The new league year begins Wednesday, March 14 at 4:00 pm Eastern Time. This is when all of the reported trades we’ve been hearing about can be made official. It is also the time when free agents can sign new contracts with the team of their choice.
For years, teams and players would agree to massive contracts just minutes after the arrival of the new league year. It was obvious that some form of under the table dealing was taking place, so the league’s fix was to simply make this once hidden communication legal.
Now, two days before the new league year are declared a “legal tampering” period, allowing the teams, players, and their representatives to converse and partake in contract negotiations, with deals becoming official two days later.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in NFL off-season activity, including a major uptick in trades being agreed to, which makes things more exciting for fans and fantasy players. This off-season was already one that had fans eager thanks to the stacked free agent class, but the continued increase of trades and other transactions prior to the beginning of the new league year has been sweet icing on the free agency cake.
All of those moves have set the table for what is sure to be a busy week around the league. Here is an idea of some of the moves to expect in the coming days. Players are covered in order of free agent ranks, according to Rotoworld.
Kirk Cousins, QB
Following the Redskins acquisition of former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, it has been clear that Kirk Cousins would be suiting up for a new team in 2018. In just the past six weeks, there have seemingly been multiple leaders for Cousins services, including the Browns, Broncos, and Jets. The latest and strongest rumors link Cousins to the Minnesota Vikings, who might be a top quarterback away from being a top Super Bowl contender. Cousins being paired with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen would look nice, though he is almost certain to see his overall passing volume, as well as his passing touchdowns, take a slight hit due to the strong defense and running game in Minnesota. Wherever he lands, expect Cousins to take over the title as the highest-paid player in league history.
Drew Brees, QB
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Virtually no one expects veteran quarterback Drew Brees to leave the Saints, but maybe that is something that has been taken for granted. The Saints and Brees are still expected to agree to a deal, though likely for only two years.
Allen Robinson, WR
It was a major surprise when the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to give up their rights to Allen Robinson, choosing not to use their Franchise Tag on the star receiver. Considering the huge upside possessed by Robinson, who posted a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season two years ago, it was a shock. He has been linked to the 49ers, Bears, Browns, Redskins, Ravens, and Panthers. Landing in San Francisco and being paired with young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would really boost ARob’s dynasty stock.
Case Keenum, QB
Quarterback Case Keenum enjoyed a career-year as he led the Vikings on a deep playoff run. The Vikings have multiple options considering all three of their quarterbacks are now free agents, not to mention the rumors linking them to Cousins. After some disparaging comments from head coach Mike Zimmer, it is safe to assume Keenum will be leading a new team in 2018. He’s been linked to the Broncos, who are looking to overhaul the position after failures in both free agency and the draft in recent seasons. Keenum won’t be considered a strong fantasy asset regardless of where he lands.
AJ McCarron, QB
Once a sure bet to end up leading the Browns with his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, AJ McCarron’s options are now wide open after Cleveland instead added Tyrod Taylor. With the Browns out of the picture, McCarron could actually replace Taylor in Buffalo. After seeing backup quarterbacks like Mike Glennon and Brock Osweiler flop in recent season, McCarron won’t see a huge value spike regardless of his new team.
Sammy Watkins, WR
After the Rams traded for talented receiver Sammy Watkins prior to the 2017 season, it had been widely assumed they would use their Franchise Tag to retain him if the two sides were unable to work out a long-term deal. Instead, the Rams chose to lock in one of their key defenders with the tag and risk losing Watkins, who scored eight touchdowns last season but otherwise disappointed. There have been few teams rumored to be interested in Watkins so far, but he is reportedly open to staying with the Rams.
Sam Bradford, QB
Most consider veteran Sam Bradford one of the more talented quarterbacks in the game, but his downfall has been his inability to stay healthy. This past season, that led to the breakout opportunity for Keenum. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer clearly has concerns about Bradford’s healthy, calling his knee issue degenerative. It is hard to imagine a team signing Bradford to be their starter without a strong Plan B in place.
The Vikings third free agent quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, did well to just get on the field in 2017, albeit for just a few plays. Bridgewater’s career was in doubt after a serious leg injury in the 2016 pre-season but now enters free agency with hopes of a starting job once again. The Jets, Jaguars, and Dolphins have all been rumored to have some interest in Bridgewater. He’d have to compete for a starting job or settle for a backup gig with each of these teams.
Jimmy Graham, TE
The Seahawks have been criticized for the usage patterns of tight end Jimmy Graham during his tenure in Seattle, but it appears that time has come to an end. There have been few teams rumored to be interested in the veteran, but he would be a good fit for many teams who have a weakness at the tight end position.
Marqise Lee, WR
The Jacksonville Jaguars hit paydirt back in 2014 when they drafted receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson and signed undrafted free agent Allen Hurns. Since then it was Hurns who got the long-term extension and the team is now likely to lose the talented Robinson and Lee. Lee has flashed talent throughout his four-year career but has struggled with injuries. He may need to take a one-year “prove it” deal.
Paul Richardson, WR
Wide receiver Paul Richardson enjoyed a breakout season for the Seahawks just in time for a potential big payday as he enters free agency. The Seahawks are already reportedly out of the running for his services, but the Redskins have been suggested as an option by a beat writer. Richardson is yet another player to deal with multiple injuries during his career, which could limit his suitors.
Dion Lewis, RB
Dion Lewis emerged from a crowded Patriots backfield last season to carry the load and lead the team in rushing. Finally healthy after years of leg injuries, Lewis is reportedly looking for a big payday and the Patriots don’t seem interested in that. Several other teams are reportedly interested though, including the Jets, Titans, and Colts, among others. Lewis will be a prime “sell” candidate in dynasty leagues, considering his shaky history and almost certainly playing in a new system in 2018.
Former second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins rejuvenated his career with the Jets over the past year and now hits the open market. Still just 25 years old, ASJ is underrated in fantasy circles, but maybe not in the NFL. The Falcons and Seahawks are both reportedly interested in signing him away from the Jets. Both would be a major boost to his dynasty value.
Trey Burton, TE
Through his first four seasons in the league, tight end Trey Burton has had few opportunities for extended playing time. This season, Burton’s opportunity finally came and he started multiple games in place of an injured Zach Ertz and even when Ertz was healthy, Burton earned a role in the offense. Even with names like Graham and Seferian-Jenkins on the market, Burton might be the top free agent option at the position. Considering they have limited cap space and no starting job to offer, Burton will be leaving the Super Bowl champions for a new team.
Tyler Eifert, TE
Although he claims he is fully healthy, it seems Tyler Eifert’s career in Cincinnati has come to an end. The team’s starting tight end missed much of the season once again after a back surgery. Much like the quarterback Bradford, Eifert is among the most talented at his position, but injuries have destroyed his fantasy and NFL value.
Carlos Hyde, RB
When the 49ers hired new head coach Kyle Shanahan last off-season, it seemed like the best-case scenario for all offensive stars, including running back Carlos Hyde, but that never really panned out. Hyde had a respectable season, but even lost touches to rookie Matt Breida at times. Hyde and the Niners are reportedly still working on a potential deal, but most expect Hyde to find a new team. He’s been linked to the Colts, among other teams, but his sales job might be difficult considering the deep rookie class.
Jerick McKinnon, RB
Throughout his career, running back Jerick McKinnon had disappointed when given the chance at extended playing time, including during injuries and a suspension for former Viking Adrian Peterson. That changed this season when both he and veteran Latavius Murray played well in place of an injured Dalvin Cook. McKinnon has stated he wants to be a feature back, and while there may not be a team out there willing to hand him a starting job, he will be looking for more playing time than he’s likely to get behind a healthy Cook. McKinnon’s dynasty value could see a huge boost if he’s given a nice contract to be one-half of a committee attack.
Isaiah Crowell, RB
The Browns have already made it clear they do not plan to retain their starting back Isaiah Crowell, which makes sense considering the rumors that the team will draft Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with one of their first-round picks. As a restricted free agent a year ago, Crowell reportedly drew interest from multiple teams, but the Browns ultimately decided to keep him for another season. That proved to be another mistake by the Cleveland brass.
Other Free Agents of Note
Terrelle Pryor, WR
Mike Wallace, WR
Jordan Matthews, WR
John Brown, WR
Rex Burkhead, RB
Donte Moncrief, WR
DeMarco Murray, RB
Frank Gore, RB
Potential Cap Cuts
We’ve already seen many players released as teams make moves around the salary cap, but there are certainly other cuts coming. Some of the players at least rumored to be released by their teams once the new league year begins on Wednesday include:
Mike Gillislee, RB NE
Danny Woodhead, RB BAL
Lamar Miller, RB HOU
C.J. Anderson, RB DEN
Ameer Abdullah, RB DET
Latavius Murray, RB MIN
Adrian Peterson, RB ARZ
Emmanuel Sanders, WR DEN
Jeremy Maclin, WR BAL
Breshad Perriman, WR BAL
Allen Hurns, WR JAX
Travis Benjamin, WR LAC
Michael Crabtree, WR OAK
Dez Bryant, WR DAL
Brandon Marshall, WR NYG
Randall Cobb, WR GB
Jordy Nelson, WR GB
DeSean Jackson, TB
Julius Thomas, TE MIA