NFL Free Agency Week 1 Recap
Jeff Ratcliffe recaps a wild week of free agency with insights and analysis.
NFL Free Agency Week 1 Recap
Here’s a recap of all the key moves and their potential impact:
Safeties and Offensive Tackles were at a Premium
A decade ago, safeties were at an all-time low in terms of value. But Seattle’s post-season success seems to have lit a fire under the rest of the league.
Jairus Byrd (Saints), T.J. Ward (Broncos), Donte Whitner (Browns), Antoine Bethea (49ers) and Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles) all received lucrative multi-year contracts. Even lesser names like Mike Mitchell (Steelers) and Roman Harper (Panthers) were able to ink deals while most of the top skill position players remained on the market.
Byrd was one of the top free agents in this year’s class, and he joins a rising talent in Kenny Vaccaro. It’s a great fit for Byrd’s skillset, but I doubt he’s anything more than a DB3. Of this bunch, the best fit in terms of fantasy value is Ward’s. Denver lacks a stud middle linebacker, so Ward could be asked to play a lot of snaps in the box, as we saw out of Duke Ihenacho last season. Ward is a huge upgrade over Ihenacho and stays put in the DB1 conversation.
There’s certainly fantasy value in the remaining bunch, but it’s unclear which players will emerge. Jenkins is in arguably the best situation to post strong numbers, while Harper figures to play only a rotational role.
At offensive line, Jared Veldheer (Cardinals), Eugene Monroe (Ravens), Brandon Albert (Dolphins) and Rodger Saffold (Rams) all signed immediately after free agency kicked off.
Baltimore wisely re-upped with Monroe, while Miami took steps to shore up a tattered offensive line after last season’s fiasco. Veldheer may have been the best move of the bunch, as the Cards provide some protection for Carson Palmer’s blind side. While Saffold’s failed physical debacle in Oakland sent him back to St. Louis.
The Running Back Market was Depressed…
Or should I say, “depressing.” Donald Brown (Chargers), Rashad Jennings (Giants) and Darren McFadden (Raiders) signed fairly quickly, with Toby Gerhart to the Jaguars coming shortly thereafter. But we had to wait until Saturday for the top free agent, Ben Tate, to sign with Cleveland.
Tate’s injury history certainly cooled his value, but teams just aren’t willing to spend big bucks at the position and would much rather go with a younger, more inexpensive option.
Jennings, Tate, and Gerhart all look to be the early favorites for starting jobs and a full complement of touches. They’re all borderline RB2s, but in order I prefer Jennings, Tate, and then Gerhart.
Brown joins an already crowded backfield in San Diego, and only further muddies the situation. It’s unlikely we see Ryan Mathews reproduce his 2013 top 10 fantasy numbers this season.
While it wasn’t a free agent signing, the Eagles scored a victory trading a fifth-round pick to New Orleans for Darren Sproles. Sproles is on the downslope of his career, but he still has a little juice left in the tank and will serve as a nice weapon in Chip Kelly’s offense. His presence doesn’t hurt LeSean McCoy, and in a complementary role Sproles makes for an RB3 fantasy option in PPR formats.
One other running back of note is Joique Bell, who the Lions wisely re-signed. Look for a true timeshare between Bell and Reggie Bush this season, which means Bell will be a viable fantasy option. While he won’t rack up 300-plus touches, Bell deserves RB3 consideration in standard leagues, and that could bump into the backend of the RB2s in PPR formats.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this year’s free agent running backs are the names who went unsigned in the first week. This list includes Maurice Jones-Drew, Knowshon Moreno, and LeGarrette Blount. The market has remained relatively quiet for all three, and it could be a while before we hear anything on them.
…And So was the Wide Receiver Market
To be fair, it wasn’t the most exciting crop of free agents, but it took some time before the top options were signed.
Eric Decker was arguably this year’s top free agent wide receiver, and his signing with the Jets comes as a real head scratcher. He didn’t get crazy money to sign, and he goes from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith. This move drops Decker into WR4 territory.
The same can’t be said for Julian Edelman, who re-signed with the Patriots and will remain Tom Brady’s security blanket. The Pats also added Brandon LaFell. There’s talk LaFell could end up starting, but his marginal talent doesn’t bode well for fantasy value. Edelman is a low-ceiling WR3 with WR2 value in PPR leagues.
The Colts had initially flirted with Decker, but they went a much cheaper route signing Hakeem Nicks. There’s speculation Nicks tiptoed his way through last season to avoid injury in a contract year. You don’t ever want to hear this about a player, and it would appear that Nicks’ once-bright future has faded into dull green dollar signs.
Denver replaced the departed Decker with Emmanuel Sanders, with some potentially shady doings on the part of Sanders’ agent in the process. The oft-injured Sanders has the potential to put up big numbers if he can stay on the field. Just the presence of Manning brings Sanders into the WR3 conversation.
Two other signings of note are Steve Smith to the Ravens and Golden Tate to the Lions. Smith has acknowledged that he’s no longer a No. 1 receiver and envisions himself as Kevin Walter to Torrey Smith’s Andre Johnson in Gary Kubiak’s offense. That likely also means Kevin Walter fantasy value, which is marginal at best. Tate enters an ideal situation as Calvin Johnson’s wingman in the Lions’ high-powered offense. Expect career numbers from Tate this season, and pencil him in as a WR3.
Aside from safety, there were several key defensive signings, and a battle between two AFC powerhouses punctuated the week.
Denver addressed an obvious weakness, beefing up their defense with the addition of the aforementioned Ward, veteran pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, and cover corner Aqib Talib. Not to be outdone, New England landed the best player in all of this year’s market in Darrelle Revis.
Speaking of Revis, the Bucs filled his spot with hot commodity Alterraun Verner, who cost a lot less than Revis and is capable of playing in zone coverage. Tampa also shored up their defensive line with the addition of this years top free agent defensive end, Michael Johnson.
The Titans added Wesley Woodyard to their uninspiring stable of linebackers. Woodyard looks to be a likely starter in Ray Horton’s aggressive 3-4 defense. We also saw the Browns give Karlos Dansby a big contract to play in the middle of Mike Pettine’s defense, while the Raiders signed aging veterans Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley after letting rising talent Lamarr Houston (Bears) walk.
Houston takes over in Chicago following Julius Peppers’ release and subsequent signing with the Packers. It’s still unclear just how Peppers will fit in the Packers 3-4, though a situational role looks likely.
Oh, and Quarterback
In an extremely lame year at the skill positions, quarterback may just take the cake. The only signing of note last week was Josh McCown to the Bucs.
Ordinarily, even this wouldn’t be very newsworthy, but new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith has already anointed McCown as the starter. It’s tough to envision a scenario where McCown replicates his 2013 success, so we’re likely looking at a borderline QB2.
Michael Vick and Matt Schaub still remain on the market, and both could find themselves in starting jobs come September. Schaub technically is not a free agent, but he’s almost certainly on his way out of Houston.
In addition to these two and the three running backs I mentioned, there are a few other bigger names who remain on the market including Jermichael Finley, Kenny Britt, and Jared Allen. Otherwise this year’s free agency is starting to wind down and it’s onward to the draft in about a month and a half.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool! Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.