Pending free agents can’t even sign with teams until March 17 at 4 p.m. Thanks to “legal tampering” though, free agency landed like a bomb on Monday as teams with cap space scrambled to seal holes in their defense and/or add weapons on offense.
The first rounds of free agency typically inflict the worst damage on franchise finances – today’s savior will be tomorrow’s salary cap problem – but it sure is fun to watch unfold while scrolling through Twitter. This article examines some of the dynasty fallout for IDP purposes. Note that without seeing contract terms it’s hard to know the true length of some of these contracts (a two-year deal is probably really a one-year deal to spread the immediate cap impact), so consider most of this analysis to be more short-term in nature.
I’d ask if you want the good news first or the bad news first, but the universe is a balance of the two so it’s just going to be all jumbled up. As I see it, here are the top ten IDP headlines from the first two days of free agency.
I don’t think Bill Belichick cared for Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl without him. Not known for being aggressive in the free-agent market, this off-season New England came ready to play on both sides of the ball. The Patriots spent big on edge Matt Judon, who arguably becomes the team’s best pass rusher since Trey Flowers. Ultimately this doesn’t move the needle much on Judon’s value, unless he gets a defensive end designation now (he’s listed as an outside linebacker in non-true position formats). Either way, the Patriots’ use of a heavy rotation on the line will limit his snaps a bit.
I don’t know that the move really impacts the value of Chase Winovich too much. Even with the rotation, this has to be seen as a bit of a bummer for promising Josh Uche, who now surely won’t see a big enough jump in snap share to consider for lineups. New England also re-signed Deatrich Wise, who didn’t have any fantasy value before free agency and still doesn’t have any.
On the interior, New England raided two division rivals for Davon Godchaux (Miami) and Henry Anderson (New York). Anderson makes for decent depth, while Godchaux will team up with Lawrence Guy to form a very solid inside duo. It’s a value hit for Godchaux, whose role will be to occupy blockers so others can get the glory. I like the player, but even in defensive tackle-premium leagues he’s probably droppable to make way for your draft picks.
Jalen Mills also comes over from Philadelphia to provide Belichick with yet another versatile defensive back. Ultimately I don’t think this hurts or helps Mills, who was just an S4 with the Eagles while playing more than 90 percent of defensive snaps. He’ll probably play corner a good bit. I still like Adrian Phillips as a safety playing linebacker, and Kyle Dugger as an emerging and versatile presence.
Mills’ move opens the door for someone in Philadelphia. Marcus Epps is probably a better bet than K’Von Wallace, but ultimately the Eagles are probably signing a free agent or drafting a safety to step into the void.
Are my Carl Lawson shares excited to be out of Cincinnati and into the arms of Robert Saleh? Yes, yes they are. The Bengals never really seemed to be willing to unleash Lawson as a pure pass rusher. In New York’s revamped four-man front, he’ll get his opportunity on the weak side to give the Jets a pretty good pass rush duo with Quinnen Williams at three-tech. I may be overly optimistic, but I think Lawson’s going to be a big-play mid- to low-end DE1. I hope you already have him rostered.
I’m scratching my head at some of what’s going on in Las Vegas, but at least Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock got the memo about the pass rush needing a boost. The Raiders should get it with Yannick Ngakoue, an obvious upgrade on passing downs over either Maxx Crosby or Clelin Ferrell. I would expect a return to high DE2 status for Ngakoue. It’s hard to believe he’s now on his fourth team since last March after getting tagged by Jacksonville, traded to Minnesota, then traded to Baltimore.
Ferrell’s value drops even more with Ngakoue’s signing, though there’s been some speculation that he could move inside more on passing downs.
With Judon, Ngakoue, and Jihad Ward (Jacksonville) moving on to greener pastures, the outside linebacker depth chart is looking pretty putrid in Baltimore. No doubt a veteran is joining the current group of Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee (both re-signed) and third-year edge Jaylon Ferguson. One of the remaining big-name pass rushers – Carlos Dunlap, Melvin Ingram, Haason Reddick, Ryan Kerrigan, etc. – is probably going to land here, offering some immediate and cheap fantasy value at edge.
What exactly did Rayshawn Jenkins do this season to garner such attention during the legal tampering period? I truly thought he was “just a guy” as an injury fill-in for Derwin James. Clearly Jacksonville thought otherwise by handing him $16 million guaranteed. The money and lack of other options at the position mean he’ll play plenty in his new home. He’s clearly a winner simply due to the volume of snaps he’ll see.
Things are looking up in Cleveland (I know, weird, right?). The addition of John Johnson helps the cause by adding not only a playmaker, but a smart defensive play-caller at a position of need. Early assumptions are that the Browns will field more three-safety looks, with Johnson joining Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit on the field at the same time. If that’s the case, might we see Cleveland join the trend of teams moving to predominant one-linebacker looks? That makes rising sophomore linebacker Jacob Phillips even more tantalizing, in my opinion. Johnson, who became accustomed to playing with one linebacker on the field in Los Angeles, could maintain play-calling duty, while Phillips could focus more on reading and reacting.
As for Johnson, I don’t see a value bump or decline, so his landing spot isn’t really moving the needle for his fantasy value.
After ridding themselves of Benardrick McKinney in a trade with Miami, it seemed as if Houston was primed to re-sign fantasy breakout Tyrell Adams to pair with Zach Cunningham. Not so fast, as we’re instead getting a handful of short-term options – Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Joe Thomas – to man the other linebacker spots in Lovie Smith’s 4-3 scheme. Pierre-Louis and Grugier-Hill at least make sense as coverage options, a skill that both Cunningham and Adams lack.
None of the new additions have long-term dynasty value, and I can’t tell you which one to pick up right now, if you’re looking to add short-term help at linebacker. We’ll have to watch this battle play out in camp.
Jarrad Davis looks like an uninspiring signing by the Jets, but it’s only a one-year deal for a former first-round pick with good range and cover skills. I’m trusting Saleh to put him in a better position to succeed than Matt Patricia, and he could see decent snaps as a 4-3 weak- or strong-side linebacker. He’s worth a pickup off the waiver wire or adding in a trade for a late draft pick.
I don’t think the Jets are done at linebacker, so expect your Blake Cashman shares to continue to plummet into obscurity. Trade rumors have swirled about C.J. Mosley, but I’m guessing he stays to man the middle linebacker spot. I don’t know where Neville Hewitt ends up in free agency, but we’ve probably wrung out of him all the fantasy value that’s to be had.
Once Cincinnati decided not to place the franchise tag on Lawson, pass rush became priority number one for the Bengals. They turned to Trey Hendrickson, who exploded for 13.5 sacks on 558 snaps with New Orleans. Good for Hendrickson, but I don’t think he’s on Lawson’s level. We’ll see if he can repeat his big 2020 numbers, but if I had any shares, I’d be shopping them on news of a big deal.
The Bengals also let go of William Jackson – a really good corner – while bringing in Chidobe Awuzie (Dallas) and slot blitzer-extraordinaire Mike Hilton (Pittsburgh). Awuzie isn’t bad and Hilton’s a very good slot corner, but I would not have let Jackson go. Cincinnati’s loss is Washington’s gain.
Not everyone wanted to leave their current comfy confines. Shaquil Barrett stayed in Tampa Bay for obvious reasons. Leonard Floyd is back in Los Angeles to make another run with the Rams. And Romeo Okwara decided Detroit might not be so bad in the post-Patricia era. All received handsome paydays, of course. There’s no fantasy value change with any of them.
There are plenty of other smaller storylines that we could get into – the interior defensive lines in Minnesota and Jacksonville come to mind, as does Bud Dupree landing in Tennessee – but our final early free agency headline looks at the edge spot opposite Myles Garrett. With the on-field attention given to the top dynasty IDP asset, the primary edge rusher on the other side has a prime opportunity for double-digit sacks and fantasy starting lineup potential.
At the moment that man is Takkarist McKinley, who signed a cheap, one-year deal with the Browns. Granted, Cleveland probably isn’t banking on McKinley being the primary answer opposite Garrett. McKinley does have that first-round draft pedigree though, and some history of production before whatever happened in 2020. He’s not going to cost you anything but a roster spot, so if you have an open one, you could do worse than McKinley just in case Cleveland’s “real” plan at defensive end falls through.
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