for Demaryius and Dez in Your Reality Sports Online League

If you are in a Reality Sports Online fantasy league, here’s my take on Dez and Demaryius for your Reality Sports Online Free Agency Auctions:

Demaryius Thomas

  • Recommended Contract: 2 Years, $58M
  • Rationale: I think it’s fair to expect another two years of consistent production similar to what we’ve seen from DT over the last three years with Peyton Manning. Something to the tune of 100 catches, 155 targets, 1,500 yards, and 10+ touchdowns. But, if you give him anything beyond two years, you’re taking a big risk. If Peyton retires or leaves in Free Agency, it’s not fair to assume DT will acquire a Quarterback on par with Manning. And if Manning keeps playing, the Franchise tag is always an option in your league, though it’s probably fair to assume at least a small decline in productivity if Manning is playing beyond 40.

Dez Bryant

  • Recommended Contract: 3 Years, $85M
  • Rationale: Some have concerns about a down year from Dez after getting paid, but I’m not one of them. I think we’re going to see Dez’s best year yet, and even if the running game isn’t as productive as it was a year ago, I envision that leading to more targets for Dez. Not all that different from Demaryius, 100 catches, 160 targets, 1,450 yards, and 15 touchdowns aren’t unreasonable expectations. I think Dez is a safe bet for at least the first three years of his new contract, but after that, Romo could be gone, and there could be a contract holdout from Dez.
More Analysis by Matt Papson