What Every NFL Free Agents’ Contract Means for Their Fantasy Football Outlook

Apr 12, 2019 11:00 PM EDT
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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Jesse James, DeSean Jackson, Mark Ingram

  • We can learn a lot about how teams value players based on their contract terms. Ian Hartitz uses them to analyze roles of newly-signed free agents.
  • We can use this analysis to identify which players should (or shouldn't) be on your fantasy football radar for the 2019 season.

As amazing as football is, it’s also the most dangerous sport outside of hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement doesn’t fully guarantee player contracts like the NBA and MLB do. The NFL’s system is without a doubt unfair to the world’s modern-day gladiators, but it can help us understand how highly teams think of their newly-signed free agents.

It can also help us identify which skill position players could inherit fantasy-friendly roles with their new teams (and which won’t). So let’s do it.

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of newly-signed free agents and their 2019 fantasy football outlooks based on their contracts and new teams’ current depth charts.

Jump to: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends

QUARTERBACKS

  • Only Nick Foles, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick were signed or traded for under the impression that they’ll positively be starting under center come Week 1. Case Keenum also has a chance.
  • Foles might not carry a ton of week-to-week fantasy upside in the Jaguars’ run-first offense, but he’s proven to be plenty capable of elevating his offense’s top receivers. For now, those appear to be Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook — though D.J. Chark’s big-play ability could produce some fantasy-friendly DFS spots if he’s able to play a consistent number of snaps.
  • Mr. Elite will continue to work under the long-term contract he received with the Ravens and is entrenched in Denver through the 2021 season. Flacco has objectively ranked among the league’s worst quarterbacks since his 2012 Super Bowl run.

  • Teddy Bridgewater reportedly had an offer from the Dolphins that would have made him their starting quarterback in 2019, but he’s choosing to spend at least one more season as Drew Brees’ backup. Bridgewater won’t carry any fantasy relevance this season unless Brees misses time due to an injury or suspension. Even in the event of catastrophe, it’s fair to question Bridgewater’s overall fantasy upside based on his numbers in 2014 and 2015:

  • All Ryan Fitzpatrick did in 2018 was average the third-most yards per attempt (9.62) in a single season among 1,497 signal callers to throw at least 200 passes since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He finished as the QB1, QB5, QB3, QB31 (benched), QB5, QB14 and QB24 (benched) in his seven starts. Fitzpatrick will continue to offer splash week upside in the Dolphins’ ridiculously fast offense, though there’s a low floor for everyone on what figures to be one of the NFL’s worst overall teams.
  • The artist formerly known as TyGod was one of only five quarterbacks to get at least $5 million in guaranteed money. The good news for Tyrod Taylor is that he already has a history of success with head coach Anthony Lynn. Taylor had his second-best season in adjusted yards per attempt (7.1) and ESPN’s Total QBR (61.4) with Lynn as the Bills offensive coordinator in 2016, ultimately finishing as the fantasy QB8 thanks in large part to his 580 yards and six scores on the ground. Dual-threat quarterbacks are always viable fantasy options, and the Chargers offer better talent at receiver than Taylor has had his entire career. Taylor would instantly be in the QB1 discussion if Philip Rivers is forced to miss time. (Note: Rivers has started 208 consecutive regular-season games.)
  • Case Keenum is tentatively expected to lead the Redskins, although Colt McCoy could also feasibly win the job. Neither offer much upside in an offense that’s struggled to find its way since losing Sean McVay after the 2016 season.

  • A.J. McCarron, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Mike Glennon, Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, Matt Schaub, Joe Webb, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, Derek Anderson and Nate Sudfeld all have short-term contracts that don’t include enough money to indicate that any of their respective teams believes in them as a long-term answer under center at this point. RG3 and Bortles are the most intriguing potential fantasy options thanks to their respective rushing ability.


RUNNING BACKS

  • Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray, Mark Ingram, Tevin Coleman and Cordarrelle Patterson (half kidding) are the only running backs who received at least $5 million in guaranteed money on their respective new deals.
  • Bell is poised to be a fantasy football superstar (again) with the Jets.
  • The Saints are moving on from Ingram with Murray, who has racked up an impressive 34 touchdowns since entering the league in 2014 — tied for the fourth-most scores on the ground over that span. Murray offers huge handcuff upside in the event of an Alvin Kamara injury or suspension. Murray could also be a useful flex option if Sean Payton and Co. continue to roll with multiple backs. Still, Murray is fully expected to work behind Kamara, who demanded one of the league’s largest workloads in 2018 during Ingram’s four-game suspension to start the season.

  • The Bears re-worked their backfield after trading Jordan Howard to the Eagles, signing Davis and C-Patt. Patterson is the league’s leader in yards per carry since 2000 (min. 50 carries) and also offers ability at wide receiver and kick returner, while Davis has a real opportunity to lead Chicago in carries. Still, Tarik Cohen figures to be more involved than ever in an offense that’s again expected to spread the ball around.
  • The Rams re-signed Malcolm Brown, who suffered a season-ending clavicle injury in Week 13 that ultimately led to C.J. Anderson’s late-season revival. CJA is now in Detroit, so Brown is in the driver’s seat as fantasy’s most valuable handcuff thanks to his theoretical three-down ability in the Rams’ high-scoring offense.

  • Special teams ace Brandon Bolden will return to the Patriots after turning his two carries into as many touchdowns during a vintage #RevengeGame with the Dolphins in 2018.
  • AP is 34 now, but he’s coming off a season in which he posted three-year highs in games (16), rushing yards (1,042), rushing touchdowns (7) and yards per carry (4.2). Washington’s decision to sign Peterson and keep scat back Chris Thompson could mean it plans to give 2018 second-round pick Derrius Guice something in the range of 10 to 15 touches per game instead of 15 to 20. It’s not the end of the world for his fantasy potential, but crowded backfields of solid running backs aren’t the most ideal situations to target.
  • The 2018 Chiefs boasted the league’s top-ranked scoring offense and accordingly offered one of the most fantasy-friendly situations imaginable for running backs. Kareem Hunt worked as the league’s PPR RB6 from Weeks 1-11 while Damien Williams was the RB5 from Weeks 13-17. But Carlos Hyde, who is now on his fourth team since 2017, hasn’t averaged even 4.0 yards per carry since 2017 and has always been a somewhat limited receiver, so it’s unlikely that the Chiefs have a featured role in mind. D-Will is #good at the game.

  • The Buccaneers fed Barber 234 carries and 29 targets in 2018. He ultimately played 55% of the offense’s snaps while Jacquizz Rodgers (33%) and Ronald Jones (8%) were also involved. Bruce Arians already signed his old friend Andre Ellington to help boost the position’s pass-catching ability. This has the looks of an evolving situation, as Arians could look to target a better overall fit in the middle rounds of the draft. Or maybe somebody could please just get David Johnson to Tampa Bay.

  • Jordan Howard is in a contract year and is positioned to work as the early-down and goal line back in a potentially high-scoring Eagles offense. Of course, Howard is only signed through the end of 2019, and Doug Pederson has regularly utilized a committee backfield during his time in Philadelphia, so Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Josh Adams and even Donnel Pumphrey could also see plenty of snaps.
  • The Lions’ decision to sign C.J. Anderson echoes the organization’s consistent commitment to a committee backfield, which is a shame, because Kerryon Johnson looked a whole lot like one of the league’s best young backs as a rookie.

  • All the remaining players are on one-year deals that guarantee fewer than $1 million.
  • Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy will form the league’s oldest backfield in Buffalo and seem poised to split both snaps and touches.
  • It’s unclear if the Raiders are done addressing their backfield. Neither Isaiah Crowell nor Jalen Richard received the type of deal that would seem to warrant a featured role, while both Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch linger as free agent options who could re-enter the fold.
  • The presence of Alfred Blue/Benny Cunningham and Ameer Abdullah/C.J. Ham should do nothing to diminish expected three-down roles for Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, respectively.
  • Neither Kenjon Barner nor J.D. McKissic figure to be threats to the Falcons and Seahawks respective two-back committees featuring Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith as well as Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny.
  • Kareem Hunt’s presence with the Browns indicates that Duke Johnson could be on the way out. The good news is Nick Chubb remains in position to work as one of fantasy’s best backs for at least the first half of next season.


WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The wide receiver position got absolutely PAID this offseason. OBJ and AB are expected to benefit financially in the short and long term after being traded to Cleveland and Pittsburgh, respectively.
  • Slot receivers Golden Tate ($23 million), Adam Humphries ($19 million), Jamison Crowder ($17 million) and Cole Beasley ($14.4 million) join elite field-stretchers Tyrell Williams ($22 million), DeSean Jackson ($15 million) and John Brown ($11.7 million) as the league’s only newly-signed receivers who secured multi-year deals with at least $10 million guaranteed.
  • The Raiders have completely revamped their wide receiver room. They landed arguably the league’s best receiver in a blockbuster trade and signed one of the league’s best field-stretchers. Their remaining receiver spots will be occupied by some combination of J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant and Marcell Ateman. Tyrell the Gazelle is particularly intriguing, as he’s dazzled with limited opportunity throughout his short career.

  • Humphries caught at least 55 passes for 600-plus yards in each of the past three seasons as the Buccaneers’ starting slot receiver. Last season was his best yet as he set career-high marks in targets (105), receptions (76), yards (816) and touchdowns (5) on his way to finishing as the overall PPR WR24. Still, it’s hard to see Humphries getting triple-digit targets again in an offense that seems to have Corey Davis and Delanie Walker locked in as the top-two pass-game options. Humphries is also moving from a Buccaneers offense that ranked fourth in pass attempts in 2018 to a Titans offense that ranked 31st.
  • Crowder will compete with Robby Anderson and tight end Chris Herndon to work as Sam Darnold’s No. 1 receiver, but the Jets’ new highest-paid receiver is set up well considering head coach Adam Gase and Darnold’s respective histories of feeding their offense’s slot weapon.
  • The DeSean Jackson trade makes the Eagles the NFC East’s most explosive passing attack. D-Jax has elevated the play of literally every quarterback he’s ever played with.

  • John ‘Smokey’ Brown and Cole Beasley are likely thrilled with their new contracts, but they’ll have to compete with Robert Foster and Zay Jones for targets from the always-erratic and still-unproven Josh Allen.
  • Larry Fitzgerald will be 36 by the time Week 1 rolls around. The Cardinals’ long-time No. 1 receiver will undoubtedly have fantasy value in new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense, though Fitzgerald is coming off a career-worst season in yards (734) and yards per target (6.55). Fitz hasn’t been winning with speed for years, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s able to experience a small fantasy renaissance as the de facto top pass-game option in what figures to be one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses.
  • Devin Funchess benefited mightily from the Colts’ plethora of cap space and secured $7 million in guaranteed dollars. The only other receivers who earned at least $3 million in guaranteed money are: DeVante Parker ($4.5 million), Danny Amendola ($4.3 million), Breshad Perriman ($4 million), Randall Cobb ($4 million), Donte Moncrief ($3.5 million) and Andre Roberts ($3 million).
  • Danny Amendola and Randall Cobb might’ve already seen their best years and slot in as their team’s No. 3  pass-game option at best in potential run-heavy offenses.
  • The Colts are the best possible fantasy football fit for Devin Funchess. Head coach Frank Reich appears to already have a crush on Funchess.

  • Parker is a 6-foot-3, 209-pound beast with wheels who has shown the ability to play at a high level in the NFL. Still, injuries and inconsistency has plagued his career to this point. Parker has finished as the PPR WR77, WR50, WR50 and WR100 during his four seasons. His path to fantasy relevance is crowed with receivers Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant along with running back Kenyan Drake and tight end Mike Gesicki competing for targets.
  • Both Perriman and Moncrief appear positioned to potentially work in starting 3-WR sets in explosive pass-heavy offenses. The Steelers and Buccaneers also figure to feed their respective tight ends, but there could be some undervalued upside in targeting these physical freaks if the (DFS) price is right.
  • The Packers re-signed Geronimo Allison to a modest deal, but he’s positioned to offer some serious upside if he can earn a starting spot in 3-WR sets.

  • Theoretically, there’s nothing stopping formerly-hyped receivers Cam Meredith, Chris Conley, Phillip Dorsett or even Kevin White from earning enhanced roles in 2019. Meredith in particular offers bounce-back appeal if he can return to 100% health in the Saints’ high-scoring offense.
  • The Patriots figure to feature Julian Edelman and James White more than usual during their post-Gronk era, but either Maurice Harris or Bruce Ellington could compete for targets opposite of Dorsett if Bill Belichick doesn’t ultimately re-sign Chris Hogan. Josh Gordon might be the best fantasy option of the entire group if he manages to find his way onto the field (ferociously knocks on wood).
  • There’s a scenario in which David Moore could work alongside Tyler Lockett in starting 2-WR sets if Doug Baldwin fails to get healthy during the offseason. Anyone that earns consistent snaps in an offense with Russell Wilson under center is worth a long look in fantasy formats of all types.

  • Danny Amendola, Randall Cobb, Jordan Matthews, Tim Patrick and Chester Rogers could start the season as their respective offense’s primary slot receivers. Still, targets could remain scarce considering each of their teams offer more competent options at running back and tight end than your typical NFL offense.
  • Andre Roberts, Josh Bellamy, Tavon Austin and Dwayne Harris were likely signed mostly for special teams purposes.
  • None of Justin Hardy, Tommylee Lewis, Geremy Davis, Rashard Higgins, Jake Kumerow and Eli Rogers are expected to compete for spots in their respective team’s starting 3-WR sets.


TIGHT ENDS

  • The only tight ends who earned at least $5 million in guaranteed money this offseason are Jesse James ($10.5 million), Nick Boyle ($10 million), Tyler Kroft ($9 million), Jared Cook ($8 million) and C.J. Uzomah ($6.3 million).
  • Only James, Kroft and Cook are expected to work as their offense’s clear-cut starter among every newly-signed tight end.
  • It’s unclear whether Jason Witten will return to his near-every-down role. The Cowboys’ tight end position is best approached with extreme caution in fantasy football, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on how Witten’s return impacts Ezekiel Elliott’s target share.
  • Cook clearly offers the most upside of the group, joining a Saints offense that’s certainly proven capable of enabling an athletic tight end in fantasy. The 32-year-old could feasibly work as a poor man’s Jimmy Graham if Brees decides to feature Cook as the offense’s No. 2 pass-game option, but it’s probably safer to project Cook’s ceiling to something closer to 2015 Ben Watson.

  • Vance McDonald is a huge winner thanks to the absence of both AB and James. McDonald has a ceiling that rivals almost any tight end if he can emerge as Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 2 receiver in the Steelers’ pass-heavy offense.
  • Uzomah and Tyler Eifert figure to split snaps in an effort to keep the latter healthy. Uzomah seems to be the front runner for the starting job based on his superior deal, but either could offer upside with a featured role considering the Bengals averaged the 10th-most points per game (27.6) in the league from Weeks 1-8 last season before virtually half their team got hurt.
  • Nick Boyle is a block-first tight end who figures to lose plenty of snaps to second-year talents Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. The latter seems to be the best bet for fantasy relevance, but the entire Ravens’ passing “attack” figures to offer a low weekly floor/ceiling combination.

  • Athletic receiving-threat Demetrius Harris threatens to steal targets and snaps from David Njoku even in the absence of Darren Fells. Although he’s consistently displayed elite physical gifts, it’s tough to see Njoku earning anything better than a No. 3 role in the Cleveland passing game.
  • The only other tight ends worth keeping an eye on are Jeff Heuerman, Matt LaCosse and Ricky Seals-Jones, who each have a chance to earn starting jobs with the Broncos, Patriots and Cardinals, respectively.
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