We’ve already reviewed the free agency losers, so now we take a look at some players who were clear winners based on the movement in free agency this year. These players either signed on in to play in a desirable location in relation to their fantasy value or had someone who was clogging the depth chart ahead of them move on to greener pastures.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these “Free Agency Winners” to gauge their current value in dynasty leagues. We’ll go position by position and detail the events that have created some positive vibes for dynasty owners.
Josh Johnson is a relatively obscure name, but he has talent nonetheless. After leaving Tampa Bay in the offseason, he signed on with San Francisco to be reunited with his college Coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Johnson played under Harbaugh at San Diego and was simply magnificent. While his small school statistics (he had 43 touchdowns, one interception and 726 rushing yards his last season) have to be put into perspective, it’s still pretty impressive.
His play hasn’t translated thus far to the NFL as he really struggled while in Tampa Bay, throwing for just five touchdowns and ten interceptions in limited action.
As we wrote in the free agency blog, Johnson is no imminent threat to incumbent quarterback Alex Smith, but he’ll put some serious heat on Colin Kaepernick for the backup spot in San Francisco. If Smith fails to recapture the magic of last season, this could get interesting in a hurry. Any quarterback who could be throwing to a cast of Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham would have a fighting chance.
Alex Smith, QB SF
Well, that worked out OK. After the 49ers were spurned by Peyton Manning, they turned their attention back to Smith and quickly re-signed him.
Smith made some serious strides last year and looked like a very viable quarterback. After all, he set career highs in completion percentage (61.3%), passing yards (3,144) and quarterback rating (90.7). When you consider his 17:5 touchdown to interception ratio, you have to consider his season a moderate success.
Smith returns to San Francisco and suddenly finds Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs joining an offense that already featured Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Vernon Davis.
If Smith can make it work next season, he could be a very viable QB2. If he can’t, his value is going to tank.
Chad Henne, QB JAX
Henne couldn’t have landed any better place, especially since Tim Tebow ended up in New York.
In Jacksonville he’ll get into camp as the backup to Blaine Gabbert. However, unlike many other places he could have landed, Henne has a realistic chance for playing time with the Jaguars.
Henne isn’t as bad as many people think – he has a career completion percentage of over 60% to go along with 31 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. The touchdown to interception ratio isn’t great and he was known mostly for becoming a check down artist – those are certainly problems he’ll need to fix.
What works in Henne’s favor is the play of Gabbert last season, who looked like anything but an NFL quaterback in his rookie season. Gabbert’s completions were only good for an average of 5.36 yards, making Henne look like a long ball thrower.
Gabbert is going to be given every opportunity to succeed. However, if I owned him, I’d strongly consider adding Henne to my bench in case he can’t progress quickly into a serviceable player. Henne could have a chance at a rejuvenation sooner rather than later and those kind of players are always nice to stash away.
Matt Moore, QB MIA
It seemed that Miami kicked the tires on virtually every quarterback from Peyton Manning to Jeff George, only to sign David Garrard.
It looks like Moore will enter the season as the quarterback for the Dolphins. Even if Miami drafts a quarterback like Ryan Tannehill, Moore will likely open up the season as the de facto veteran presence. Had Miami acquired Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning, he would have had no chance to do just that.
Moore has always been a bit underrated and shouldn’t be completely dismissed by dynasty owners. While he’s likely not the long term answer in Miami, he could emerge as a bye week play this season. At least he gets another chance.
Jake Locker, QB TEN
The owners of DLF are from Washington and I, personally, am a season ticket holder for the University of Washington, so you could say I know Locker pretty well. I love his athleticism and his toughness will translate to the NFL level without a doubt. However, I still have major questions about his accuracy and willingness to be a pocket passer. In fact, I was squarely in the middle of the group saying he was overdrafted last year. We’ve seen players who are great athletes have that ability actually become a crutch for them as they find themselves tucking and running all too often – my fear is that happens with Jake.
With all that being said, Locker was a clear winner this offseason. With the Titans failing to land Peyton Manning, the red carpet is laid out for him to beat out Matt Hasselbeck and be the starter in Tennessee this year.
Locker was surprisingly good as a rookie last year in limited action. In five games, he completed 34-of-66 passes for 542 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 56 rushing yards and another score. Locker will need to improve on his completion percentage (51.5%), but he has the makings of a good, young quarterback.
Let’s just hope he’s really developed in the past year and a half.
Matt Flynn, QB SEA
Some are considering Flynn’s landing spot in Seattle as a “lose” for him, but that can only be true if you had some unrealistic expectations of him in the first place. Flynn was no lock to even be left off the franchise list for the Packers, so just getting a job somewhere has to be considered a win.
For the last couple of years, Flynn has been a quarterback who has impressed in preseason and on the practice field, much like Matt Schaub did for Atlanta years ago. Flynn’s eruption in week seventeen last year certainly solidified him as a player who could start on many teams. After all, it’s not everyday you see someone complete 31-of-44 passes for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a game. Sure, it was against the Lions, but you can’t just discount it.
In Seattle, Flynn should beat out Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job, though it’s no certainty. His contract is only for $19 million, with $10 million guaranteed, so the Seahawks aren’t forced to throw him in if they don’t like what they see.
Regardless, Flynn should start week one if his performance (and that of Jackson) is anything like what we’ve seen before. While the Seahawks offense will surely revolve around Marshawn Lynch, Flynn has a chance to show he’s a viable starter. He could become a nice QB2 as early as this season. After all, the Seahawks had pretty good luck the last time they acquired a former Green Bay backup. His name, you ask? Matt Hasselbeck.
Josh Freeman, QB TB
Freeman was simply awful last year. After a fantastic 2010 campaign that saw him throw for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, he took a major step back in 2011 and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 16:22.
Enter Vincent Jackson.
The Bucs really missed having a legitimate downfield threat last season and they now have one of the league’s best in Jackson. Having someone with a career yards per catch average of 17.5 should go a long way in helping Freeman regain the form he had just a short time ago. After all, that’s over three times the average pass from Blaine Gabbert!
The pieces are in place for Freeman and he’ll have precious few excuses if he doesn’t show improvement this season. His owners surely hope he does.
Andrew Luck, QB STAN
How does someone who’s never played in the league become a free agency winner? When the team you’re likely going to retains at least one weapon in receiver Reggie Wayne.
The 2012 Colts team is going to look very different. Gone are Pierre Garcon, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme, Jeff Saturday and a host of others. It’s necessary to truly rebuild, but the Colts were running dangerously low on quality players. Wayne is no longer the player he once was, but he’ll surely help in Luck’s development.
Jay Cutler, QB CHI
There’s little doubt the much maligned Cutler has special ability. There’s also little doubt he’s had very little to work with ever since being traded to Chicago from Denver.
The Bears brought in Brandon Marshall via trade from the Dolphins and Cutler has to be thrilled. While in Denver together, Marshall caught more than 100 passes and had at least 1,200 yards in both 2007 and 2008. Cutler also targeted Marshall more than any other quarterback targeted any other receiver during that time period. You could say they trust each other.
Marshall brings with him a ton of baggage and there’s a major knucklehead risk there, but you can’t help but be happy for Cutler. He’ll have a major upgrade over the likes of Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox.
At worst, Cutler should be able to produce the first 1,000 yard receiver the Bears have had since Marty Booker in 2002.
Kevin Kolb, QB ARI
Of all the quarterbacks happy that Manning signed in Denver, Kolb is at the top of the list. The Cardinals look as if they drastically overpaid for Kolb last year and were ready to pull the plug after just one season had they landed Peyton. Since they didn’t, they’ve paid Kolb his bonus for the year and he sits poised to prove he can still be a viable starter in both reality and fantasy.
For Kolb to bounce back this season, he needs to stay healthy and play better. Seems pretty blunt, right? Well, it’s true. He’s had his share of nagging injuries in limited duty and played in only nine games last season. Kolb has a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20:22, so he’s been the definition of mediocre thus far. All that has to change for Kolb in a hurry.
The good news here is that he only needs to beat out John Skelton to have another chance at a good season. Having Larry Fitzgerald should help give him a chance.
Can he take advantage?
Darren McFadden, RB OAK
McFadden has been an elite fantasy weapon the past couple of seasons, but has always faced two very significant problems in regards to his value – his health and the presence of Michael Bush.
One of them is now gone.
While McFadden is seemingly always a threat to get hurt, he’ll be relied upon even more by the Raiders going into 2012 with Bush now in Chicago. If his feet aren’t giving him problems, there are few players you’d rather have in your lineup. After all, there aren’t too many backs who can average five yards a pop and have the ability to take a carry or reception to the house like he can.
McFadden is always going to be in injury risk, but without Bush there to take some of the carries away, he’s a clear winner in free agency – even with the Raiders adding Mike Goodson.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB NYG
With Brandon Jacobs bolting for the 49ers, the table is all set for Bradshaw to be an even bigger force in dynasty leagues. Last year was a disappointment as he rushed for just 659 yards on 171 carries, good for just a 3.9 yards per carry average. With Jacobs out of the way, Bradshaw is poised for an even heavier workload. The question will be if he can handle it without getting injured.
With Bradshaw’s feet acting up already again, look for the Giants to be active on draft day since they only have the talented Da’Rel Scott, Danny Ware and the recently suspended Andre Brown on the roster at running back behind him. As it is, Bradshaw is still a winner at this point.
It’s hard to find any player on this list who is a bigger free agency winner than Ryan Mathews. With Mike Tolbert leaving San Diego to seemingly become a fullback in Carolina, all the pieces are in place for Mathews to become an elite fantasy weapon.
This year should finally provide Mathews with the workhorse role his owners have been pining for. Durability is certainly the key for Mathews, but he’s never had anything major happen to have it be a huge red flag for his owners. He missed two games last year and parts of some others, but he should be 100% and ready to go for 2012.
Mathews averaged nearly five yards per carry last season and became a serious weapon in the passing game as well. With the featured back role squarely on his shoulders and a talented offense around him, he should finally make his run at top five running back status.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB CIN
The Bengals have needed a law firm for years and now they have one in Green-Ellis. There’s no doubt that he has been the beneficiary of playing in an explosive offense in New England, but he landed in a really good spot. The Bengals had a need for a runner and Green-Ellis now has only Bernard Scott to compete with for carries.
If Green-Ellis would have returned to New England, he would have had to compete for touches with the emerging Stevan Ridley and a healthy Shane Vereen as well.
In Cincinnati, Green-Ellis is being talked about as a potential three down player. While that likely won’t happen, he should be good enough to be a high end RB3 with the potential for a little more.
Stevan Ridley, RB NE
You can go ahead and throw Shane Vereen on here with Ridley as well. As mentioned above, the Patriots depth chart got a little skinnier with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Ridley was the more impressive of the two rookies last season as he rushed for 441 yards on just 87 carries, good for an average over five yards per carry. Meanwhile, Vereen was dogged by injuries all season and never really had much of a chance to produce.
Going into the season, it’s unclear exactly how the Patriots will use these two backs, but that’s pretty typical with New England. While neither will likely develop into a true workhorse, the Patriot offense is likely going to be good enough to support them both as factors in fantasy leagues in the future.
While the New England offense typically spreads the ball around a lot and certainly focuses on the pass more than the run, you have to be excited about seeing both of these players next season. If one of them emerges to be a consistently explosive player on offense, you could have a serious weapon in your dynasty league.
Mike Goodson, RB OAK
Goodson was a late addition to the free agency winners list after being traded from Carolina to Oakland. With the Panthers, he was certainly the odd man out with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all on the depth chart.
In Oakland, Goodson will battle Taiwan Jones to be the backup to the oft-injured Darren McFadden. With McFadden’s injury history, it’s not out of the question to think Goodson could be in line for significant playing time next season.
After posting 452 yards in 2010, Goodson didn’t even get a single carry last season. He’ll need to cut down on the fumbles (he has five in 125 career carries), but Oakland at least gives him a chance to play at some point.
With the Panthers, he was waiver wire fodder for sure.
Running Backs in Limbo
There are many running backs who made it through the free agency period unscathed. Owners of these players are certainly glad another back wasn’t added to their respective teams to take away their touches. However, there is one other major hurdle to come and that’s the NFL Draft.
Many of these players are going to compete with newly acquired rookies for playing time. This list includes the likes of Montario Hardesty, James Starks, Donald Brown, Isaac Redman, LeGarrette Blount, Roy Helu, Shonn Greene, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson.
The fun will begin on April 26th and there’s no doubt that players like Trent Richardson, Lamar Miller, David Wilson and Doug Martin will adversely affect some of the values of these players listed above.
If you own any one of them, you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best, especially Steven Jackson with the Rams possibly angling for Richardson.
Donnie Avery, WR IND
Avery has been a forgotten man in dynasty leagues for a while now. His career started off well enough in St. Louis when he posted a total of 1,263 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two years. He showed great speed and looked the part of a nice receiver for years to come. A significant knee injury derailed all of it.
Last year, Avery signed on in Tennessee and dressed for eight games. His only production came in the last week of the season where he had 45 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Avery landed in a nice spot with Indianapolis. As a team who is in complete rebuild mode, he’ll surely get a chance to make the team and possibly make an impact. After all, the depth chart is wide open outside of Reggie Wayne.
While Avery may never fulfill the high hopes his owners once had, he should be monitored as a player who does have some upside left.
I’ve personally never been the biggest fan of Meachem, but it’s hard to argue his potential in the Chargers offense. After San Diego lost Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay, they quickly swooped in and nabbed Meachem with a four-year, $25.9 million contract, with $14 million guaranteed – you don’t pay someone that kind of money without giving him a legitimate chance to shine.
The offseason has been filled with Meachem love from pretty much every angle. I’m not sure I’m buying in as much as some others are, but it’s hard not to get excited about his prospects based on what the coaching staff is saying. If he can fill the shoes of Jackson (and his career yards per catch average of 16.1 says he has the ability), he should be a viable WR2 in most formats.
If I own Meachem, I pencil him in as a WR3 at this point because we’ve seen a lot of inconsistency over the years. He’s never been a player you can count on, but he’s never had this type of opportunity, either. If you’ve held on to him over the years or were smart enough to buy him on the cheap last year, cross your fingers.
Brandon Lloyd, WR NE
There’s no other player we poke at more around here than Brandon Lloyd. After all, veteran dynasty league owners have seen the best (1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010) and the worst from him (eight other seasons failing to reach 1,000 yards). That being said, his signing in New England is absolutely the best thing that could have happened to him.
Lloyd is reunited with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who he blossomed under while in Denver. The Patriots were in need of a player like Lloyd who could stretch the field after Deion Branch failed to rekindle the old magic last year and Chad Ochocinco failed to do, well, anything.
The Patriots offense is still going to focus heavily on getting the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but Lloyd gives them the downfield threat they’ve been missing since Randy Moss left. There’s no way that Lloyd can put up the same kind of numbers that Moss did in his heyday in New England, but his second 1,000 yard season and 6-8 touchdowns should be the floor for Lloyd.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR PIT
Sanders was a bit of a forgotten man last season in light of the breakout performance of Antonio Brown and the constant presence of Mike Wallace.
Sanders role should grow even more now that Hines Ward is officially retired. Even though Sanders was already ahead of Ward on the depth chart, Ward still received his token number of targets. Mike Wallace looks to be returning, but Sanders is as valuable a number three receiver as anyone in the league. If Wallace or Brown were to ever miss time, he could be even more valuable.
Chaz Schilens, WR NYJ
Many didn’t notice, but Chaz Schilens agreed with the Jets on a one year deal with the Jets worth just under $800,000. Like we said in our free agency blog, the financial risk is small for the Jets, as is the chance of Schilens actually making it through a season without getting injured.
As I also said in the blog, many experts are saying Schilens fantasy value takes a huge hit going to New York since they don’t exactly run a vertical offense, but I don’t necessarily agree. Whether it’s Oakland, New York or any place else, the key for Schilens is simply staying on the field. He’s worth a flier in deep dynasty leagues as long as the Jets don’t continue stockpiling receivers – the draft is coming up and they could certainly do just that.
New York is in need of a viable number two receiver and right now, Schilens could be it. He’s been a forgotten man the past few seasons, understandably so since he’s spent most of that time on the sidelines, but he’s not a player who doesn’t have talent. For now, he’s a clear free agency winner.
Eddie Royal, WR SD
It seems like a long time ago when Eddie Royal burst onto the scene as a rookie in Denver and blew up for 91 catches, 980 yards and five scores. His next three years in Denver yielded just 115 catches, 1,127 yards and four touchdowns combined.
In San Diego, Royal gets the re-birth he desperately needed. It’s a little surprising he didn’t reunite with Mike Shanahan in Washington, but the Chargers are really a better fit. He won’t be relied upon as a primary option with Robert Meachem and Antonio Gates taking a lot of the targets, but he could be very good slot receiver at worst.
Royal is squarely back on the map, especially in PPR leagues.
Josh Morgan, WR WAS
I remember looking at the gamecast of a San Francisco 49ers preseason game years ago and seeing Morgan just blow up. I ran to the waiver wire to get him. He was available, but by the time I clicked submit, another savvy owner had scooped him up. Argh! I thought I had the next big steal off the wire.
Alas, I was wrong.
Morgan’s career in San Francisco didn’t turn out to be nearly as good as many thought it would be. In his four years as a 49er, he recorded just 131 catches, 1,764 yards and scored nine touchdowns. He did show some flashes of ability, but always seemed a little bit like the forgotten man in the offense.
The Redskins wasted no time in signing Morgan to a contract in free agency and have immediately plugged him into the starting lineup along side newly signed Pierre Garcon. Mike Shanahan is even quoted as saying Morgan has “star potential.” We’ll see how that turns out. Remember, this is the same Coach who once staked his career on John Beck and Rex Grossman. Oops.
All things considered, Morgan has a chance to develop along side a new quarterback, presumably Robert Griffin III. We’ll see if he really does have star potential. At this point, at least has “rosterable” potential again.
Here we go!
The Thomas hype train is going out of control ever since Peyton Manning signed in Denver. I’m not about to slow it down, but it still needs to be kept in perspective.
Yes, Thomas has shown some elite ability in his short tenure in the league and looks poised for a major breakout in 2012. In fact, if you were to multiply his final seven games over a full season, he would have been a top three fantasy receiver in 2011 in many leagues. However, there are still a couple of concerns here.
First, will Manning be completely healthy? There are some “experts” out there who say Manning’s skills were starting to deteriorate before his neck issues. If he’s not 100%, Thomas won’t be able to realize his full potential.
Second, Thomas himself has had some health issues. His return from a torn Achilles tendon was nothing short of a miracle, but that’s not the only injury he’s dealt with. Remember, he couldn’t even work out prior to the draft based on his left foot injury. He’s dealt with a broken finger as well.
The injury concerns are all over the place with Thomas, but that’s really the only thing that could keep him from being a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 this season.
Owners who were patient with him are about to see a very big payoff.
Reggie Wayne, WR IND
Wayne went into free agency looking for a new team for the first time since being drafted by the Colts in way back in 2001. After a slow developing market, Wayne made his decision and signed with..wait for it…wait for it..the Colts!
In the end, the Colts decided they couldn’t leave the cupboard completely bare for presumed new quarterback Andrew Luck, so they brought Wayne back to finish his career where it started. The hometown discount Wayne likely provided also didn’t hurt.
While Wayne is no longer the dominant fantasy force he once was, he’s still going to be the number one target on his own team – that likely wouldn’t have happened had he signed elsewhere. As a result, Wayne should be able to provide low-end WR2 value for the time being, with his value tied to the development of whoever is playing quarterback in Indianapolis next season.
Eric Decker, WR DEN
Much like Thomas, the Decker love is being spread about like marijuana at Woodstock. I like Decker a lot and think he’s a very underrated player in terms of talent. Manning is also more than capable of making at least two wide receivers very fantasy relevant.
Let’s just slow down a little.
I’ve seen a ton of people penciling in Decker as their WR2 this season. It’s just a little early to start doing that. His 2011 season was solid, as he posted 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. However, his production tailed off when Thomas really started clicking with Tebow – including the playoff game against Pittsburgh, Decker had only one touchdown in his last eight games.
While Manning should alleviate many of these concerns, just be careful you don’t overpay for Decker right now. While he may be a top 20 receiver at the end of next season, I wouldn’t be sending away something equal to that quite yet.
Brandon Marshall, WR CHI
Winner or loser, you make the call. On one hand, he has legal issues again. On the other, he was reunited with old quarterback Jay Cutler in Chicago. As we mentioned earlier in this article, Marshall caught more than 100 passes and had at least 1,200 yards in both 2007 and 2008 with Cutler at the helm. He also targeted Marshall more than any other quarterback targeted any other receiver during that time period.
There’s little doubt that Marshall has the capability to post 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns with a monster number of targets.
That little doubt?
It’s called the law.
Before the season began, nobody thought you could spend an entire season pouting about a contract, underperforming on the field and “alligator arming” countless passes over the middle, then actually be rewarded for it.
Jackson proved you could do just that.
The Eagles are taking a huge gamble that Jackson’s troubles last year were simply tied to him not getting paid. We’ve seen players have career campaigns occur in those contract years, then seen those players regress. I’m just not sure we’ve seen a player have a terrible season in a contract year, then return to form after. We’re about to see if Jackson can do just that.
If Jackson’s head is on straight, he can be a weapon in dynasty leagues, especially those in a non-PPR format. Simply put, there are few players who are explosive as Jackson in the open field.
Let’s just see if he decides to get open.
Jacob Tamme, TE DEN
You just simply have to love the reuniting of Tamme and Manning in Denver. In 2010, Tamme posted 67 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns, finishing as a top 15 fantasy tight end, despite starting only eight games for the Colts with Dallas Clark injured.
In Denver, he’ll have a chance at real TE2 production with Manning at the helm. Tamme is a good athlete and has shown the ability to produce if asked.
There simply wasn’t a better place for him to end up. Signing in Denver puts him squarely on the map, while landing elsewhere could have taken him completely off the radar.
Joel Dreessen, TE DEN
Dreessen was the other tight end signed by the Broncos. While we like Tamme quite a bit better, Dreessen has shown ability as well. Keep tabs on him during minicamps and the preseason. He could very well emerge with sneaky value as soon as this season.
Martellus Bennett, TE NYG
Veteran dynasty league owners likely want to throw up when they read Bennett’s name. After all, he’s been a constant tease playing behind Jason Witten in Dallas for years now.
In New York, Bennett has his best (and probably last) chance to make a significant fantasy impact. In his four years in Dallas, he was able to record 85 catches for 846 yards and four touchdowns, showing a lot of athletic ability. With Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum recovering from torn ACLs, Bennett has a clear path to a starting job with a quarterback who likes using his tight ends.
Can he finally shake the tag of being an underachiever?
This article was a feature on offensive players, but you have to love the addition of DeMeco Ryans in Philadelphia. As he moves back into a 4-3, he’ll have a chance to be a dynamic player once again as the anchor of the Eagles defense. Darryl Sharpton should also get a nice uptick in value as Ryan’s replacement in Houston. Don’t sleep on Kelvin Sheppard, either. He has a chance at major production playing the middle in Buffalo.
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