NFC Fantasy Free Agency Preview
Mike Clay examines each NFC team's impending free agents, potential cuts, team needs, and probable targets at the four fantasy-relevant positions.
NFC Fantasy Free Agency Preview
With the 2015 NFL season about to be in the rearview mirror, we’ll soon need to shift our attention to free agency. Top-end players such as Matt Forte, Lamar Miller, and Ladarius Green are good bets to hit the open market, and their landing spot is sure to impact the fantasy value of each. Although this year’s class is a bit top heavy, there are plenty of intriguing middle-of-the-road players who will be eyeing a home that will maximize their playing time and ability. These include the likes of Sam Bradford, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, and Dwayne Allen. Additionally, there is a long list of players who will be cut loose as a result of a hefty contract or underwhelming performance. Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Mike Wallace, Jordan Cameron, and Colin Kaepernick are among those in this category.
Down below is a look at each NFC team’s unrestricted free agents, glaring needs, and potential outside free agent targets (including those who could potentially be cut). Note that I’ll only be focusing on the four fantasy-relevant positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end.
Unrestricted free agents: Drew Stanton, Chris Johnson, Jermaine Gresham
Glaring Needs: None
Analysis: With Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson under contract, Arizona is all but set at those three positions. Tight end is not a priority position for Bruce Arians, so Darren Fells, Troy Niklas, and converted wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah could hold down the fort. Gresham could also return. Arizona should look to the draft for their eventual Palmer replacement.
Potential free agent targets: Veteran backup quarterbacks include Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Chase Daniel, and Colt McCoy
Unrestricted free agents: Tony Moeaki
Potential cuts: Roddy White
Glaring Needs: No. 1 TE, No. 2 WR, WR depth
Analysis: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, and Justin Hardy return and figure to play significant roles. 34-year-old White is no long the answer as an every-down player and the Leonard Hankerson experiment did not pan out. Devoid of talent behind Jones (and potential slot receiver, Hardy), Atlanta needs to address the position via the draft and potentially free agency. Jacob Tamme played 49 snaps per game in 2015, but is best-served as a role player.
Potential free agent targets: Marvin Jones, Ladarius Green, Rishard Matthews, Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron
Unrestricted free agents: Joe Webb, Mike Tolbert, Jerricho Cotchery
Glaring Needs: WR depth
Analysis: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Greg Olsen, and Ed Dickson are signed through at least next season, which covers those two positions. Carolina could look to add a body at running back to compete with Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker behind Jonathan Stewart. That becomes a bigger need if Tolbert moves on. Wide receiver is an interesting spot since Newton has made some pedestrian talents look good at the position this past season. Kelvin Benjamin is locked in as the No. 1, but Devin Funchess may need a strong offseason in order to leapfrog Corey Brown and Ted Ginn. Jerricho Cotchery turns 34 this year and may not be re-signed. Stephen Hill has generated some recent hype and will compete for a roster spot.
Potential free agent targets: Percy Harvin, Mohamed Sanu
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Forte, Jacquizz Rodgers, Alshon Jeffery, Marc Mariani, Deonte Thompson, Zach Miller, Rob Housler
Potential cuts: Martellus Bennett
Glaring Needs: RB depth, WR depth, Possibly TE
Analysis: Outside of Jay Cutler at quarterback, many question marks surround the Bears’ 2016 offense. That’s especially the case with Adam Gase off to Miami. Forte is not expected to return, which opens the door for 2015 fourth-round pick Jeremy Langford to take on lead back duties. Langford is generating a lot of hype, but he wasn’t very effective as a rookie. Third-year Ka’Deem Carey is also in the mix. The two backs figure to see some competition from a rookie and/or free agent signing. Jeffery is expected to return via a long-term extension or the franchise tag. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by 2015 seventh-overall pick Kevin White. Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson are also signed through next season, but Chicago figures to add another body to the mix. Tight end is a big question mark. Bennett is signed through 2016, but the consensus seems to be that he will be cut loose, saving the team $5.185 million. Miller played pretty well behind Bennett, but struggled as a run blocker. He could re-sign as play a near-every-down role.
Potential free agent targets: Ronnie Hillman, James Starks, Tim Hightower, Shaun Draughn, Andre Roberts, Andre Caldwell, Bryan Walters, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Marcedes Lewis
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Cassel, Lance Dunbar, Robert Turbin, Tyler Clutts, James Hanna
Glaring Needs: No. 2 QB, No. 2 RB, No. 2 WR
Analysis: Injuries to Dez Bryant and especially Tony Romo showed just how little talent Dallas has at its offensive skill positions. The Cowboys will be looking for a solid backup option to 36 year old Romo, and could look for his eventual replacement during April’s draft. Darren McFadden played well enough to enter 2016 as the team’s lead tailback, but he’ll need some help. Dunbar figures to earn an extension and would play a significant role on passing downs. A third-round pick in 2013, Terrance Williams enters his first contract season having yet to take a step forward. Dallas should be looking to upgrade opposite Bryant. Cole Beasley, Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler are signed through 2016 and provide depth. Jason Witten turns 34 this offseason and Gavin Escobar hasn’t emerged as a legitimate heir apparent. With Hanna headed to free agency, this is a need position, as well.
Potential free agent targets: Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Colt McCoy, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Chase Daniel, Chris Johnson, Stevan Ridley, Reggie Bush, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Brian Quick, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Craig Stevens
Unrestricted free agents: Dan Orlovsky, Lance Moore, Bear Pascoe
Potential cuts: Brandon Pettigrew, Joique Bell
Glaring Needs: No. 2 QB, No. 1 WR, No. 3 WR, TE depth
Analysis: Matthew Stafford will return as the starting quarterback and Eric Ebron figures to work as a near-every-down tight end. It’s unknown who will back them up with Orlovsky headed to free agency and Pettigrew potentially on the chopping block. Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner provide Detroit with a healthy, young trio at running back, which figures to make Bell expendable. With Calvin Johnson expected to retire, wide receiver is a major need for a Detroit team that already lacked depth at the position. Golden Tate is a good player, but best slotted in as the No. 2. The likes of T.J. Jones and Corey Fuller should be no better than fourth in line for snaps. Expect Detroit to spend both draft picks and free agency cash on the position
Potential free agent targets: Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Dwayne Allen, Jermaine Gresham, Marcedes Lewis, Craig Stevens
Green Bay Packers
Unrestricted free agents: Scott Tolzien, James Starks, John Kuhn, James Jones, Andrew Quarless
Glaring Needs: No. 2 RB, Impact TE
Analysis: Rodgers is signed through 2019 and the team drafted Brett Hundley last season as a potential backup. The team asked Eddie Lacy to lose some weight and, assuming he does, he figures to return a workhorse role. Green Bay can’t count on that, however, especially with 30-year-old Starks headed to the open market. John Crockett is a fine depth option, but a No. 2 back, if not competition for Lacy, is needed. Kuhn has been plenty involved during the Rodgers era, but it’s possible the Packers move on to Aaron Ripkowski at fullback. Jordy Nelson will return from a torn ACL, but he turns 31 during the offseason. Randall Cobb is only 25, but his underwhelming 2015 season has to be a moderate concern. Davante Adams is not starting material and is a strong candidate to be replaced, if not cut. The likes of Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, and Jared Abbrederis will push for snaps in the league’s wide-receiver-friendliest offense. Richard Rodgers’ targets dipped after his heroics against Detroit and, although he showed well as a receiver, he’s a pedestrian athlete and poor blocker. Don’t be surprised if the Packers are aggressive in upgrading at the position, but they very well could settle on a complementary player to Rodgers.
Potential free agent targets: Bilal Powell, Lance Dunbar, Reggie Bush, Jacquizz Rodgers, CJ Spiller, Roy Helu, Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen, Jermaine Gresham, Marcedes Lewis
Los Angeles Rams
Unrestricted free agents: Cory Harkey, Brian Quick, Wes Welker
Potential cuts: Jared Cook
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 1 WR, No. 4 WR, No. 1 TE
Analysis: The Rams are headed to a new city and with it should come an overhaul at several offensive positions. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The only position set in stone here is running back. Todd Gurley is locked in as the feature back, with Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham offering quality depth. Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt will return at wide receiver, but neither make for an ideal go-to target in a league being overtaken by talent at the position. Los Angeles could address the position early on in April’s draft. Cook was not very good in 2015 and, due $7 million next year, figures to be cut loose. The Rams already replaced Lance Kendricks as starter once (Cook), so he’s unlikely to step in as the starter. Quarterback is the biggest weak spot, with only Case Keenum (restricted free agent), Nick Foles (2016 salary is guaranteed), and Sean Mannion (2015 third-round pick) in the mix.
Potential free agent targets: Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Rod Streater, Coby Fleener
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Asiata, Rhett Ellison
Potential cuts: Mike Wallace
Glaring Needs: No. 1 WR, RB depth, TE depth
Analysis: Teddy Bridgewater (Shaun Hill) and Adrian Peterson (Jerick McKinnon) are locked in at the starters (backups) at quarterback and tailback, respectively. With Asiata set for free agency, Minnesota will add depth at the position. Kyle Rudolph is signed through 2019 and MyCole Pruitt’s role figures to increase behind him. Especially if expensive underperformer Wallace is cut loose, wide receiver is a need spot for Minnesota. Stefon Diggs played well as a rookie, but couldn’t sustain high-end production down the stretch. He’s best viewed as a No. 2 (or at least a 1B) option. Jarius is signed through 2019 and will return as the slot man. Charles Johnson, Adam Thielen, and returner Cordarrelle Patterson offer nothing more than depth.
Potential free agent targets: Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Toby Gerhart, Chris Polk, Shaun Draughn, John Phillips, James Hanna, Logan Paulsen
New Orleans Saints
Unrestricted free agents: Luke McCown, Matt Flynn, Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet, Kendall Hunter, Ben Watson, Mike Hoomanawanui,
Potential cuts: C.J. Spiller, Marques Colston
Glaring Needs: No. 2 WR, No. 1 TE, RB depth
Analysis: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, and Brandin Cooks provide the Saints with strong top-end offensive talent, but the problem, at least at the moment, is that they don’t have much help. Willie Snead was a pleasant surprise in 2015 and very well could lock down the No. 2 gig with a strong offseason, but the Saints poor depth behind him figures to lead to a few additions at the position. Progressively seeing a decreased workload and set to turn 33 this offseason, Colston’s time with New Orleans could be over. Brandon Coleman is only 23, but is best-viewed as a depth option. Khiry Robinson (restricted free agent) figures to be back and is a fine backup to Ingram, but the team has little additional depth. Spiller was a bust and will be cut loose. Marcus Murphy is a scat back who played one snap as a rookie. Hightower filled in well for Ingram, but he turns 30 in the offseason and may look for more playing time elsewhere. Expect the Saints to look for a third-down back on the open market. Watson could be re-signed after holding down the fort at tight end in 2015, but he just turned 35 and obviously isn’t a long-term solution. A 2015 third-round pick, Garrett Grayson is the favorite to back up Brees over the next few seasons.
Potential free agent targets: Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen, Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Bilal Powell, James Starks, Jacquizz Rodgers
New York Giants
Unrestricted free agents: Rueben Randle, Hakeem Nicks, Daniel Fells
Glaring Needs: No. 2/3 WR, No. 1 TE
Analysis: Eli Manning is signed through 2019 and will be backed up by Ryan Nassib. Rashad Jennings emerged as the team’s lead back down the stretch, but he turns 31 during the offseason. Signed through 2017, he and Shane Vereen (2018) figure to lead this backfield in 2016, but the team should be looking to improve on 2014 fourth-round bust Andre Williams. Behind Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver is a mess. Considering Ben McAdoo’s wide-receiver-heavy offense, this is a problem. Randle hasn’t improved in four years with the club and is far from a lock to return. Victor Cruz has missed almost two full seasons, but is signed through 2018. He’s nothing more than a wild card. Dwayne Harris, Geremy Davis, and Marcus Harris will push for snaps, but none should be viewed as a top-three option. Will Tye (6-2) is short for a starting tight end, but he’s an intriguing athlete and was competent as a receiver in place of Larry Donnell down the stretch. Of course, like Donnell, Tye is a horrible blocker. Daniel Fells could return as the team’s blocking tight end, but the 32 year old’s career is in jeopardy due to a MRSA infection.
Potential free agent targets: Rishard Matthews, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Kearse, Brian Quick, Rod Streater, Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen
Unrestricted free agents: Sam Bradford, Thad Lewis, Seyi Ajirotutu
Potential cuts: Riley Cooper
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, WR depth
Analysis: The Eagles are fairly set at both running back and tight end. Following the coach change, DeMarco Murray will be back and in position to lead this backfield. Ryan Mathews will push for reps and Darren Sproles figures to return as the scat back. Zach Ertz and Brent Celek just signed long-term extensions and give the Eagles one of the league’s best one-two punches at the spot. With Bradford headed to the open market, quarterback is obviously a major void for Philadelphia. Mark Sanchez is under contract and could be a bridge option to an early-round rookie. Doug Pederson is likely to lean heavily on two-wide-receiver sets, which makes depth at the position less of a concern. Of course, Jordan Matthews has little experience on the perimeter and Nelson Agholor struggled mightily as a rookie. If Cooper is cut loose, Josh Huff and Jonathan Krause are the only realistic depth options. Expect the Eagles to spend some capital on the position.
Potential free agent targets: Chase Daniel, Chad Henne, Robert Griffin III, Rod Streater, Brian Quick, Andre Holmes, Jason Avant
San Francisco 49ers
Unrestricted free agents: Reggie Bush, Shaun Draughn, Anquan Boldin, Garrett Celek
Potential cuts: Colin Kaepernick
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 1 WR, No. 1 TE, RB depth
Analysis: With Chip Kelly’s offense in town, it’s fair to expect some personnel changes in San Francisco. Kaepernick seems more likely than not to stick around and compete for the starting gig, but it’s possible Kelly pushes for the team to sign Sam Bradford, who he handpicked last offseason, or to draft a passer. Blaine Gabbert will return as the backup. Carlos Hyde is a superstar-in-the-making, with health his only roadblock to a breakout. Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne lead those competing for a reserve gig. With 35-year-old Boldin headed to the open market, Torrey Smith slides into the top spot on the wide receiver depth chart. Smith underwhelmed in his first year with San Francisco, but DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin did put together big seasons in Kelly’s offense over the past three years. Of course, with the likes of Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, and intriguing but unproven DeAndre Smelter behind Smith on the depth chart, wide receiver is a position the 49ers need to address. Vance McDonald and Blake Bell are in line to compete for tight end duties, but it’s possible the team looks to make a big splash/upgrade at the position.
Potential free agent targets: Sam Bradford, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Riley Cooper, Ladarius Green, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Bilal Powell, Ronnie Hillman
Unrestricted free agents: Tarvaris Jackson, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Will Tukuafu, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette, Anthony McCoy, Chase Coffman
Potential cuts: Marshawn Lynch
Glaring Needs: Depth at RB, WR, TE
Analysis: Russell Wilson was extended through 2019, so Seattle’s only concern at quarterback is finding a backup. It appears Lynch’s time in Seattle is over, which puts Thomas Rawls in position to take over as the workhorse. Rawls appears to be a legitimate stud, but he has only six games with extensive work to his name and is recovering from a broken ankle. Christine Michael is the only other tailback under contract. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett make for a strong one-two punch at wide receiver, but the team has little depth behind them. Paul Richardson was a second-round pick in 2014, but has struggled to stay healthy. Seattle is sure to add some bodies during the offseason. Jimmy Graham’s torn patellar tendon has put his 2016 season in jeopardy, so Seattle will need to ensure they have depth at the position. Luke Willson is headed into a contract season.
Potential free agent targets: Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Ronnie Hillman, James Starks, Shaun Draughn, CJ Spiller, Brian Quick, Nate Washington, Rod Streater, Andrew Quarless, Marcedes Lewis
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Unrestricted free agents: Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey,
Potential cuts: Brandon Myers
Glaring Needs: No. 1 RB, WR depth
Analysis: The Buccaneers are headed the right direction, so they don’t have many major needs. Running back stands out because Martin is a free agent, but it seems very likely that he will be back. Regardless, Charles Sims was quietly one of the league’s most-effective running backs during a breakout 2015 season. He can certainly handle an increased role. Jameis Winston has quarterback locked down and, barring a trade, Mike Glennon will be back for his contract season. Mike Evans is the team’s top offensive target and he’ll be joined by 33-year-old Vincent Jackson in the starting lineup. Kenny Bell is a name to keep an eye on as the No. 3, but he’ll be pushed by Louis Murphy, Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye and potential offseason acquisitions. Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be the every-down tight end if he can avoid the trainer’s table. Luke Stocker and Cameron Brate offer enough depth that Myers figures to be cut loose.
Potential free agent targets: Lamar Miller/Chris Ivory/Matt Forte (if Martin leaves), Mohamed Sanu, Rod Streater, Lance Moore, Bryan Walters
Unrestricted free agents: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Alfred Morris, Pierre Thomas, Darrel Young, Logan Paulsen, Alex Smith (TE)
Potential cuts: Robert Griffin III, Andre Roberts
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 1/2 RB, Young WR
Analysis: The Redskins are definitely in an interesting place offensively. It’s possible none of the three quarterbacks currently on their roster are back in 2016. Griffin is all but gone. McCoy is a free agent. Cousins is as well, but there’s a very good chance he comes to terms with Washington on a long-term extension. Matt Jones is in position to take over for Morris as the team’s lead back, but, aside of a few big plays, he wasn’t very effective as a rookie. Washington will definitely need to add competition. Chris Thompson will be back as a passing-down complement to Jones and/or another two-down back. At wide receiver, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon figure to return, but both turn 30 this year and are entering a contract season. Jamison Crowder is a slot receiver and Roberts is a cut bet to be cut. The Redskins figure to look to the draft for who may emerge as a starter in 2017. Jordan Reed is the man at tight end and is in line for a big extension. Niles Paul and Derek Carrier offer depth.
Potential free agent targets: Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Stevan Ridley, James Starks, Mohamed Sanu, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes
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