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

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

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.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Is Your QB Franchise Tag Worthy?

Updated: March 24th 2014

Much like Elaine on Seinfeld, who went around hoarding sponges and interviewing men to see who was “sponge worthy”, we all debate what is worthy of our time and money.  As a parent, I’m always debating what plans are worth paying for a babysitter.  You should be conducting similar analysis at the QB position in your Reality Sports Online league, so let’s take a look at the process an owner should go through to determine whether to use their Franchise Tag to keep their signal caller for another year.

First off, you have to ask yourself some fundamental questions about using your Franchise Tag on any expiring contract player, as you are committing to giving that player a one-year deal at the greater of (a) 120% of his previous year’s salary or (b) the average of the top 5 salaries at that player’s position for the current year (like the NFL you may use the tag again for a second year).

1)  Is the juice worth the squeeze? A franchise tag salary in most positions for a one-year deal is a lot of money.  You must be pretty confident that the player you are tagging is in for a big year and you have the cap space to address your other team needs. Do the math and find value.  For instance, the Tight End position may have a more reasonable franchise tag salary than the Wide Receiver position.

2)  Can I live with not having this player on my team next year? If you can’t see yourself throwing a player back into the Free Agency pond, even if that means paying him franchise tag money, then you probably should hold onto that player. Considering that the player is someone that may have been on your team for multiple years before being franchise eligible, you need to tread carefully on this one.  Know when to let go.  We are all football fans and have certain favorite players, but we are playing in dynasty leagues, which means our sense of strategy and competition is at a heightened level.

3)  How many pieces am I away from being a serious contender in my league?  If you are stacked at multiple positions and think that keeping this one player (even at the expense of the Free Agency Auction) will win you the title this year-remember that Flags Fly Forever.

4)  What kind of deal would this player command on the open market? If there is a good possibility of getting this player back in the Free Agency Auction on a multi-year deal with more favorable terms, then maybe you pass up using your franchise tag.

5)  How does this player fit into the dynamics of your league?  If your league scoring system is skewed to a certain position and this person has a relative advantage, consider using the tag on the player.  For instance, I’m in a league where QB’s who have high completion percentage are amongst the best fantasy points guys.

6)  Upside/Option Value? Perhaps this player is someone who has very high upside, and you’d rather have the option of cutting bait without a penalty at the end of the season if they don’t fulfill the upside.  In this case, the franchise tag may be a creative way to keep your talent if they perform without risking losing a player in Free Agency.

So, let’s get into the Quarterback position.  Let’s assume for starters that Brees, Rodgers, Luck, and Newton are signed to multi-year contracts.  We’ll put Matthew Stafford on the fringe of that too and for Top-5 average franchise purposes, let’s put Stafford in that mix.  We’ll also assume a 10 to 12 team league that starts one quarterback.

The No-Brainer Franchise Tag

Peyton Manning- If Peyton Manning was on your team in 2013, you were a contender in your league.  While there is a likely drop-off from historic levels, you probably took Manning on a one-year deal with concerns about his neck.  With a clean bill of health and with Manning not included in the Top 5 average multi-year deals, Manning not being the top paid QB in your league means a serious coup for you.  This is like having 20 in blackjack.  Tag him.

The Great Debates

Nick Foles- Fantasy owners loved the production last year.  In the 7 fantasy regular season games he played significant time in or started, Foles had 18 TDs and no INTs (granted 7 TDs were vs. the Raiders).  I’ve watched the tape and Foles got plenty lucky vs. Green Bay on underthrown balls and deflections that went for scores.  That said, he’s accurate (63% completion rate), poised and has a bevy of weapons back who will only get better and the team was missing the intermediate element at times last year that Jeremy Maclin can help with.  The only thing I’m skittish on is if his 2014 season resembles Colin Kaepernick’s, but the weapons make me more confident about Foles.  I think most would rather have him on a multi-year deal as his upside is high, but the franchise tag gives you 2nd year option value to cut bait if he disappoints.  If you’re in a league where QBs like RG3, Wilson, and Kaepernick are protected in addition to my list above and only a few teams need QBs, you may be able to get him on a better multi-year deal.  Thinking $20M a year would be his tag # in most leagues.  Tag him.

Colin Kaepernick- To really assess Kaep, I think you need to look at how he played in the playoffs as it was really the first time he had Crabtree at 100%.  The running totals are great there, but the turnovers are alarming and the completion % must get better.  I like the fact that he has a full year of weapons and think it would be wise that the 49ers get a tall stretch the field and big red-zone target like Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin in the draft.  What scares me more about Kaepernick (and I own him on a 3 year, $43.5m deal) is that in a 13 week fantasy season, he’s not startable vs. Seattle (twice) and a bye.  That’s 25% of the fantasy season and the NFC West has great defenses as well.  I think he’s the type that if you have on a multi-year deal, you expect a better 2014, but if you are thinking franchise tag, I just don’t see it.  Throw him back.

Russell Wilson- He just seems to have this intangible to go down as one of the best ever as a winner.  The Seahawks love to run and will probably mix in other backs a bit more to spell Beast Mode this year and they will throw bubble screens and really utilize Percy Harvin if he can stay on the field.  That said, Wilson only attempted 305 passes in the fantasy regular season and even if that number improves by 100, it is still way less than your average QB.  Wilson is probably a better NFL QB than a fantasy QB (think Troy Aikman), a guy you can start with confidence every week, but not one I think you’re paying the big bucks for unless you are in a deep, deep league.    Throw him back.

Others to Throw Back-RG3, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin