2016 NFL free agency, and its fantasy football ramifications, hasn’t been as crazy as it was in 2015. I think I can squeeze it all into one post. But alas, there are still plenty of story lines to follow. If you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve got you covered! Here are all the free agent story lines you need to know to prepare for your fantasy football draft (it’ll be here before you know it) all in one convenient place. I’ll revisit this article after the draft – April 28 – and make note of which situations have changed significantly.
MIXED FATE FOR ELITE RUNNING BACKS
Several household name running backs have changed teams during 2016 NFL free agency. Some are still in their prime, some not so much. Matt Forte put up great stats with the Bears, but now he’s moving on to the New York Jets. (The Bears are confident in young RBs Langford and Carey.) I think Forte has gas left in the tank and the Jets got a good deal; $4M/yr. But he is surely headed for a decrease in production, albeit with some PPR upside. Forte is filling a void left by the departure of Chris Ivory. Ivory is gone but the Jets will still insist on giving a lot of touches to an overpaid Bilal Powell. Speaking of Ivory, he’s cashing big checks in Jacksonville now, likely to split touches with TJ Yeldon. Forte and Powell, Ivory and Yeldon, the RBBC is alive and well. Bad fantasy news for all players involved.
Next, we’ve got Lamar Miller going to Texans (leaving Jay Ajayi as the last man standing in Miami). Miller is making bell-cow money ($6.5M/yr) and has a tremendous opportunity to establish a new offense in Houston with Brock Osweiler and DeAndre Hopkins. Will the Texans offense take a huge leap forward? That will be an interesting story line to follow.
The Cowboys got Alfred Morris for a cheap $1.75M/yr. (That leaves Matt Jones as the lead back in Washington.) Morris will only be making slightly more money than fellow RB Lance Dunbar and the distribution of carries in Dallas will be a mystery. The Eagles traded DeMarco Murray and his big contract to the Tennessee Titans. The change of scenery should be beneficial for Murray. Will Ryan Mathews be able to handle the load in Philly and stay healthy?
A few other important RBs re-signed with their 2015 teams. C.J. Anderson tested the waters of free agency, getting a conditional offer from Miami, but ultimately Denver kept him in orange and blue. Chris Johnson considered going elsewhere but re-signed with the Cardinals, even though he’ll clearly be the backup to the young and talented David Johnson. Finally, James Starks got a solid $3M/yr to stay in Green Bay and continue to suck fantasy value away from Eddie Lacy.
Last and also least, a few third tier running backs are still unemployed. Tim Hightower, Arian Foster and Joique Bell have each produced well at times throughout their careers and they could do well in the right situation. Stay tuned on those guys.
QUARTERBACK IS A DRY WELL
It would be appropriate to say that 2016 NFL free agency was slim pickins’ for quarterbacks. This is typical though. It’s a rare off-season when guys like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning change teams. Brock Osweiler was the headliner this year, and his exodus (along with Manning’s retirement) left the cabinet bare in Devner. Brock signed a huge $72M contract with Houston. There will be a lot of pressure on him to perform up to his pay grade!
— Michael T. Piel (@mpiel82) March 23, 2016
*Mediocre QB – Special Feature* Mark Sanchez will attempt to fill the void in Denver, which has been the brunt of many twitter jokes. Oh, and after the Broncos chose Sanchez over RGIII, he brushed himself off and signed a cheap contract with the Browns – apparently the only team that wanted him. I wonder if the Browns’ uniforms will feature a slightly different shade of brown this season… As long as we’re laughing at QB-starved teams, the newly relocated L.A. Rams are sticking with Case Keenum as their starter! And don’t forget, there’s also talk of Colin Kaepernick requesting a trade out of San Francisco!
Rams to be featured on Hard Knocks this season. So we get an inside look at how bad Case Keenum is?
— Ryan Hallam (@fightingchance) March 23, 2016
Several guys signed new contracts to remain with their teams. The Eagles curiously brought back Sam Bradford, and the Redskins made the right move by cutting RGIII while keeping Kirk Cousins. Though, Cousins was franchised and doesn’t have a long-term contract. The truth is, even halfway decent QBs are hard to find. That’s why Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned. He’s not a stud, but he’s asking for stud money because he (and his agent) knows a desperate team will eventually break down and pay him! Will it be the Jets? Meanwhile, other desperate teams will reach for rookie quarterbacks in the draft and push them onto the field prematurely.
Since Calvin Johnson has retired and Alshon Jeffery was franchise-tagged by the Bears, the supply and demand for wide receivers has been thrown way out of balance. (I already wrote about Megatron’s effect on fantasy’s WR Top 10.) All of a sudden, second and third tier WRs have become more desired than they should be. Marvin Jones leads the charge with a big ol’ $40M contract from the Lions. Desperation is a stinky cologne, Detroit. Rishard Matthews heads to the Titans, which should be a hot offense next season! Travis Benjamin got a cool $24M contract from the Chargers to replace Malcom Floyd opposite Keenan Allen. Also, Mike Wallace – a shell of his former self – signed with the Ravens and Rueben Randle will try to earn playing time with the Eagles. Finally, the Falcons surprisingly cut “lifer” Roddy White and lured Mohamed Sanu away from Cincinnati with a big $32.5M contract.
Jermaine Kearse is one of the few free agent wide receivers who stayed put. Kearse re-signed with the Seahawks, but the moderate size of his contract – slightly larger than Trump’s hands – tells me that Doug Baldwin is still the main man in Seattle.
A FEW NOTABLE TIGHT ENDS
Coby Fleener led all tight ends in 2016 NFL free agency with a fat $36M contract from the Saints, who are still trying to replace Jimmy Graham. Back in Indy, Dwayne Allen re-signed for $29M. What does that tell us? The Colts didn’t view Fleener as a cornerstone and Allen will be their primary TE next season. Meanwhile, the Steelers enticed Ladarius Green with a big $20M contract, filling the shoes of recently-retired Heath Miller. Many viewed Green as the heir-apparent to hall-of-famer Antonio Gates. It will be interesting to see what happens at the TE position in San Diego. Martellus Bennett will be creating serious mismatches in 2-TE sets with Rob Gronkowski next season. Rex Ryan doesn’t know what to do. I see no reason why the two of them can’t both be top tier fantasy tight ends.
Is the Gronk-Bennett tandem at NE, better than the Gronk-Hernandez duo was? I guess as long as Mertellius doesn’t murder anyone. #Pats
— B. (@docBdizz) March 21, 2016
Moving on to less fantasy-relevant tight ends, Mercedes Lewis got $4M/yr to stay in sunny Jacksonville. This is really surprising since Lewis hasn’t done jack shit since 2010 when he snagged 10 TDs. After some success with the Saints, Benjamin Watson signed with the Ravens. He might be an occasional plug-n-play fantasy TE. Both of Denver’s TEs from 2015 – Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis – will not be returning. (Davis signed with Washington.) Weird, maybe the Broncos are planning to turn back the clock to 1905 before the forward pass was invented.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Last season, an epic defense helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl. But unfortunately, they couldn’t afford to keep that defense intact. Don’t target the Denver DST based on their 2015 stats. Instead, target these other primo defenses from 2015: Carolina, Arizona and Kansas City. They kept most their free agents and they should continue to shut down opposing offenses. If you want to wait until the end of the last round to take a DST (as you should), Jacksonville might be a sneaky pick. They finished squarely in the middle last season (16 out of 32 teams), but added a few big free agents on defense including ex-Bronco LB Malik Jackson. They also get back their injured 2015 first round pick, DE Dante Fowler.
So, there you go. Now you’re up to speed with all the happenings of the 2016 NFL free agency period as it pertains to fantasy football! Next stop: NFL Draft 2016!