AFC Fantasy Free Agency Preview
With the 2015 NFL season about to be in the rearview mirror, we’ll soon 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 AFC 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: Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, Chris Givens, Allen Reisner
Glaring Needs: N/A
Analysis: Considering their rough 2015 season, it may seem odd to label Ravens as a team without a glaring need at the offensive skill positions. Of course, injuries – not talent – was the team’s major roadblock to success. Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett are signed at quarterback. Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and Lorenzo Taliaferro provide a competent group of backs. Steve Smith is 36, which is a concern, but he’ll be an every-down player in 2016. Breshad Perriman returns as the favorite for No. 2 duties. Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler are fine No. 3 and No. 4 options, respectively. Marlon Brown, Darren Waller, Michael Campanaro, and Chris Matthews are among those who will compete for a roster spot. At tight end, Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, and Nick Boyle are locked in. Dennis Pitta could also return. This is an underrated offense.
Potential free agent targets: N/A
Unrestricted free agents: Josh Johnson, Percy Harvin, Leonard Hankerson
Glaring Needs: No. 2 WR
Analysis: Following a breakout 2015 season, Tyrod Taylor is locked in as Buffalo’s 2016 starting quarterback. LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams provide the team with one of the league’s top one-two punches at tailback. Mike Gillislee has shown he’s a strong No. 3. Charles Clay will be back as the every-down tight end. That leaves wide receiver, which needs help after Sammy Watkins. Harvin could be back, but he’s hard to rely on. Robert Woods is best utilized as a No. 3. The rest of this group, including the likes of Chris Hogan and Greg Salas, will compete for one or two roster spots.
Potential free agent targets: Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Anquan Boldin, Rueben Randle, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Jeremy Kerley
Unrestricted free agents: Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate
Glaring Needs: No. 2/3/4 WR
Analysis: Andy Dalton/AJ McCarron, Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard, and Tyler Eifert/Tyler Kroft provide Cincinnati with a solid one-two punch at three of the four positions. The likes of Rex Burkhead, CJ Uzomah, Cedric Peerman, and Ryan Hewitt add depth at running back and tight end. Wide receiver is the big question mark here. A.J. Green is signed through 2019, but Jones, Sanu, and Tate are free agents. The team will try to retain Jones, but, as this article will show, he will be highly-coveted as the top available free agent at wideout. Sanu won’t be quite as expensive, but he’s more of an utilityman than an every-down wide receiver. Tate is a kick returner. Depth receivers Mario Alford and James Wright aren’t legitimate threats for a significant role.
Potential free agent targets: Rishard Matthews, Anquan Boldin, Travis Benjamin, Rueben Randle, Jermaine Kearse, Nate Washington, James Jones, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Kerley
Unrestricted free agents: Travis Benjamin, Terrelle Pryor
Potential cuts: Johnny Manziel
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, RB depth, No. 2 WR, TE depth
Analysis: Josh McCown is signed through 2017 and figures to return as either the starter or a potential bridge to a rookie. Manziel is expected to be cut loose in March. Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell offer a competent one-two punch at tailback, but the likes of Raheem Mostert and Terrell Winston are best-viewed as wild cards. Some depth is needed here. Josh Gordon is expected to return from a one-year suspension and would be locked in as the club’s go-to wide receiver. Benjamin has been “close” to a contract extension for months and figures to return. The likes of Andrew Hawkins, Brian Hartline, and Taylor Gabriel are fine depth options, but shouldn’t be every-down players. Barnidge signed an extension through 2018 and will be back as the starter at tight end.
Potential free agent targets: Sam Bradford, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Joique Bell, Chris Polk, Matt Asiata, Toby Gerhart, Jermaine Gresham, Rhett Ellison
Unrestricted free agents: Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman, Jordan Norwood, Andre Caldwell, Vernon Davis, Kyle Williams
Potential cuts: Peyton Manning
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 2 RB, No. 1 TE, WR depth
Analysis: For a team that just played in the Super Bowl, it might be a bit shocking to see that they have quite a few needs on the offensive side of the ball. Manning is unlikely to return and Osweiler is headed to free agency. At this point, Osweiler has to be the favorite to start in 2016, but Denver could look to the draft instead. Underrated C.J. Anderson figures to return as the lead back, but he’ll surely have some competition. With Hillman headed for free agency, Juwan Thompson is the only other realistic option for the 53-man roster. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both signed through 2016, but the team has little depth. A second-round pick in 2014, Cody Latimer has yet to emerge into an impact player. Bennie Fowler and Jordan Taylor will push for roster spots. Owen Daniels and Virgil Green will likely return, but Daniels is 33 and Green is a blocker. Jeff Heuerman, a third-round pick last year, could be enough to allow Denver to stand pat at the position, but it’s also possible they make a big splash.
Potential free agent targets: Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Bilal Powell, Lance Dunbar, James Starks, Reggie Bush, CJ Spiller, Ladarius Green, Coby Fleener, Jordan Cameron, Rueben Randle, Brian Quick, Mohamed Sanu, Rod Streater
Unrestricted free agents: TJ Yates, Brandon Weeden, Chris Polk, Nate Washington
Potential cuts: Arian Foster, Garrett Graham
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 1 RB, No. 1 TE
Analysis: Despite his playoff struggles, Hoyer led Houston to above-average touchdown production during the regular season, so he certainly figures to be in the mix to start in 2016. Nonetheless, Houston will certainly look to add an upgrade/youth at the position. Frustrated with his inability to stay healthy, the Texans are expected to move on from Foster. That would leave Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes (restricted free agent) and Akeem Hunt at running back. DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts, and Jaelen Strong are a strong bet to open 2016 as the team’s top three wide receivers, but some depth at the position couldn’t hurt. Ryan Griffin and CJ Fiedorowicz top the tight end depth chart. Griffin isn’t very good and Fiedorowicz is a blocker. Graham was inactive down the stretch and is unlikely to return.
Potential free agent targets: Sam Bradford, Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Tate, Ladarius Green, Coby Fleener
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Ahmad Bradshaw, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen
Potential cuts: Andre Johnson
Glaring Needs: No. 2 RB, No. 1 TE, WR depth
Analysis: Andrew Luck will be back to full health, which will get the Colts’ offense pointed back in the right direction. Frank Gore is signed through 2017, but turns 33 in a few months. Behind him, Tyler Varga and Trey Williams aren’t the answer. T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett provide Indianapolis with a strong 1-2-3 at wide receiver, but there is little depth from there, especially if 35-year-old Johnson is cut. Allen and Fleener were both picked in the 2012 draft and are thus free agents. Neither is a lock to return, especially after a brutally disappointing season from Allen. Only Erik Swoope is signed through next season, but restricted free agent FB/TE Jack Doyle will be back.
Potential free agent targets: Bilal Powell, Lance Dunbar, Ronnie Hillman, James Starks, Reggie Bush, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ladarius Green, Zach Miller, Ben Watson, Jermaine Gresham, Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron
Unrestricted free agents: Chad Henne, Bernard Pierce, Bryan Walters, Marcedes Lewis, Clay Harbor, Justin Blackmon
Potential cuts: Toby Gerhart
Glaring Needs: No. 2 RB, TE/QB depth
Analysis: Blake Bortles took a step forward in 2015 and is locked in as the club’s long-term starter. He may have a new backup with Henne set for free agency. TJ Yeldon was terrific as a rookie and will be in line for workhorse duties in 2016. Denard Robinson has underwhelmed in the two hole and could be replaced. The likes of Gerhart, Corey Grant, Jonas Gray, and Joe Banyard aren’t realistic backup options. Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, and Rashad Greene will suffice at wideout. The Jaguars figure to have a new look at tight end behind Julius Thomas.
Potential free agent targets: Matt Moore, Chase Daniel, Tarvaris Jackson, Bilal Powell, Lance Dunbar, James Starks, Tim Hightower, Shaun Draughn, CJ Spiller, Jermaine Gresham, Craig Stevens, Garrett Celek
Kansas City Chiefs
Unrestricted free agents: Chase Daniel, Jason Avant
Glaring Needs: No. 3 WR
Analysis: The Chiefs have a handful of star players they need to re-up this offseason, so it’s convenient that most of their offensive skill position players are under team control, and that they’re in good shape in most of these areas. If Daniel moves on, Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray are in-house options to back up Alex Smith. Jamaal Charles will return, with Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, and Knile Davis in position to back him up. Jeremy Maclin, Chris Conley, and Albert Wilson provide options at wide receiver, but Kansas City should be looking for another impact player at the position. Travis Kelce, James O’Shaughnessy, and Demetrius Harris are each signed through at least 2018 at tight end.
Potential free agent targets: Anquan Boldin, Rueben Randle, Riley Cooper, Mike Wallace, Marques Colston, Greg Jennings, Brian Quick
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Moore, Lamar Miller, Rishard Matthews
Potential cuts: Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron
Glaring Needs: No. 1 RB, No. 1 or 2 TE
Analysis: Ryan Tannehill is signed through 2020 and, considering Adam Gase’s entrance and his help at the other skill positions, is positioned for a breakout season. Lamar Miller appears unlikely to return, but it’s possible that changes considering Miami will be one of the only teams in the league with a major need at the position. A fifth-round pick last year, Jay Ajayi is unlikely to be counted on as a feature back in 2016. Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills provide Miami with a strong trio at wideout. Jennings turns 33 this year and is unlikely to return as the fourth option. Cameron struggled badly in his first season in Miami and the team could save a lot of cash by cutting him loose. It’s also possible he restructures. Dion Sims is a potential in-house replacement, but Miami would be smart to eye an upgrade.
Potential free agent targets: Chris Ivory, Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Jacquizz Rodgers, Marc Mariani, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Zach Miller, Jermaine Gresham
New England Patriots
Unrestricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Steven Jackson, Brandon Gibson, Montee Ball
Potential cuts: Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler
Glaring Needs: Early-down RB, No. 2 WR, WR depth, No. 2 TE
Analysis: The combination of impending free agents, potential cuts, and age figures to lead to a bit of an offensive overhaul for New England this offseason. Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo will be back under center. Dion Lewis is in line for a significant offensive role, but won’t see more than a half dozen or so carries each week. James White is his handcuff and Brandon Bolden’s primary focus is special teams. That leaves Tyler Gaffney as the only early-down threat. Expect a push for a veteran, two-down pounder via free agency. Danny Amendola is 30 years old, and Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell both hit that mark this year. Edelman is the only lock for a significant role in 2016. Keshawn Martin was re-signed, but is best served as the No. 4 option. Aaron Dobson and Chris Harper will push for a roster spot. Behind Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler is under contract, but New England figures to look for an upgrade in its two-tight-end-heavy scheme. Michael Williams and AJ Derby offer depth at the spot.
Potential free agent targets: Chris Ivory, Alfred Morris, Chris Johnson, Joique Bell, Stevan Ridley, Arian Foster, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Brian Quick, Jeremy Kerley, Mike Wallace, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Bryan Walters, Jermaine Gresham, Marcedes Lewis, Craig Stevens, Garrett Celek
New York Jets
Unrestricted free agents: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley, Chris Owusu, Kellen Davis
Potential cuts: Jeremy Kerley
Glaring Needs: No. 1 QB, No. 1/2 RB, WR depth
Analysis: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a free agent, but New York is fully expected to bring him back. Fitzpatrick has a ton of experience in Chan Gailey’s offense and would start ahead of Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. With Ivory likely out, the Jets will look to re-sign Powell and potentially Ridley. Futures deals aside, Zac Stacy is the only back currently rostered. Wide receiver is an extremely important position in an offense that had a fourth wideout on the field on roughly half of its pass plays in 2015 (easily highest in the NFL). Those four-wide sets figure to drop a bit with Jace Amaro back to full health, but the team does need to add talent behind Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and unproven Devin Smith. Quincy Enunwa will see a reduced role with Amaro back. Kerley fell out of favor last season and is a good bet to be cut. Jeff Cumberland isn’t a lock to return after falling behind Davis last year.
Potential free agent targets: Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, Alfred Morris, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Brandon Gibson
Unrestricted free agents: Andre Holmes, Rod Streater
Potential cuts: Roy Helu
Glaring Needs: No. 2 RB, No. 3 WR
Analysis: Derek Carr returns as the starter at quarterback and Matt McGloin (restricted free agent) is a competent backup. Latavius Murray enters a contract year as the team’s feature back. The Helu experiment did not pan out and Taiwan Jones is best-viewed as a depth back, so Oakland will need to find a backup to Murray this offseason. FB Jamize Olawale figures to return, especially with Marcel Reece facing a suspension. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper have the starting spots at wide receiver locked down. Seth Roberts emerged as the team’s slot man in 2015, but he’s best-utilized as a fourth or fifth option. Blocker Lee Smith and the combination of receivers Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera provide Oakland with a solid trio at tight end.
Potential free agent targets: Bilal Powell, Lance Dunbar, Ronnie Hillman, James Starks, Shaun Draughn, CJ Spiller, Anquan Boldin, Mohamed Sanu, Lance Moore, Bryan Walters
Unrestricted free agents: Bruce Gradkowski, Michael Vick, Jordan Todman, Will Johnson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, David Nelson
Glaring Needs: N/A
Analysis: Once Le’Veon Bell is back to full health, the Steelers will be fully stocked at the offensive skill positions. Ben Roethlisberger is signed through 2019 and Landry Jones is the favorite to back him up. DeAngelo Williams was terrific in place of Bell and is under contract for his age-33 campaign. Fitzgerald Toussaint has earned the team’s No. 3 gig. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Sammie Coates provide Pittsburgh with a strong unit at wide receiver. Pittsburgh spent a 2015 fifth-round pick on Jesse James as a potential long-term replacement for 33-year-old Heath Miller, who is signed through 2016.
Potential free agent targets: Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Chase Daniel
San Diego Chargers
Unrestricted free agents: Kellen Clemens, David Johnson, Ladarius Green, Antonio Gates, John Phillips
Potential cuts: Donald Brown
Glaring Needs: No. 3 WR, No. 2/young TE
Analysis: Philip Rivers returns under center and is signed through 2019. If Clemens isn’t re-signed, Brad Sorensen could be an in-house option. Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, and Branden Oliver will hold down the fort at running back, which may make little-used Brown expendable. Malcom Floyd’s retirement has left San Diego with pedestrian depth after Keenan Allen and Steve Johnson. This is a problem considering San Diego’s three-wide-receiver-heavy scheme. Dontrelle Inman, Javontee Herndon, and Tyrell Williams will compete for a roster spot. Gates appears likely to return for one or two more years, which should lead to Green eyeing a larger role and paycheck on the open market. There will be plenty of suitors.
Potential free agent targets: Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Brian Quick, Jermaine Kearse, Nate Washington, James Jones, Zach Miller, Jermaine Gresham, Marcedes Lewis, Craig Stevens, Garrett Celek
Unrestricted free agents: Craig Stevens, Dorin Dickerson
Glaring Needs: No. 1 RB, No. 3 WR
Analysis: Marcus Mariota is the man at quarterback and Zach Mettenberger will return to back him up. Tennessee is one of the few teams in the league with a clear void at the top of its running back depth chart. David Cobb is an option, but he didn’t impress as a rookie. Dexter McCluster will be limited to scat back duties. Antonio Andrews and Bishop Sankey are no more than reserve options. Dorial Green-Beckham and contract-year Kendall Wright figure to open 2016 as the team’s starting wideouts. Justin Hunter will compete with Harry Douglas, Tre McBride and a rookie/free agent addition for the No. 3 gig. Douglas might seem like a logical cut, but he has ties to new offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. TE Delanie Walker is one of the league’s most-underrated players and is entering a contract year. Anthony Fasano and Phil Supernaw are under contract at the position.
Potential free agent targets: Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Bilal Powell, Alfred Morris, Rueben Randle, Brian Quick, Jermaine Kearse, Nate Washington, James Jones
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL