Things are looking up for NFL fans every where with news of significant progress being made in arriving at a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This news is especially good for fantasy owners as draft season is fast approaching. In fact, a report from Adam Schefter about new free agency rules has our collective interest piqued. Specifically, he reports that the new rules being considered will allow players with four or more years of experience to become unrestricted free agents (UFAs). In fact, it appears restricted free agents (RFAs) as a whole will be eliminated, although word is teams will still have franchise tags. While nothing is set in stone as of yet, this development could have some enormous implications for the 2011 season and beyond.
The following is a quick analysis of 12 key offensive skill players who would now be UFAs rather than RFAs under the new CBA.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – For a while it was looking like Williams would likely remain in Carolina as the lockout dragged on, but this week’s news swings the pendulum back the other way. Carolina reportedly will have the money to compete in the market for Williams, but I have doubts as to whether they will be willing to outbid a team like the Miami Dolphins or Denver Broncos given their spending history.
Fantasy Verdict: He’s a player I would make inquiries about, especially if the owner has been handcuffing him to Jonathan Stewart. Most veteran owners will probably still value him highly, but you might get lucky and find a nervous owner willing to sell him a little on the cheap. Meanwhile, Mike Goodson’s value should be about as high as you can expect baring Williams’ actual exit. Given such an exit is still far from certain, now wouldn’t be a bad time to put Goodson on the block. Tyrell Sutton should be on even more sleeper radars now.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants – There’s already been speculation about what might happen to him in free agency, and he would probably draw the second most interest on the market from teams. Many experts feel he won’t be leaving the Big Apple, but with Drew Rosenhaus as his new agent, that might not be as easy as it would seem on paper. My feeling is he’ll go to the highest bidder, and there are decent odds that will not be the Giants. Carolina might go after him if they lose Williams. If Carolina retains Williams, Miami or Denver might make a play for him.
Fantasy Verdict: His fantasy value doesn’t change if the Giants keep him (solid RB2). To be honest, anywhere else he ends up his role likely stays about the same: a major contributor in a shared backfield. A possible uptick in his fantasy value is arguable if he ends up in Miami or Denver as he would likely see a small increase in touches.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders – He received a first- and third-round round tender from the Raiders, but no one expected him to be an UFA until a couple days ago. He’s a guy who has flashed ability that would draw the interest of a number of teams, but the Raiders will likely make a very hard push to keep him. Denver could be an intriguing player for Bush as John Fox might like to add a bigger back and could offer him a chance to start. Evan Silva over at ProFootballTalk.com made a nice point on twitter that he would be a nice fit for the Bengals en lieu of re-signing Cedric Benson. He’s in the same mold as Benson, but with more talent and versatility and minus the drama and ego.
Fantasy Verdict: If he leaves Oakland for a team willing to give him a real shot at starting, his value skyrockets. Anyone who owns him now is even less likely to part with him, so trying to acquire him will be a role of the dice. In drafts, he looks even better as a RB4 option: a true low-risk/high-reward scenario. If he moves on, Taiwan Jones suddenly becomes a bigger factor than merely being Darren McFadden’s backup, as he would likely be rotated on a more frequent basis to protect McFadden’s health.
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – Addai has been a quiet subject of debate this offseason: will the Colts keep, and if they do, how long a deal will he be signed to? He showed more ability in an injury-shortened 2011 season than Donald Brown has shown in two years, and word is the Colts would rather keep him and part ways with Brown after this season. I expect the Colts to keep Addai. He’s a good fit for their offense, and most teams will shy away given his injury history.
Fantasy Verdict: He’s proven he can be a real fantasy force; only his health has held him back. If he moves on from Indianapolis, I would be worried. If he is re-signed and healthy physically and financially, he remains a potential steal. So consider things to be status-quo in Indianapolis despite the potential new CBA rules.
Le’Ron McClain, Baltimore Ravens – The big man has shown he can tote the rock, but has floundered in Baltimore since his big 2008 season and now reports have the Ravens wanting a pure lead blocking full back and not a hybrid guy like McClain. Plus the coaches seem to be very high on Jalen Parmele, which pushes McClain further down the roster. I think if someone is willing to offer him a chance to be a running back rather than a pure blocker, he’ll book for greener pastures if the price is right. The Bengals immediately come to mind as do the Steelers and Broncos as suitors.
Fantasy Verdict: I would stash him as a late-round gem if I could. He has proven he can be a solid runner in the NFL, and if things pan out, he could be a real steal. Parmele should be on your sleeper radar if he isn’t already with this development.
Sidney Rice, Minnesota Vikings – He’s a player whose future has been much in question since before the lockout began as he was considered a strong UFA candidate under a new CBA. He’ll be a hot item on the market, and he’s now less likely to remain in Minnesota. The Vikings will be in the mix, but I think someone will make him an offer the Vikings cannot match. If Carolina has all the cap space I am hearing about, I wonder if they might not be a heavy hitter in this sweepstakes. They need a wide receiver with or without Steve Smith. The Bears, Rams, and Redskins could also be in the mix.
Fantasy Verdict: Most owners and experts expected him to be an unrestricted free-agent, so his value has remained on the high side. He remains a good player to own even if he remains a Viking, but he can creep up the top-tier rankings if he lands just about anywhere else.
Santonio Holmes, New York Jets – Tendered at a first- and third-round level, Holmes will suddenly have a ton of leverage to get the multi-year deal he craves/demands. The Jets will remain the favorite to sign him, but any deal will likely be all that much more expensive. The Bears and Rams immediately come to mind as potential suitors.
Fantasy Verdict: Like Rice, Holmes was expected to enter the unrestricted free agent market as a hot commodity available to the highest bidder. Given the Jets’ tendencies with veteran stars in recent years, they’ll probably retain his services at the expense of Braylon Edwards. Holmes’ value should remain steady as a top-option for fantasy owners.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers – Not as often talked about in the potential free-agent market, Floyd could see some interest from teams. At 6-5, 225 lbs. and sporting a 19.4 yards per reception average last season, he will have some suitors on the open market. The Bears might be interested, for example. He might see more receptions elsewhere and have a chance to be a number one option, but I wouldn’t get too excited about a major uptick in production. It’s not like he’s lacked opportunities in San Diego with Philip Rivers.
Fantasy Verdict: Floyd is an intriguing option whose value increases if you’re a believer, but may decrease if you already had doubts with him in San Diego. He’s a bit of a gamble one way or the other, but he has some big play ability that should get him a shot to start somewhere. I actually like the idea of him in Chicago, but Washington or St. Louis would also be good homes where he could be the big playmaker. He will be a harder player to target or acquire at basement value now.
Steve Smith, New York Giants – Smith is still recouping from microfracture surgery, so he probably won’t have tons of suitors, and he has publicly stated that he expects to be back with the Giants.
Fantasy Verdict: He’s likely to start the season on the PUP-list, and of all the wide receivers on this list the least likely to move onto a new team. The bigger concern for owners is someone like Ramses Barden emerging to relegate him to the no. 3 role when he is finally 100%. I wouldn’t change his fantasy outlook one bit right now.
Steve Breaston, Arizona Cardinals – With Andre Roberts surpassing at the end of a disappointing 2010 campaign, the Cardinals may not be willing to pay him top dollar. They had extended him a first-round tender though, and I am not entirely certain he’ll be in the forefront of GMs’ minds when free agency finally opens up given the plethora of talent on the market. Still, some like Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, or Carolina might take a stab at him if they miss out on the top talents.
Fantasy Verdict: Breaston would benefit from a change of scenery, as there are not many offenses in near the mess as Arizona. He’s definitely worth buying cheap right now, as he could easily land in a much better place if he hits unrestricted free agency.
Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints – Moore received a second-round tender from the Saints, and recent reports indicate that it’s highly likely Moore will stay in New Orleans. Drew Brees like Moore, and he fits in the offense, so the Saints will likely pony up the extra dollars to keep him.
Fantasy Verdict: Not much changes except that if the Saints have to comitt more money to keep him, he’ll have a better shot at starting as the no. 2 wide receiver. So I would give him a slight bump up in your rankings.
Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders – The Raiders have a first- and third-round tender on him, and he’s too critical to their passing attack to be allowed to walk. I would expect Al Davis to pay him top dollar to stay, but he could test the market if the right team offers him a big pay day. Arizona immediately comes to mind as a team that might make a play for him, especially if they successfully acquire Kevin Kolb as their new quarterback.
Fantasy Verdict: Miller’s value shouldn’t be greatly impacted by this news. I don’t foresee much change in his circumstances, whether he stays in Oakland or moves on to a tight end needy team like Arizona. He’ll remain one of the upper-tier tight ends in fantasy.