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Free Agency Losers

In this premium content installment, we take a look at some players who were clear losers based on the movement in free agency this year. While many of these players still carry a lot of value, their outlook in dynasty leageus is simply not as good as it was at the beginning of the year. Some of these players signed on in less than desirable locations, while others were the victims of untimely additions by their current or former team.

Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these “Free Agency Losers” to gauge their current value in dynasty leagues. We’ll go position by position and detail the events that have created some definite misfortune.

Quarterbacks

Tim Tebow, QB NYJ

There’s little doubt that Tebow is at the top of the list in regards to free agency losers. Simply put, Tebow is the rarest of rare players as his fantasy value is likely much more than his value in reality. His rushing ability alone makes him a borderline QB1 when he’s starting games. Unfortunately, his starting job in Denver was taken by one Peyton Manning.

Tebow gets a fresh start with the New York Jets and it’s clear his presence is going to be a major distraction to one Mark Sanchez. However, Tebow’s prospects for starting would have likely been much better had he gone to Miami or Jacksonville. There’s no doubt that Sanchez will be the starting quarterback for the Jets at the beginning of 2012 and all Tebow can do is hope he can enter the game in special packages or that Sanchez falters and opens the door to him starting again.

Regardless, the Peyton Manning signing in Denver allowed John Elway to end Tebowmania in Mile High City once and for all. It remains to be seen how long we’ll have to wait until we see it in the Big Apple. One thing is certain though – Tebow’s late season magic and epic playoff win are now distant memories for his owners in dynasty leagues.

Jason Campbell, QB CHI

Campbell has always been a bit of an underrated performer in both fantasy and reality. After all, he has a career completion percentage of over 60% and has thrown 24 more touchdowns than interceptions (74:50) in his six year career playing for the Redskins and Raiders.

In the offseason, Campbell jumped at an early offer from the Bears to become Jay Cutler’s backup. So, how does a player who many believed was a backup quarterback landing a contract to be just that end up on this list?

Bad Timing, Mr. Campbell.

If he would have waited just another week or so, he likely would have had a shot at landing in a better spot. After all, Miami is obviously not enamored by Matt Moore after pursuing both Peyton Manning and Alex Smith. In fact, they settled on bringing in David Garrard to compete with Moore. The Dolphins surely would have been interested in Campbell had he been available.

Now, Campbell could still have a chance to play if Cutler was to get hurt, but there many other places where he could have landed that would have given him either a better chance to play earlier or even a clear starting job.

Tarvaris Jackson, QB SEA

After signing with Seattle last year, Jackson had a prime opportunity to win a permanent starting job and solidify his status as a possible QB2 in dynasty leagues.

Check, please.

The signing of Matt Flynn is essentially going to end any chance Jackson had at become the future starter in Seattle. While Flynn is signed to a relatively modest contract, there’s little doubt he’ll beat out Jackson for the starting job. When you consider the fact that Seattle could still draft yet another quarterback here in the next week or so, it’s hard to justify keeping Jackson on your roster in shallow leagues.

Josh Portis, QB SEA

Portis was a deep sleeper last year, but the signing of Flynn throws a nice bucket of cold water on his value. While he could eventually push Jackson for the backup job, he’s light years away from seeing the field now. Even if Flynn was to struggle, the Seahawks are going to give him a very long leash. Hopefully he learned a little bit about holding a clipboard from Charlie Whitehurst.

Blaine Gabbert, QB JAX

Gabbert would have been at the top of this list had the Jaguars completed a trade for Tim Tebow, but he belongs here nonetheless after Jacksonville signed Chad Henne to be his backup.

The Jaguars are saying all the right things about Gabbert in the media, but adding Henne and angling for Tebow don’t exactly paint a picture of franchise confidence. Gabbert was truly awful last year and showed the pocket presence of parachute pants. Make no mistake, if he looks as bad as he did last season, Henne is going to be starting some games this year in Jacksonville.

Blaine, consider yourself warned.

Mark Sanchez, QB NYJ

Sanchez regressed last year as the Jets failed to make the playoffs after competing in the AFC Championship game the prior two years. His numbers aren’t altogether terrible. After all, he posted 3,474 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. The interceptions (18), the completion percentage (56.7%) and quarterback rating (78.2) were all pretty much average to below, though.

The problem with Sanchez seems to be his confidence and the relationship he has with some of his teammates. Whether it’s his fault or not, there are some strained relationships in the Jets locker room and its his task to get everyone around him to be successful for the good of the team. When you’re not even talking to your best receiver, that’s a problem. The Jets really need to work on getting Sanchez to right the ship this year.

So, they bring in Tim Tebow.

While Tebow is no imminent threat to his job, his mere presence is going to create a circus-like atmosphere that Sanchez simply doesn’t need. Imagine what’s going to happen when he throws a couple of interceptions in a game. How is he going to react when the fans of New York start chanting for Tebow? In a make or break year for the Sanchize, this is one distraction he simply didn’t need.

Ugh.

Colin Kaepernick, QB SF

Everyone is talking about Alex Smith and his return to San Francisco, but he’s not the only quarterback who signed on to play for the 49ers this season. Jim Harbaugh and company signed Josh Johnson to their stable of signal callers as well.

Johnson isn’t a household name for most, but his signing is significant. He played for Coach Harbaugh while in college at the University of San Diego. While he was there, he posted a ridiculous season featuring 43 touchdowns, one interception and 726 rushing yards, making his Coach proclaim him the best quarterback in all of college football. While those small school statistics need to be kept in perspective, the love of his former and now current coach is evident.

Kaepernick is certainly on notice as Johnson will pose a serious threat to his backup status. If Alex Smith falters (which would hardly be a surprise), someone is going to get to throw to a group that includes Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis. Don’t just assume it’s going to Kaepernick.

Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor (soon to be WAS)

So, how can a player not even in the NFL yet be a free agency loser? It’s pretty simple – the Redskins were penalized by the league for front loading contracts in the uncapped year and lost their leverage to add a lot of pieces to their team.

Washington was able to add Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to their list of skill players, but it’s just really tough to get excited about that. Time will tell if Garcon has the ability to be a number one receiver and Morgan has been disappointing after flashing big time ability in the preseason years ago. Mike Shanahan says Morgan has star potential, but didn’t he stake his career on the ability of Rex Grossman and John Beck just one year ago, too?

Griffin is going to likely be the starter on a team with Morgan, Garcon, Fred Davis, Roy Helu and Evan Royster among others. While they’re young and have room to grow, it would have been much more comforting to see the Redskins add some top tier talent like Vincent Jackson.

Running Backs

Michael Bush, RB CHI

Dynasty owners have been hoping Michael Bush would get an opportunity to be a featured back (or even a lead back in a committee) since his days back in Louisville. He entered the free agent market looking for a starting job and most figured he’d end up in Cincinnati, Cleveland or with another franchise with an obvious need at running back. Instead, he agree to a three year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Ugh.

Now, there’s a chance that Matt Forte holds out and fails to come to a long-term agreement with the Bears. However, it would be pretty tough to see him actually missing real meaningful time. With Bush in the mix, the Bears have added a lot of negotiating leverage, but effectively hurt the value of every running back on their roster, including Bush, Forte and Kahlil Bell.

It sounds as if the Bears have promised Bush he’ll be in a rotati0n with Forte. While that seems unlikely, the possibility of that happening are a nightmare for fantasy owners. Our best guess is Bush will take the goal line and short yardage opportunities away from Forte and that Bell becomes a total fantasy afterthought. Forte owners shouldn’t panic because he’s obviously the most talented of the bunch, but it’s still going to be tough for him to achieve a top five ranking next season and beyond.

Regardless, the value of Bush went down dramatically with this signing. Instead of getting himself a more prominent role with a team, it looks like he’ll end up being a situational running back or on the wrong end of a committee.

Again.

Marion Barber, RB CHI

Bush’s signing with the Bears spelled the end of the road for the barbarian in Chicago – we just didn’t think it would be the end of the road. Barber decided to retire instead of playing any longer.

At just 28 years old, he’s simply lost the burst and ability he once had. As we mentioned in the free agency blog, what’s troubling about his retirement is that he’s still relatively young and hasn’t been overworked. He played seven seasons, but only had 1,156 career carries.  It’s just a classic example of how a running back’s shelf life is very, very short.

Jonathan Stewart, RB CAR

We’ve chronicled the Stewart saga over the past month, but he’s a clear loser in free agency this season, along with all the other running backs who play in Carolina after Mike Tolbert was signed.

For Stewart, this is just the latest road block keeping him from being a fantasy superstar. It seems that every time he’s on the cusp of greatness, something happens to get in his way. Whether it’s an injury, a surprise signing, or the addition of a quarterback who likes to be his own best weapon in the red zone, owning Stewart is frustrating to say the least. With Tolbert in town, there’s likely one more mouth to feed in what was already an unpredictable committee attack.

DeAngelo Williams can’t be happy about Tolbert joining the mix, either. By all standards, Williams was outplayed by Stewart and became the “B” option in the Panthers attack by the end of the year. With Tolbert in town, his future is murky. His contract is much more prohibitive to trade than Stewart’s, so the owners of Williams just have to hope Stewart gets moved (unlikely with the recent trade of Mike Goodson) or that Williams gets released after the season.

Mike Tolbert is the clearest loser in this situation, though. He entered free agency looking for starting tailback job and ended it being announced by the Panthers as a fullback.

Say what!?!

It seems Tolbert wanted to go close to home (he played at Coastal Carolina) and really sacrificed a lot to get it done. The best thing his owners can hope for is for Stewart to either be traded soon (or leave via free agency next year) or for Williams to be released after the season, opening up some more opportunities for him.

Regardless, with Cam Newton taking goal line opportunities away and at least one other quality running back (at this point, two), it’s tough to see much value in owning Tolbert.

Peyton Hillis, RB KC

Remember when Peyton Hillis turned down a bunch of guaranteed money from the Browns last year, hoping to land a lucrative contract with someone in the offseason?

Oops.

Hillis ended up with a one year deal from Kansas City for $3 million. Essentially, the Chiefs are asking him to prove he’s healthy and can handle being part of a committee with Jamaal Charles. While it’s easy to just jump the gun and say Charles is a clear loser, we don’t necessarily see it that way. With Hillis only on the hook for one year, this basically gives Charles the chance to get fully healthy without having to handle too much of the workload too soon. His value may take a hit in re-draft leagues, but his injury recovery is a much bigger threat to his dynasty value than the existence of Hillis.

Back to Hillis.

This is a mess for him. The days of him being a top dynasty option are clearly in the rearview mirror. When you consider Michael Bush got four times as much money (and four times the length of a contract), it tells you what the league thinks of him bouncing back from an awful year.

I’d say “sell” on Hillis at this point, but realistically, it’s way too late. It’s amazing that we even had a debate about his value last year.

Wide Receivers

Deion Branch, WR NE

Branch was supposed to be a much bigger part of the Patriots offense last year. After all, he was coming off a season that featured a bit of a re-birth and saw him post over 700 yards in just 11 games with New England. Instead, he found himself watching the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez show like the rest of America.

Branch has re-signed with the Pats, but now has to compete with not only Wes Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez for looks, but with newcomer Brandon Lloyd as well.

With Lloyd added to the mix, it’s awfully tough to see Branch coming close to fantasy relevance again.

Earl Bennett, WR CHI

The Bears receiving corps has been underwhelming at best the past few years, but Bennett has been an occasional bright spot. However, with the Bears acquiring Brandon Marshall, it’s easy to see Bennett going back to anonymity. If history tells us anything, Cutler is going to target Marshall a ton next season. If Marshall can keep his head on straight, that’s going to decrease the value of all Bears receivers, including Bennett, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.

Chad Ochocinco, WR NE

If you ever need proof once and for all that you can be on the biggest free agency winners list one year and the losers list just as easily the next, look no further than the case of one Chad Ochocinco.

After joining the Patriots last season, Ochocinco owners were salivating in hopes that he’d regain the form that once made him one of fantasy football’s greatest weapons. After all, this is the same player who posted seven 1,000 yard seasons for the Bengals after the turn of the century. Unfortunately, Chad struggled to pick up the offense, played a severely limited number of snaps and posted an anemic total of 15 catches for 276 yards and just one touchdown.

After restructuring his deal to stay in New England, Ochocinco is promising to spend the offseason learning the playbook. With Brandon Lloyd now in town, it may not even matter. His owners (or those thinking of getting him off the wire) were hoping he’d leave New England and go to place who could offer him more time.

Ochocinco offered a high level of entertainment for years, but the show is all but over.

Mike Thomas, WR JAX

Thomas was a popular sleeper heading into last season, but his performance was an epic disaster. After posting 66 catches for 820 yards and four touchdowns in 2011, there was reason for optimism. His 2012 season resulted in just 44 catches, 415 yards and one touchdown.

Ouch.

While the quarterback play was awful and certainly played a part in Thomas’ downturn, the blame can’t sit squarely on the shoulders of Blaine Gabbert. Not only did Thomas fail to take the next step in his evolution, it seemed as if he even regressed. Rumor has it that his teammates even say he quit on them.

The Jaguars brought in Laurent Robinson in the offseason in an attempt to solidify the position. While Thomas will still see a lot of time, it’s apparent he won’t be the top target in the receiving game any longer.

Leonard Hankerson, WR WAS

I’m on record in saying the signing of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan don’t  really excite me. It’s not like they’re not talented players, because they both are. I just hesitate in saying either of them are true difference makers at the wide receiver position or players who are going to guarantee any level of success for Robert Griffin III.

I can guarantee you Hankerson is even less of a fan.

After being the 79th pick in the NFL Draft last year, Hankerson posted a modest 13 catches for 163 yards last year in Washington. However, he was going to enter camp with the promise of a much larger role before the signings of Garcon and Morgan. With them on the team, he’s being pushed even further down the depth chart.

An optimist would say Hankerson will certainly get his chance sooner, rather than later since Garcon and Morgan are still a little unproven as true number one and number two targets. A pessimist will argue we won’t see him on the field much for a long, long time.

Vincent Jackson, WR TB

In his seven years as a Charger, Jackson has been one of the NFL’s premier wideouts in reality and fantasy. He brings 272 career catches, 4,754 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns with him to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bring Philip Rivers with him, too.

Jackson will provide Tampa Bay with the deep threat they’ve been lacking. His career average of 17.5 yards per reception is going to be a welcome addition to quarterback Josh Freeman, whose completion average last year was right around 6.5.

Freeman’s development is the key here. After recording 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2011, he regressed in 2011, tossing 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. While he’s not fully to blame for the Bucs woes, he was certainly part of the problem in Tampa.

Jackson will still be the top target on his team, but won’t find the sledding quite so easy without a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback like Rivers throwing to him. Add to this the speculation that new Coach Greg Schiano is preferring a much more run heavy approach and it’s easy to see why Jackson will have a very tough time matching the numbers we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

Mario Manningham, WR SF

We starting encouraging our readers to pick Mario Manningham up on the cheap last year, knowing this was going to be his chance to land a nice contract and a sure fire starting job. After all, Manningham had shown starter’s ability at times and there was a need for receivers all over the league this Spring.

Sigh.

Manningham obviously liked the attention he got for playing in the Super Bowl because he opted to play for a winning franchise, rather than taking more money or finding a situation that guaranteed him more playing time. In the end, he opted to sign with the 49ers and now finds himself in a mess of a depth chart that consists of Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis among others.

Instead of having the potential to be a WR2 in fantasy as one of the top options in the passing game in a place like St. Louis, Manningham is going to find himself in a major receiver rotation and could be no better than the fourth best option for Alex Smith – not exactly a recipe for success.

Michael Crabtree, WR SF

Just like Manningham, Michael Crabtree finds himself in the same jumbled up receiver mess in San Francisco. Unfortunately for Crabtree, the 49ers additions of Moss and Manningham aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for him developing into a dominant force at the position.

This year is going to be critical for Crabtree’s development. He’s improved his receptions and yards in each of his three seasons in the league, but still posted a rather ordinary 72 catches, 874 yards and four touchdowns last year.

Crabtree would have really benefited from having Peyton Manning in town, but will now have to settle for another season with Alex Smith and playing with a lot more mouths to feed, so to speak.

Arrelious Benn, WR TB

The signing of Vincent Jackson in Tampa Bay pushes every receiver down the depth chart a spot. For Benn, that’s going to likely keep him on the bench in two receiver sets in favor of Mike Willams and Jackson.

After being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Benn’s career has been full of ups and downs. He’s flashed some big-time potential, but also dealt with a serious knee injury. Last year, he battled Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker for playing time and ended the season with 30 catches, 441 yards and three touchdowns.

With Jackson in town, Benn is going to have a tough time making much of an impact here in the short term. Dynasty owners have to hope his knee continues to get stronger and that he shows enough in limited time or on the practice field to merit more playing time on Sundays.

As it is, Benn is simply a deep league roster stash – that’s a far cry from where he was just two short years ago in the eyes of dynasty league owners.

Tight Ends

Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN

Rudolph was one of the hot names in rookie drafts last year. After all, he was drafted into a good situation in Minnesota and showed a lot of promise while at Notre Dame.  His rookie season was a bit of a disappointment, as he posted just 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Going into the offseason, owners of Rudolph were hopeful that 2012 would yield a breakout of sorts.

Enter John Carlson.

The Vikings surprisingly signed another former Irish player in Carlson, thus immediately casting doubt on the future value of both players. Teams are suddenly enamored with the two tight end combination after seeing what Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did to the league last year. Unfortunately, Christian Ponder and Joe Webb are not Tom Brady.

Rudolph is still a good prospect to own, but his future is murky at best.

Tony Moeaki, TE KC

Much like Rudolph, Moeaki is a young tight end with a lot of upside. Also like Rudolph, he now has some sudden company on the depth chart as the Chiefs added Kevin Boss through free agency.

Moeaki is dealing with a long rehab after tearing his ACL last season, but all indications are that’s going well. Boss will help him ease into the lineup and will help the Chiefs quite a bit on offense. However, this does nothing for Moeaki’s fantasy outlook, at least in the short term.

He’s worth holding on to for sure because he does have a lot of talent. We’re just going to need to see a full season of health along with him taking over the lead role from Boss to put a lot of faith in his prospects.

Julius Thomas, TE DEN

Thomas is truly the epitome of a dynasty league stash, even more so now that the Broncos have added not one, but two tight ends in the form of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. Thomas owners were salivating after Peyton Manning joined the team, but that excitement has turned into frustration after the Broncos added those two free agents.

His future is still bright, but his owners are going to need to express a tremendous amount of patience before seeing a payoff – that’s a virtue that’s awfully hard to have in dynasty leagues.

Random Thoughts

There were a few other situations that impacted players in dynasty leagues during the free agency period. Jamar Chaney’s value has sunk down a bit with the Eagles trade for DeMeco Ryans. The entire Saints offense may see a bit of a decrease without Sean Payton at the helm. Kenny Britt and Larry Fitzgerald also missed out on a nice bump in value, not for what their team did, but for what they didn’t do since they both lost out on Manning.

That brings us to the single biggest group of free agency losers this year – the defenses of the NFC North. Calvin Johnson has signed a monster deal, entrenching his presence with the Lions for a long, long time.

Good luck covering that guy.

Make sure to check out all the initial premium content:

Pre-Draft Rookie Rankings with Extended Commentary
Pre-Draft Rookie Tiers
Extended interview with Matt Waldman
Free Agency Winners
Third Year Wide Receiver Breakdown

Ken Kelly
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