While we don’t expect many superstars at the skill positions to change teams in the 2016 off-season, there are still many potential fantasy impact players who are impending free agents this spring. After a three-day negotiating period for teams, the new league year officially begins on March 9 at 4 p.m. Eastern, giving the NFL a primetime free agency special, and it’s possible many of the top names in this article are locked up in the days – or even hours – after the new league year starts (there’s always flurry of activity as soon as 4 p.m. hits).
In this article series, we will have an extensive list and analysis of all of the key free agents in the NFL this off-season (and quite a few guys who aren’t so key). Some of these guys will make an impact next year, and many will not. We have you covered either way.
To start, a primer on the 2016 free agency process:
Free Agency Glossary
These are terms you’ll hear a lot in this article and over the next few weeks. These brief descriptions should have you adequately prepared for the whole process.
Unrestricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued four or more years of service time and has an expired contract. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team in whatever situation for whatever contract he deems most beneficial, with no penalty to the acquiring team.
Restricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued three years of service time and has an expired contract. Restricted free agents are free to negotiate on the open market. Once a player is given an offer sheet, his previous team has a seven-day “right of first refusal” period to match the offer.
If the controlling team declines, the acquiring team could be forced to pay a draft-pick penalty for signing that player to a contract, the cost of which is depending on the RFA tender offered to the player by his previous club. On the flip side, if a player is not offered an RFA tender by his club, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Teams can also work out trades with interested parties, adjusting the terms any draft-pick compensation the player’s RFA tender would require (the Dolphins and Patriots did this in 2007 with Wes Welker).
Exclusive rights free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued two or fewer years of service time and has an expired contract. The term “free agent” is a misnomer, in that the player has no contract, but his rights are controlled by his team unless that team willingly decides to release him. If an exclusive rights free agent is tendered a contract (at the veteran minimum), he must sign it if he wishes to play because he has no negotiating power.
Franchise tag: Any player who will become an unrestricted or restricted free agent can be designated as his club’s franchise player. If a player is designated as a franchise player, he is tendered a one-year, guaranteed contract. To make a complicated scenario simple (and trust us, it’s complicated), the franchise tag under the new CBA signed in 2011 is calculated as a percentage of the salary cap, using the salaries of highly paid players at the tagged player’s position, which reduces the overall value of the tag (this was a “win” for the owners in the CBA negotiations). Every dollar of the franchise tag is guaranteed.
If a player is designated a franchise player, he can sign the one-year deal immediately, and he can continue to negotiate a long-term deal with his club. However, once a deadline in mid-July passes, the franchise player is no longer free to negotiate a long-term deal and must either sign the franchise tag or hold out (teams can also work out trades). Moreover, if a franchise player holds out past a certain date late in the NFL season, he is no longer free to sign the tag and will go without pay for the entire 2015 season (Vincent Jackson came dangerously close to this date during the 2010 season).
A player can be either an “exclusive” or “non-exclusive” franchise player. A “non-exclusive” franchise player is free to negotiate with other teams, like a restricted free agent, and like in an RFA scenario his previous club is given right of first refusal. If the club declines to match an offer sheet, the player’s previous club is awarded two 1st-round picks as compensation. Because of this, we won’t often see a “non-exclusive” franchise player sign with another club.
In 2016, teams must designate a player a franchise player by 4 p.m. March 1.
Transition tag: Like the franchise tag, the transition tag is a way for teams to retain their unrestricted or restricted free agents under a one-year guaranteed deal. However, there are some differences, explaining why it is not as prevalent as the franchise tag. First, and most notably, the transition tag is “cheaper” to the offering team, as it takes into account the salaries of the top-10 players at the position instead of five, like in the franchise tag.
However, transitioned players are always free to negotiate with other clubs, like restricted free agents, and their controlling clubs are given right of first refusal. But there is no draft-pick compensation for being unable to match an offer sheet, unlike the two 1st-round pick compensation on a non-exclusive franchised player.
This has led to very interesting scenarios in the past, in which teams included “poison pill” clauses in their offer sheets to transitioned players, making it essentially impossible for a player’s old club to match the offer (Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson were signed with “poison pill” deals in the past). The risk was minimal for offering teams – they didn’t have to pay any compensation, like they would have to under an RFA tender or a franchise tender.
That’s why the tag is little used. While there is less financial commitment, there is a greater risk to the club offering the tag. So teams could use the tag on players they know will be willing to sign it, or on players whom they don’t believe will be as valued on the open market as the player expects.
In previous years, teams could use both the franchise tag and a transition tag. Under the new CBA signed in 2011, teams can choose only one of the two tags.
Note: Cap numbers from Spotrac.com
|RANK||TEAM||SIGNED||OFFENSE||DEFENSE||DEAD||ADJUSTMENTS||TOP 51 CAP||ADJUSTED CAP||CAP SPACE (W/ TOP 51)|
|3||San Francisco 49ers||66||54401660||52590504||$6,616,465||$21,311,934||$115,152,179||$176,581,934||$61,429,755|
|4||New York Giants||59||68271233||31010343||$9,708,966||$12,050,159||$110,690,542||$167,320,159||$56,629,617|
|5||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||60||53974321||48021616||$396,904||$5,868,366||$104,851,174||$161,138,366||$56,287,192|
|8||Los Angeles Rams||53||51197027||50159922||$6,507,916||$395,189||$111,335,860||$155,665,189||$44,329,329|
|14||San Diego Chargers||53||58049750||46496876||$11,605,506||$1,504,767||$122,188,798||$156,774,767||$34,585,969|
|19||Green Bay Packers||56||68256343||69935046||$676,427||$8,169,289||$140,857,816||$163,439,289||$22,581,473|
|21||Kansas City Chiefs||55||70084756||59101130||$4,232,984||$2,685,930||$138,994,537||$157,955,930||$18,961,393|
|23||New England Patriots||60||68453476||59510743||$6,798,397||$4,372,451||$141,150,116||$159,642,451||$18,492,335|
|29||New Orleans Saints||57||61686122||53963251||$25,031,847||$292,062||$146,621,220||$155,562,062||$8,940,842|
|32||New York Jets||60||70670704||75538580||$568,734||$2,258,734||$151,053,851||$157,528,734||$6,474,883|
Team Needs (*Teams with greatest needs)
*Browns, *Texans, Jets, *Broncos, *Eagles, *Redskins, *Rams, 49ers
Steelers, Colts, Dolphins, Chargers, *Bears, Lions, Falcons, Saints, *Cowboys, Cardinals, Seahawks
Ravens, Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Bills, Patriots, Chiefs, Raiders, Packers, Vikings, Panthers, Buccaneers, Giants
Unrestricted Free Agent QBs
Ryan Fitzpatrick (NYJ, 33) – Fitzpatrick certainly earned himself another contract with the Jets after his career year in 2015. Fitz was a fantasy revelation in his reunion tour with OC Chan Gailey in his spread attack – the two previously worked together in Buffalo when Fitz previously had his most success. It certainly didn’t hurt that Fitz had arguably the league’s best 1-2 combination at WR this year with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but he did his part to get them the ball plenty every game. Fitz finished the year completing 335/562 passes (59.6%) for 3905 yards, 31 TDs, and 15 INTs and he added 60/270/2 rushing for 22.4 FPG (12th). He averaged 6.9 YPA and an impressive .64 FP per target (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). He threw for multiple TDs 12 times, which made up for having only one 300-yard passing game. He also played incredibly well down the stretch after his left thumb injury, which required in-season surgery that knocked him out after a series in Week Eight. He was the #6 fantasy QB from Weeks 9-16 with 25.2 FPG and he never dipped below 20 FP in that eight-game stretch. Of course, Jets fans won’t forget his choke job in the win-and-in Week Seventeen matchup with the Bills, but Fitzpatrick still had an incredible campaign at 33 years old. It seems like both sides have a mutual interest to run it back for at least another year, as Fitz has never had a season like this one before and the Jets have been starved for stability at QB. Still, the Jets will have to pay up for Fitz’ services because there are plenty of QB-hungry teams out there that would pay up. The New York Daily News believes his Fitz could get a deal similar to what Nick Foles got last season from the Rams – two-years, $24.5 million deal with $13.8 guaranteed.
Brock Osweiler (Den, 25) – Osweiler arguably played better than Peyton Manning in the regular season, but the Broncos turned back to their veteran QB starting in the second half of Week Seventeen and they can’t argue with the postseason results…a Super Bowl title. Osweiler flashed quite a few times with some big-time throws, but he also struggled to move the offense for long chunks of time. His performance against the Steelers in Week Fifteen perfectly encapsulated his tenure as the starting QB. He torched them for 4 first-half TDs and then struggled to move the offense in the second half. Osweiler finished the year completing 170/275 passes for 1967 yards, 10 TDs, and 6 INTs and he added 21/61/1 rushing for 18.8 FPG (29th) in 8 games. Osweiler averaged 7.2 YPA and .55 FP per attempt (league average was .54 FP/attempt for QBs). He finished with 20+ FP in just two of his seven starts, so he wasn’t exactly a fantasy-caliber QB, even with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal. The Broncos have an ugly QB situation if Peyton retires and they let walk Osweiler walk, so all indications are that they want to re-sign the fourth-year QB. Still, the Broncos have yet to open negotiations with Osweiler while they wait on Manning’s retirement decision. The Broncos don’t have a ton of time to waste, and a team like the Browns could be interested in Osweiler with their estimated $34.9 million in cap space for 2016. The Broncos and Osweiler will open contract talks at the Combine, according to Mike Klis of Denver’s NBC news. HC Gary Kubiak also made it clear during his press conference at the Combine that the team wants to re-sign Osweiler.
Robert Griffin III (Was) – As expected, Griffin has been officially released, ending his time in Washington as the Redskins move forward with Kirk Cousins as their QB. RGIII didn’t even play in a game in 2015, and at some point we have to wonder if just sitting out that year ends winds up being good for his health. At just 26, Griffin has plenty of time to turn things around, and he should have competition for his services on the open market, but if he ever resembles “rookie year RGIII” again, it’d be an upset. Los Angeles makes a ton of sense for both parties.
Chase Daniel (KC, 29) – Alex Smith has missed just one game to injury over the last three seasons, and Daniel has started just two games in that time and actually played very well. Daniel could look for a chance to compete for a starting job this off-season, and the Chiefs are likely to roll with Aaron Murray or Tyler Bray as the backup if Daniel is asking for too much money. Daniel has a history with former Chief OC and new Eagles HC Doug Pederson, but the Eagles already have Mark Sanchez under contract, so Daniel seems like a last resort if they don’t think they can get Sam Bradfordat a reasonable price or a rookie QB at #13 overall. Or the Eagles could cut Sanchez and pair Daniel and a rookie QB together.
Tarvaris Jackson (Sea, 32) – Jackson has spent the last three seasons as the backup to Russell Wilson in Seattle, which means he hasn’t done much. Over that time, he’s played in just 9 games and attempted 20 passes. Jackson reportedly had a decent market but took less money to return as #2 QB last off-season, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in Seattle for another season in the same role. Still, Seattle’s ESPN 710 reports that Jackson will test the open market to see what other opportunities are out there.
Josh Freeman (Ind) – Freeman made an emergency Week Seventeen start for the Colts last year, posting 15/28 passing for 149 yards with a TD and a pick. But the Colts didn’t see enough for Freeman to be back, so he’ll be looking for a #3 job elsewhere.
Matt Moore (Mia, 31) – Moore hasn’t started a game since 2011, but he’s still viewed as one of the top backups in the league. He took a one-year, $2.6 million contract last off-season to stick with the Dolphins for a fifth season, and he seems pretty content living in South Florida and working as the backup to Ryan Tannehill. We’ll see if new HC Adam Gase has another backup QB in mind, but Moore is likely their best option.
Scott Tolzien (GB, 28) – Tolzien played terribly as a backup to Aaron Rodgers in 2013, making two starts and throwing 5 INTs before losing the job toMatt Flynn. Tolzien has received positive reports since his 2013 debacle but didn’t have anything to do as Rodgers’ backup in 2015. Many expect Tolzien to leave during free agency, with talented 2015 5th-round pick Brett Hundley expected to take over as the backup after an impressive preseason. Tolzien is hoping to be the next Packer backup QB to study in Green Bay and be given a chance to start elsewhere. He is unlikely to have a big market for his services, especially as a starter, but he could land in a shaky QB situation to be in contention for playing time in 2016.
Colt McCoy (Was, 29) – Once a complete afterthought as a third-string QB in San Francisco, McCoy revitalized his career somewhat in 2014, playing well when filling in for Robert Griffin III and an ineffective Kirk Cousins. However, Cousins took the starting job in 2015 and ran with it, leaving McCoy little to do little but watch from the sidelines. It’s not outrageous to think he could get a two-year deal as a backup somewhere this off-season, including in Washington to work behind Cousins again with Robert Griffin III highly likely to be gone. There’s already plenty of support to get him back to Texas – where he was a four-year starter in college – to give the Cowboys a quality backup behind Tony Romo after their 2015 debacle.
Drew Stanton (Ari, 31) – Stanton didn’t have a whole lot to do as Carson Palmer’s backup in 2015, so he had some time to learn some dance moves. He actually appeared in seven games, and 18 of his 25 attempts came in the final game of the year when the Seahawks blew out the Cardinals – he threw 2 INTs. Stanton was serviceable in 2014 after Palmer tore his ACL, going 5-3 as a starter last season, completing just 55.0% of his 240 throws for 7 TDs and 5 INTs. He then missed the Cardinals’ playoff game with a knee injury, and they looked even worse with Ryan Lindley at the helm. The back-up QB is important in Arizona given Palmer’s age (36) and injury issues, and Stanton is likely a better option than #3 QB Matt Barkley. The Cowboys are another team with a old and injury-riddled QB that could look into Stanton’s services.
Matt Hasselbeck (Ind, 40) – Hasselbeck got beat to hell in eight appearances in 2015 for the Colts, but the 40-year-old QB told Seattle’s ESPN radio that he’s strongly leaning toward playing another season. With Andrew Luck out of the lineup for much of the season, Hasselbeck actually played fairly well in his first four appearances in Weeks 4-5 and Weeks 11-12, but a number of minor injuries started to catch up to him and his performance significantly tailed off in his final four games. Hasselbeck finished the year completing 156/256 passes (60.9%) for 1690 yards, 9 TDs, and 5 INTs. He clearly can’t be counted on to start more than a couple games in a season going forward, which makes him a risky proposition as a backup. He also doesn’t have a ton of arm strength any longer, but he still made mostly wise decisions with the ball. The Colts should explore other backup options but it might be tough to find a better option than Hasselbeck.
Brandon Weeden (Hou, 32) – Weeden had quite the interesting year, starting four games with the Cowboys after Tony Romo’s collarbone injury. The Cowboys then benched Weeden in favor of Matt Cassel, who somehow proved to be worse than Weeden. The Cowboys then decided to waive him in November, and he landed in Houston as the #3 QB behind Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates. Injuries ravaged the Texan QBs in Weeks 15-16, and Weeden stepped in and led them to two victories in seven quarters of action. Weeden appeared in six games total, completing 97/140 passes (69.3%) for 1044 yards 5 TDs and 2 INTs. Weeden said after the season that he’ll consider sticking with the Texans, but the team should be actively trying to upgrade the position. HC Bill O’Brien showed how little he thought of Weeden in the playoffs as he stuck with Hoyer while he was crumbling against the Chiefs.
Luke McCown (NO, 34) – Verizon pitchman McCown played well in a spot start for Drew Brees in Week Three against the Panthers (31/38 for 310 yards), but a back issue got worse as the season went along, which ended his season and required surgery. The Saints signed Matt Flynn to be the backup after McCown’s injury, and they’ll likely bring one of the two back to compete with second-year QB Garrett Grayson, who they clearly didn’t think was ready to be a backup in 2015 as a rookie.
Matt Schaub (Bal, 34) – Joe Flacco had started 122 straight games before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week Eleven, which forced Schaub into the lineup. He was a disaster in both of his starts, throwing 2 of his patented pick-sixes and 4 INTs total before injuries knocked him out of the lineup. The Ravens then signed Ryan Mallett to a two-year deal in December, and he’ll be Flacco’s backup heading into 2016. Schaub said after the season that he plans on playing again in 2016, but he definitely showed that he’s a low-end backup QB option. Schaub could return to the place where it all started for him in Atlanta, as he had plenty of success under Kyle Shanahan with the Texans and he’d certainly know his system.
Dan Orlovsky (Det, 32) – Orlovsky has been the safety-valve behind Matt Stafford the last two seasons, but Stafford has actually started all 80 games over the last five seasons, not bad for a guy who had durability questions early in his career. He actually had to fill in for a terribly ineffective Stafford in Week Five against the Cardinals, completing 21/38 passes for 191 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. With both HC Jim Caldwell and OC Jim Bob Cooterreturning for 2016, there’s a better chance for Orlovsky to return for a third one-year contract. Still, they might want to start developing a young backup to Stafford, so they could look for some competition in the draft.
Matt Cassel (Dal, 33) – Cassel had some laughable performances as the starting QB for the Cowboys this season. Acquired from the Bills in late September, Cassel eventually became the Cowboys’ starter in Week Seven, replacing an ineffective Brandon Weeden. Cassel made eight starts, and he was less effective than the guy he replaced, failing to throw a TD and posting fewer than 10 FP in five of them, which is unheard of nowadays. In all, Cassel went 119/204 (58.3%) for 1275 yards (6.25 YPA) with 5 TDs and 7 INTs. He was replaced by Kellen Moore early in Week Fifteen and didn’t appear for the rest of the season. There’s basically no chance Cassel is back in Dallas next season, and he showed that he’s a low-end backup QB option at this point.
Kellen Clemens (SD, 32) – Clemens has said in the past that he enjoys “constantly” learning from starting QB Philip Rivers, but the pricetag of that learning experience is 9 attempted passes over the last two years. Rivers has not missed a game since 2006, and while Clemens did show he’s a capable passer when needed this year (5/6 for 63 yards and a TD in Week Three of 2015), he will probably have more luck seeing the field playing behind a shaky QB or at the very least, on a team that has yet to peg their franchise QB.
Charlie Whitehurst (Ind, 33) – Whitehurst saw a decent amount of playing time in 2015 not because of talent, but necessity, as Andrew Luck was sidelined in early November and veteran Matt Hasselbeck began taking too many hits. He was put in some pretty tough situations and while the third-stringer basically played like a third-stringer, he at least helped the Colts win in Week Sixteen at Miami, when he entered in the second quarter. On the season, however, Whitehurst was 16/32 (50%) for 150 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. With Luck back next year, Whitehurst’s time in Indy will come down to whether or not Hasselbeck still wants to play (and if the Colts still want him), and how highly the team thinks of Josh Freeman, as he is under contract.
Matt Flynn (NO, 30) – Flynn is true journeyman at this point in his career, as he jumped from the Patriots to the Jets to the Saints this year. The Saints added Flynn after backup Luke McCown landed on the injured reserve with a season-ending back injury. Aside from 2013, when he took over for a struggling Scott Tolzien after Aaron Rodgers went down, Flynn has attempted more than 50 passes just once in his career. The Saints could choose between Flynn or McCown to be Garrett Grayson’s competition in camp next summer, as they clearly didn’t think their 2015 3rd-round pick was ready to be a backup last season.
Jimmy Clausen (Bal, 28) – After being waived by the Bears at the end of November, the Ravens picked up Clausen and he started Weeks 14-15. He did compile 555 yards in those two weeks, but it took him 85 attempts to get there and he completed just over 57% of his passes. Injuries to Joe Flaccoand Matt Schaub opened the door for Clausen, but the team signed Ryan Mallett to a two-year deal at the end of the season to be Flacco’s backup in 2016. Clausen is better off as a #3 QB on a roster at this point, as he’s proven to be a low-end backup QB the last two seasons.
Joe Webb (Car, 29) – Webb is the Panthers’ slash player, as he’s technically listed as the #3 QB but he plays on special teams and even WR at times. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness and earned a fine from the league for his activity at the end of a Fozzy Whittaker catch in the Super Bowl. BothCam Newton and Derek Anderson are still under contract, but the Panthers likely want Webb back next season. The Panthers love Webb’s versatility and his work on special teams, which also allows them to have three QBs active on gameday in case of emergency.
T.J. Yates (Hou, 28) – Yates saw his first action last season in Week Ten against Cincy, but his season was cut short after tearing his ACL in Week Fifteen. He played good enough in relief in Weeks 10-11 to get two victories, throwing for 3 TDs to DeAndre Hopkins. He’ll be in a race just to be ready for the start of training camp and he is far from a lock to be healthy for the start of the regular season, which means his market will be quite limited this off-season. The QB situation in Houston is a mess, but Yates might not be in their plans and will likely have to look for work this summer once he again prove just how healthy his knee is.
Bruce Gradkowski (Pit, 33) – Gradkowski dislocated his finger and injured his shoulder in the third preseason game, and the finger injury was so serious that he needed surgery. The Steelers cut their losses by placing Gradkowski on the injured reserve before the season started. He played a whopping 10 snaps and didn’t attempt a pass in his three-year contract with the Steelers. This season the Steelers actually need Gradkowski with Ben Roethlisberger dealing with a number of different injuries, but they instead had to turn to Michael Vick and Landry Jones. Gradkowski essentially hasn’t played meaningful snaps since 2010, so we can’t imagine their will be much of a market for his services. Still, the Steelers aren’t completely sold on Jones, even though he played reasonably well in 2015, so Gradkowski could be back to compete for the backup job in training camp.
Michael Vick (Pit, 35) – Vick showed in 2015 he has very little left to give as even a backup QB. Landry Jones, a QB the Steelers thought about cutting in the off-season, eventually badly outplayed Vick this season, and Vick also showed his typical fragility. Vick’s “best” performance came against the Chargers when he threw for 1 TD, 1 INT, and 203 yards in a victory, but Vick got injured shortly after that and never returned to the field. He’s said he still wants to play one more season, but we’ll see if there are any takers after it took a Bruce Gradkowski injury at the end of August for him to get a job last season.
Thad Lewis (Phi, 28) – Lewis hasn’t seen action since 2013 in a Bills uniform, and there’s no real reason to see him being anything more than a #3 QB on any team. He wasn’t even signed by the Eagles until Sept. 21 last season, and with a complete overhaul of the coaching staff, Lewis is a longshot to be back in Philly. He’s hanging on to his NFL career by a thread right now.
Josh Johnson (Buf, 29) – The franchise is rolling with Tyrod Taylor at the moment, and while he’s far from being cemented as their future franchise QB, it would take injuries to both Taylor and backup QB EJ Manuel for Johnson to see the field if he gets re-signed. Johnson is still fairly young and he showed some promise early in his career as a Buc, but he will likely have to compete for a job in Buffalo or elsewhere. He does know OC Greg Roman’s offense from his time in San Francisco, which could help him to stick as a #3 QB in Buffalo.
Ryan Lindley (Ind, 26) – Lindley was waived by the Colts in early February after needing him for some spot action in Week Seventeen because of injuries. He went nearly the entire season without a job after the Patriots waived in early September after Tom Brady’s suspension was lifted. Lindley will struggle to stick on a roster as a #3 QB out of training camp next summer.
Restricted Free Agent QBs
Case Keenum (LA, 27) – Keenum made five starts for the Rams in 2015, taking his first snaps in Week Eleven for a benched Nick Foles. While Keenum was slightly better than Foles by NFL terms, he was actually worse than Foles for fantasy. In five starts (missing Weeks Twelve and Thirteen with a concussion), Keenum posted 76/125 passing (60.8%) for 828 yards (6.62 YPA), with 4 TDs and 1 INT. He averaged only 11.6 FPG, which tied him for 42nd among QBs who made multiple starts. Keenum threw for more than 200 yards twice, but under 150 yards three times. Keenum’s a restricted free agent, and though he’s no better than a backup, GM Les Snead told the Los Angeles Times the Rams want him back. Ideally, neither he nor Foles will be the starter next year.
Matt McGloin (Oak, 26) – As a rookie, McGloin was thrust into the starting lineup in Week Nine and actually had a respectable six-game run in 2013, totaling 8 TDs and 8 INTs and passing for 1547 yards. It is now the Derek Carr show, but a solid backup can sometimes be hard to come by, so Oakland will likely want McGloin back in the event Carr goes down. He’s young and has a decent arm, and would have a nice set of weapons to work with if he is called to action.
Pat Devlin (Cle, 27) – He’s never played an NFL snap and is a 27-year-old journeyman who’s played for the Dolphins, Vikings, Bears, and Browns. While the QB situation in Cleveland is far from being determined, Devlin will be in an uphill battle for work no matter where he lands.
Team Needs at Running Back (*Teams with greatest needs)
*Texans, *Titans, *Dolphins, *Patriots, *Jets, *Raiders, *Buccaneers, *Cowboys
*Colts, *Jaguars, Broncos, *Bears, *Packers, *Redskins, *49ers, *Seahawks
Bengals, Ravens, *Browns, Bills, Lions, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Giants, Cardinals
Steelers, Chiefs, Chargers, Panthers, Eagles, Rams
Unrestricted Free Agent RBs
Arian Foster (Hou, 29) – To no surprise, the Texans released Foster to save them a significant cap hit of nearly $7 million, Foster’s agent Mike McCartney announced on Twitter. In 2015, Foster played in four games until suffering an Achilles tear in Week Seven. It’s one of the toughest injuries for a running back to suffer, especially one who has taken the beating Foster has and is going on 30. And while in those four games Foster’s fantasy performance was great by the bottom line – he averaged 19.8 FPG, which would have ranked him #3 for the full season – his peripherals were not impressive. He posted just 63/163/1 rushing, an average of 2.6 YPC. His value was rescued by 22/227/2 receiving (10.3 YPR) on 28 targets (78.6%). Foster didn’t look great even when he was on the field, and while he could still have needed time to get his explosiveness back from the groin injury, he’s got an even tougher uphill climb with the Achilles. Simply put, it’s hard to get a read on Foster’s future, but the odds are against him. He’ll have to search for a part-time role on a short-term contract.
Doug Martin (TB, 27) – Earlier in the off-season, it looked almost certain that the Bucs and Martin would find mutual ground, knowing he had a fantastic year in a backfield rotation with Charles Sims that worked beautifully. But the last couple weeks, Martin’s chances of staying in Tampa seem to have dimmed. Plugged-in beat man Rick Stroud has reported that Martin desires to see what his market will be before inking anything with Tampa, which makes sense considering the guy just finished second in the NFL in rushing. But his two poor, injury-riddled seasons in 2013 and 2014 combined with the fact that big-money free-agent RBs are often busts (DeMarco Murray) may limit Martin’s financial upside. That’s why we still feel as if Tampa is Martin’s best fit; he really made their offense go in 2015. He had four games of 100 or more rushing yards, including a dominant 235-yard outing against Philly in Week Eleven. Martin carried the ball at least 11 times in every game, had at least 20 carries in six games, and caught at least 1 pass in 14 of 16 games. While plenty of teams are looking for backs this off-season, it’s hard to find a better fit for Martin than Tampa, unless a mystery team blows him away financially. Still, there’s plenty of smoke blowing around the possibility that Martin goes elsewhere.
Lamar Miller (Mia, 24) – Miller’s been underused in Miami, at least if fantasy owners and Miller himself have their say. Miller’s was the only RB to repeat a top-10 total PPR fantasy point performance from 2014 to 2015, but at times was a forgotten man under multiple head coaches and multiple offensive coordinators in Miami the last few seasons. Miller told Miami radio that he wants 20 touches per game, and while the new staff in town under Adam Gase increases his chances of sticking around, he’s almost certainly going to go shopping on the open market to see what he might be able to get elsewhere. Miami doesn’t have a ton of free money, and if a team like Dallas makes an overture for Miller’s services, it’s going to be hard to convince him to stay in South Florida. There’s plenty to like about Miller’s game. On his 241 offensive touches, Miller averaged 0.97 FP/touch, tying him with DeAngelo Williams for #1 among RBs with 200 or more touches. He averaged 0.37 FP/snap, well above the league average of 0.29 for RBs. While he had five games with 20 or more touches, he also had three games with fewer than 10 touches. And it makes us wonder if there was something going on behind the scenes that coaches didn’t like. Miller did have some inconsistencies, including averaging under 3.0 YPC in six of 16 games, and though he was playing behind a bad offensive line, his ineffectiveness at times may have disappointed coaches. His market may be the most fascinating to watch unfold of the entire RB class.
Chris Ivory (NYJ, 27) – We’ll admit we were pretty surprised when ESPN Jets’ reporter Rich Cimini called Ivory “a goner,”, especially considering almost the entire Jet backfield is due for free agency (Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley). From Ivory’s perspective, it makes sense that he’ll try to get every dollar he possibly can. Few backs in the NFL put themselves through as much punishment as Ivory does, and while he had his first 1000-yard campaign in 2015, he was bogged down by nagging injuries all year. Ivory was “active” but didn’t play in Week Three against Philly with a quad injury. He played in every other game, but very often landed on the sidelines early with quad, hamstring, and knee injuries. Ivory averaged under 2.5 YPC in three straight games from Weeks Seven through Nine, turned it back on for five games come Week Ten, and then struggled over the final three games of the year (Powell really emerged at this time). Whether it’s in New York or somewhere else, Ivory is by far better served as the early-down option in a two-man rotation. He takes a lot of hits, many of them initiated of his own volition.
Matt Forte (Chi, 30) – Forte revealed on his own Instagram account earlier this month that the Bears have chosen not to re-sign him, though he wanted to stay in town. Now, the interesting part begins, because Forte clearly wants to be a full-time back and thinks he still has plenty left in the tank, while teams around the league may view him as more of a rotational player. If Forte desires to play for a contender above all (which he has indicated), that may also limit his market. Forte, however, proved he could be very useful even when splitting snaps in 2015. Prior to suffering his MCL injury in Week Eight, Forte played 80% or more of the Bears’ snaps in five of six games. After his return, Forte played fewer than 60% of the snaps in five of six games, and fewer than Jeremy Langford in two of those five. Nonetheless, Forte posted 100 or more yards from scrimmage in three of those six games down the stretch, proving he can effectively work as part of a backfield rotation. At 0.92 FP/touch and 0.44 FP/snap, Forte was well above league average in both categories. He will be a very interesting fantasy guy in 2016, depending on where he lands. He shouldn’t be too expensive at his age.
Bilal Powell (NYJ, 27) – One of the NFL’s hottest finishers at the RB position, it actually looks like Powell is more likely to be back in New York than is Chris Ivory. From Weeks Eleven through Sixteen, Powell ranked 6th among RBs with 16.4 FPG, and was far more effective than Ivory. In all, Powell scored 10 or more FP in six of his 11 games, but five of them came after Week Eleven. In all, Powell played 46.8% of the Jets’ offensive snaps when active, and was above 50% in four of his final six appearances of the year. Powell had only one game all year with 100 or more yards from scrimmage, but he caught at least 5 passes in five of his last six games to maintain a solid fantasy performance. And at 1.15 FP/touch, Powell ranked 7th among RBs with 100 or more touches. A solid protector and receiver, Powell is the type of guy who tends to have more value as an NFL player than as a fantasy asset, but he showed he could do both last year.
Alfred Morris (Was, 27) – Morris almost certainly won’t be back in Washington. That’s just fine with us, as he was generally among the most over-drafted fantasy players the last couple years, and has been terribly unproductive. At 385 snaps, Morris led the Washington backfield. He also stayed healthy, playing in all 16 games for Washington. And with 202 carries, he was 14th in the NFL, one of only 15 backs to top that mark. However, Morris’ 96.6 total PPR FP ranked him 53rd in the NFL. You’d have to go all the way down to Carlos Hyde, who was 39th with 115 carries on the leaderboard, to find another RB with fewer than 100 total FP. All in all, Morris averaged a horrendous 0.46 FP/touch. It was by far the lowest number among RBs with 100 or more touches (Melvin Gordon was next, at 0.54), and if the threshold is lowered to just 50 touches, only three players rank below Morris. If you want fantasy value, just hope Morris ends up on a good team with a zone-blocking system. Morris is at his best when he’s grinding out victories behind a good line. But we haven’t seen that guy since 2012. How much will a change of scenery help?
Ronnie Hillman (Den, 24) – Though we had plenty of issues with Hillman’s usage in 2015 vis-à-vis C.J. Anderson, Hillman was useful for fantasy. After falling below 10 FP in each of his first three games, he topped that number in nine of the last 13, which is a pretty solid level of consistent for a guy who played just 47.3% of his teams’ offensive snaps. Still, Hillman was generally inefficient. He averaged just 0.71 FP/touch, below the league average of 0.81, and below Anderson’s 0.82. Over the second half of the year, Anderson averaged 6.5 YPC to Hillman’s 3.8. Despite this, Hillman played more snaps than Anderson in seven of Anderson’s final nine games. This all changed in the playoffs, when Hillman posted an atrocious 54 yards on 32 carries (1.7 YPC), and Anderson clearly took over as the top back by the time the Super Bowl came around. Hillman stood out in no areas, and even though he’s regarded as a “speed” guy, Anderson was the better big-play threat this year. Hillman is still very young, which works in his favor, but does he have enough impressive tape to earn more than a short-term, relatively cheap deal on the open market? He may be best suited remaining in Denver with Anderson (who is a restricted free agent).
Anthony Dixon (Buf, 28) – It’s no surprise that the Bills cut Boobie, as they’re one of the most cap-strapped teams in football and they save over $1 million by doing it. It’s entirely possible Dixon’s career is over; while he’s a respected teammate and special-teams player, the Bills determined his special-teams work wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that he’s a waste of a roster spot as a running back. Dixon’s averaged over 4.0 YPC just once in his six-year career (in 2014), and was at 2.1 YPC or under in two of his last three seasons. He needs to latch on somewhere as a special teamer or he’s done.
LeGarrette Blount (NE, 29) – In 12 games before his 2015 season ended in December with a hip injury, Blount posted 165/703/6 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 6/43/1 receiving on 7 targets to average 10.2 FPG, tying him for 39thamong all RBs. In Blount’s 12 games, he played 35.3% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps. He topped 50% three times, but all after Dion Lewis got hurt in Week Nine. Blount simply isn’t a standout performer, he’s a “power” back who isn’t all that good in short yardage. At 29 and generally productive, he should be relatively cheap for the Patriots to bring back, but does New England feel like it can upgrade his position, even if it has to spend a few extra bucks? Blount has done enough in recent years to earn work somewhere, but we doubt he’ll have more fantasy value anywhere outside of New England.
Tim Hightower (NO, 29) – Completely out of football since 2011, Hightower got a shot in training camp with the Saints, but was on and off the roster multiple times in September, until being brought back in November following the season-ending injury to Khiry Robinson. Still, Hightower was little used until Week Fourteen, the first week after Mark Ingram was lost for the year. From Week Fourteen through the end of the year, Hightower operated as New Orleans’ top back, posting 84/327/4 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 12/129/0 receiving on 13 targets (92.3%, 10.8 YPR). Over that span, he averaged 20.4 FPG, which ranked him #2 among all RBs. That’s right – in the fantasy playoff weeks, the 29-year-old Hightower, out of football since 2011, was the #2 fantasy RB. A determined runner with strong pass protection skills and good receiving traits, Hightower enters free agency renewed, and he should be able to latch on somewhere for his age-30 season as a third-down/short-yardage specialist, perhaps even back in New Orleans.
Chris Johnson (Ari, 30) – Though we doubt there will be much of a market for his services, we’ll give CJ2K this: he did far more than we anticipated in 2015. He signed with the Cardinals in August, and pretty much immediately established himself as Arizona’ starting RB. Playing in 11 games before a broken leg ended his campaign, CJ managed 196/814/3 rushing (4.2 YPC), though just 6/58/0 receiving on 13 targets. CJ averaged 10.1 FPG, which ranked him 41st among all RBs. Among RBs with 200 or more touches, only Alfred Morris (96.6 FP) scored fewer total FP than did CJ (111.2). CJ also averaged only 0.55 FP/touch, well below the league average of 0.81, and ahead of only Morris and Melvin Gordon among RBs with 100 or more touches. All in all, CJ played 48.1% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps when active, and did everything he could to keep Arizona on schedule. But for fantasy, he was near a zero, a major disconnect with his actual role. He’s not under contract for 2016, and with the emergence of David Johnson, we doubt Arizona will have much interest in re-signing him. He’s unlikely to find more than a one-year deal anywhere, though at least he’s healthy (he would have been ready to play in the Super Bowl had the Cardinals advanced).
James Starks (GB, 29) – The Packers essentially handed down an ultimatum to RB Eddie Lacy this off-season, with several public overtures that he needs to lose weight. Given that, can the Packers afford to let Starks walk? That’s not to say Starks didn’t have his own struggles. In a four-week span from Weeks Thirteen through Sixteen, he fumbled four times, resulting in his benching in Week Sixteen. Overall, he still had a strong season, posting a 100-yard rushing game in Week Six, and adding three more with 100 yards from scrimmage. He set career highs in every major category (carries, rush yards, receptions, receiving yards, total TDs), and gave the Packers at least some stability with Lacy’s weight issues. We’d be surprised if Starks isn’t back in 2016, even though he’s entering his age-30 season.
Lance Dunbar (Dal, 26) – Dunbar was on his way to a huge season for PPR players, before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week Four. Through three weeks (the three full games Dunbar played), he was the #12 RB with 43.8 total PPR points, and had played 39.6% of Dallas’ offensive snaps. He played just 9 snaps in Week Four before his injury. In all, Dunbar finished the year with 5/67 rushing and 21/215/0 on 23 targets (91.3%, 10.2 YPR). An ideal passing-down option, he had games of 8 and 10 catches in his brief season, and should attract interest on the free-agent market this off-season, presuming he’s healthy. There isn’t likely a better fit for him than in Dallas, as the Cowboys clearly liked what he brought to the table, and he’d be a nice part of a backfield rotation with Darren McFadden and perhaps a rookie. He’s the type of player who will continue to find work because of his receiving prowess and return experience.
Stevan Ridley (NYJ, 27) – In 2015, Ridley played just nine games and 86 offensive snaps as he returned from an ACL tear. He posted 36/90/0 rushing (2.5 YPC) as he enters free agency, and he didn’t put a whole lot of impressive work on tape. Maybe he earns another look in 2016 as he’s another full year removed from his ACL tear, but he will have an uphill climb to make a roster, though he’s unlikely to be expensive and should get some looks on the open market for clubs looking to add depth without breaking the bank.
Joique Bell (Det, 29) – The Lions correctly opted for a youth movement in their backfield, releasing Bell despite the veteran having a year left on his contract (though, as Bell told mlive.com, he was offered a shot to stay with a pay cut). While Bell is a versatile player effective in short yardage, he’s now posted three straight years averaging under 4.0 YPC. And it’s hard to forget how banged up he was, as he spent most of the off-season on the PUP list because of surgeries on his knee and Achilles, and while he was ready for Week One, he dealt with injuries all throughout the year, including an ankle that got added to the ledger (it cost him three games from Weeks Four through Six). Bell may be waiting for a free-agency phone call for a while.
Bryce Brown (Sea, 24) – Brown opened the 2015 season with the Bills, was cut in September, then was off and on the Seahawks’ roster from the end of October through the rest of the season. Brown ended up appearing in the final three games of the Seahawks’ season, following the injuries to both Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, though he managed just 25/72/1 rushing. A player who has always had far more potential than true output, he may have a shot to stick around given Lynch’s retirement, and he’s relatively young, but we’d be shocked if he finds more than a one- or two-year deal.
Fred Jackson (Sea, 35) – The NFL’s oldest RB, and one of its oldest players in general, Jackson still has no desire to retire, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Fred played 16 games in 2015 on a one-year deal with Seattle. He posted 26/100 rushing (3.8 YPC) and 35/257/2 receiving on 41 targets (85.4%, 8.0 YPR). Jackson played just 259 snaps all year, 23.9% of the Seahawks’ offensive total. His impact for fantasy was absolutely minimal, as his 10.4 FP outing in Week Sixteen was his only game above 10 FP all year, and he never had more than 8 touches in a game. But the Seahawks are losing Marshawn Lynch to retirement, and there could be some value in re-signing him as a veteran option. Otherwise, it’s hard to see a terribly active market for his services. We love Fred, but he’s nearing the end of the line.
Steven Jackson (NE, 32) – It was nice to see Jackson latch on for his first playoff run since his rookie season in 2004(!), but he didn’t show much. Playing in four games with the Patriots, including the playoffs, the veteran posted 31/74 rushing, with 2 TDs. He averaged 2.4 YPC total, and didn’t touch 3.0 YPC in a single game. He’s going into his age-33 season, and we seriously doubt he’ll have a job in the league next year because he didn’t put a whole lot on tape.
Reggie Bush (SF, 30) – Injuries have always put a cap on what’s been a pretty good career for Bush, preventing him from potentially being great. Because of them, he had only 13 touches in his only year with the Niners. Bush was carted off early in Week One with a calf injury, missed two games, left in Week Five with the same injury, missed Week Six, played in full in Week Seven, and then suffered one of the flukiest injuries of the year in Week Eight. Bush slipped on a concrete track out of bounds in St. Louis while returning a punt. He tore his meniscus and ended up on IR, ending his season with 8/28 rushing and 4/19 receiving in five games. He totaled 48 offensive snaps in five games. In theory, he’d be a great fit inChip Kelly’s offense, but he turns 31 in March and hasn’t played a full season since 2012. Reggie doesn’t want to retire, but he’s on the one-year-contract track of his career.
Ahmad Bradshaw (Ind, 30) – One of the reasons Frank Gore played so many snaps (691, 3rd-most among all RBs) is that the Colts really didn’t have anything behind him. Bradshaw’s 159 snaps were the 2nd-most among Colt RBs, even though he didn’t join the team until Week Six. Signed off the street, Bradshaw played in only six games with the Colts until yet another season-ending injury, this time to his wrist. Bradshaw’s season-high in yards from scrimmage and touches came in Week Eleven against Atlanta, when he posted 52 yards on 13 touches. He failed to accrue even 20 yards in three of his six games, and he averaged under 3.0 YPC in three of six games at well. At age 30 with yet another injured body part, Bradshaw will have an uphill climb to find work next year, even as respected as he is as a pass protector and red-zone RB.
Robert Turbin (Dal, 26) – Turbin spent time with three teams this year. He was waived after camp with the Seahawks, claimed by the Browns, playing in three games before being released in November. He then finished the year with the Cowboys, playing in seven games. He finished with 50/199/1 rushing and 7/23 receiving on the year. Turbin just turned 26, so he has youth on his side, but he’s not a particularly exciting player. He should find a short-term deal somewhere as depth, since he can play in all situations in a pinch, but he’s no guarantee to make a roster, as we saw this season.
Mike Tolbert (Car, 30) – Tolbert’s the perfect example of a player who likely doesn’t make nearly as much sense anywhere else than he does with his current team. The All-Pro FB played 38.3% of Carolina’s offensive snaps on the year, playing in all 16 games, but had just two games of 10 FP or more. He’s just a thorn in the side of fantasy players given his propensity to vulture short TDs, but his versatility is key to the Panthers. A Carolina native, Tolbert wants to stay with the Panthers, and we imagine he’ll be able to follow through on that wish.
Dan Herron (Ind, 26) – Herron spent preseason with the Colts, then was waived/injured with a shoulder injury before Week One. The Bills picked him up when LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams got hurt prior to Week Five, then cut him following Week Eleven. The Colts picked him back up pretty much immediately, good news because they soon after lost Ahmad Bradshaw (wrist) for the season. All in all, “Boom” played in 10 games this year and posted 25/79 rushing and 9/47 receiving on 10 targets. Herron turns 27 in March, and his crowning achievement in the league remains his solid 2014 postseason showing. He has the versatility to stick in the NFL, but he’s just not a dynamic talent, so he’ll continue to be a #3 RB type. That should earn him a contract this off-season, if not a guaranteed roster spot. The Colts may choose to keep him around, given the potential turnover they’ll have at the position.
Pierre Thomas (Was, 31) – The veteran Thomas played in five games this year, one with San Francisco and four with Washington. He totaled 24 touches in those five games, and did most of his damage against a reeling Eagles’ defense in Week Fifteen. In all, he looked like himself, which is why it was so surprising it took him until November to get signed in the first place. Thomas told the Washington Post he feels like he has plenty left in the tank, so he’ll hope his limited tape from 2015 can help him get work from a team looking for a third-down option.
Bobby Rainey (TB, 28) – The Bucs’ main return man this season, Rainey had just 8 offensive touches and muffed a bunch of kicks. Nonetheless, the Bucs may look to bring him back for stability, especially if the club fails to re-sign Doug Martin. His special-teams experience should help him land work elsewhere, and he’s had several runs of fantasy relevance in the past.
Matt Asiata (Min, 28) – “The Ass Man” played in 16 games in 2015, and was actually second among Viking RBs in snaps, playing 19.5% of them (ahead of Jerick McKinnon’s 15.6%). But Asiata did just about nothing for fantasy, with 29/112/0 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 19/132/0 receiving on 22 targets (86.4%, 6.9 YPR). He averaged 2.9 FPG. An undertalented “handcuff” type, Asiata is a balanced but unspectacular backup best suited as a #3 RB or short-yardage option. Going into his age-29 season, Asiata won’t be getting many multi-year offers, but he has the versatility and special-teams experience teams look for in depth RBs.
Chris Polk (Hou, 26) – It was abundantly clear shortly after Arian Foster went down yet again that Alfred Blue was not the type of RB needed to carry the Texans, so Polk did see a decent amount of game action. But even when he did start in place of Blue, he was outplayed by the more-talented Jonathan Grimes, and Polk settled at the end of the year with a 99/334/1 stat-line in 15 games. He has talent and should always be in the mix, but is more of a No. 3 complementary back operating in a committee than a consistent backup.
Bernard Pierce (Jac, 25) – Jag coach Gus Bradley praised Pierce for his “toughness and his work ethic and mentality” in August, but that didn’t ever translate to playing time during the regular season. He suffered a concussion in Week Five and was later placed on IR with a calf injury in early December, so he amassed just 11 total rushing yards in seven games playing behind T.J. Yeldon. At his best, he’s a decent player, but could find himself on the sofa come 2016’s regular season.
Jacquizz Rodgers (Chi, 26) – Rodgers’ season was cut short when he was placed on IR with a broken arm in October, but he had played only 41 snaps prior to that point. In the pre-season, Rodgers looked like a lock to be the Bears’ No. 2 back, but poor performance and injury helped Jeremy Langford leap over him. He’s still young, but he’s never averaged greater than 3.9 YPC in his career (2.9 YPC in 5 games in 2015) and will likely be fighting for a No. 3 spot next year if he recovers well from his broken arm.
Jordan Todman (Pit, 25) – Todman had quite the Wild Card game against the Bengals this past postseason, rushing 11 times for 65 yards and outgaining Fitzgerald Toussaint 65-58 despite having six fewer carries. He opened up the Divisional Round but fizzled out with 5/6 rushing, and gave way to Toussaint over the final three quarters. If he does stay in Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell would have to go down again for Todman to get a shot, so we’re not holding our breath. Otherwise, he may find himself battling it out for a backup job elsewhere.
Kendall Hunter (NO, 27) – After getting placed on IR and released by San Fran, Hunter ended up with the Saints mid-December, and was again placed on IR after an injury in practice. He’ll likely struggle to get some offers in this off-season. Injuries have just totally derailed a once-promising career.
Travaris Cadet (NO, 27) – His 6/77 receiving performance in Week Seventeen at least helps his chances of getting re-signed by the Saints, as he was far more productive in one game than C.J. Spiller in the passing game. But he was on three different teams this past season for a reason. He can catch the ball well enough to land as a #3 RB somewhere.
John Kuhn (GB, 33) – Kuhn brings plenty of experience, fortitude, and physicality, but he also brings his age of 33 to the table, which is not ideal for teams looking to sign a fullback. Kuhn did have 2 TDs this past year and his price tag won’t be that high, but with the younger Aaron Ripkowskiwaiting to take over the FB position for the Packers, Kuhn’s days in Green Bay might be over.
Will Johnson (Pit, 27) – Johnson is more of an H-back and his future there is nowhere near secure, and the 27-year old who had just a 1.8 YPC on 4 rushes this season will likely be fighting for a roster spot come summertime. His flexibility (he could play some TE too) may help him land somewhere.
Darrel Young (Was, 28) – According to ESPN reporter John Keim, Washington has yet to open up negotiations with Young, as the feeling is that Young will be leaving D.C. He’s valuable on special teams and will come a cheap price tag, so he shouldn’t have much issue finding a new home.
David Johnson (SD, 28) – Johnson (no, not that David Johnson) is a FB/TE hybrid who will likely be competing for a roster spot as a blocking specialist, but it’s clear that Melvin Gordon needs any help he can on the O-line to gain some confidence, so the Chargers may want to take that into consideration if they plan on re-signing him.
Will Tukuafu (Sea, 32) – Tukuafu saw just 4 rushes in Seattle this past season, which is a bit disconcerting, considering the fluctuation of the Seahawks’ run game. He’s been around for a while, and the Seahawks often carry multiple FBs, so he could be back in Seattle.
Tyler Clutts (Dal, 31) – Despite playing a full 16-game schedule in four of five seasons in the NFL, the journeyman has never seen a carry and is used primarily as a run-blocking specialist. He’ll have to compete at a high level against younger options to land a roster spot at this point.
Donald Brown (SD, 29) – Brown’s release is no surprise, as it opens up nearly $4 million in cap space. In 2015, Brown played in 10 games, posting 59/229/1 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 8/88/0 receiving on 13 targets. He was a healthy scratch for the early part of the year, and was actually released in early October to clear a roster spot, before getting signed back two days later. Brown then became an important part of the backfield over the final three games, with Melvin Gordon nursing a knee injury. In fact, in Week Fifteen, Brown ran for 90 yards, two yards higher than Gordon’s season-high of 88. He can still help a team as a versatile back, but only on the cheap.
Restricted Free Agent RBs
C.J. Anderson (Den, 25) – The Broncos almost certainly will bring Anderson back, and they need to. While he was undoubtedly a fantasy disappointment, it was pretty clear by the end of the year that he was perhaps the most important part of their offense. For the season, Anderson essentially split down the middle with Ronnie Hillman – he played 48.5% of Denver’s offensive snaps to Hillman’s 47.3%. That clearly wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s intention, as Anderson played 74% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps in Week One. But he was totally ineffective, dealing with toe and ankle injuries. But Anderson rested up over the Broncos’ Week Seven bye, and over the final nine games of his season (he sat out Week Fourteen with an ankle injury), no back in football averaged more than Anderson’s 6.4 YPC, though he averaged just 9.4 carries per game over this span. In all, Anderson was more useful than Hillman in pretty much every measurable area down the stretch and in the playoffs, though he played fewer snaps than Hillman in seven of his final nine games of the regular season. It ruined plenty of fantasy seasons, but didn’t injure the Broncos’ chances too badly – Kubiak figured out Anderson was his best back in Super Bowl, using him almost exclusively over Hillman in the big game. Anderson’s good enough to be a lead back, and he may well get that shot – full-time – if the Broncos choose to not re-sign Hillman, who is an unrestricted free agent.
Christine Michael (Sea, 25) – It was a whirlwind season for Michael. Traded to the Cowboys just prior to the season starting, Michael could barely get on the field. He was released in mid-November, signed to Washington’s practice squad, released from there in mid December, and then signed back in Seattle the very next day, after Thomas Rawls got injured. Back in Seattle, Michael got to establish himself in the lineup out of necessity, and he did a decent job. In three games, Michael posted 39/192/0 rushing and 2/14 receiving, while playing 34.9% of Seattle’s snaps. He also started and posted 21/70 rushing and 1/14 receiving in the Seahawks’ postseason opener, though the fact that he didn’t get a touch in the divisional round with Marshawn Lynch back shows Seattle’s trust in him is minimal. Regardless, Michael finally ended up as the starter in Seattle, just in the most roundabout way possible. He turned in his first 100-yard rushing game in Week Seventeen, and there’s reason to believe that the club will want to bring the restricted free agent back behind Rawls, with Lynch now retired.
Khiry Robinson (NO, 26) – Though he’s a restricted free agent, Robinson seems far more likely to be back with the Saints than does C.J. Spiller. He’s also well on track to return from his broken right tibia, as FOXSports reports that Robinson has already gotten back on the football field, three months after his injury. In 2015, Robinson had at least 6 touches in all eight games in which he played, with more than 10 twice. He outsnapped Spiller times, playing 22.0% of the snaps overall when active. All in all, he was a handcuff for Mark Ingram, and with 4 TDs in eight games, was more of a fantasy nuisance than anything else. But he’s a good player, and the Saints likely want him back.
Benny Cunningham (LA, 25) – Cunningham has way more value to the Rams in actuality than he does for fantasy. Playing in 16 games, Benny posted 37/140/0 rushing (3.8 YPC) with 26/250/0 receiving on 36 targets (72.2%, 9.6 YPR) to average 4.1 FPG, tying him for 91st among all RBs. Cunningham turned in two games of 10 or more FP, in Week One (16.2 FP) and in Week Seventeen (10.2 FPG), with Todd Gurley inactive both times (Tre Mason was also inactive in Week One). In between, Cunningham had no more than six touches in a game, and three times went without a single touch. He contributed 714 kickoff return yards, and played 29.4% of the Rams’ offensive snaps, but he was more a passing-down/protection guy than anything else. He should be back since he’s a coaching-staff favorite, but he’s no threat to Gurley.
Jonathan Grimes (Hou, 26) – There’s not much going on here long-term, but Grimes has flashed his ability to make plays and find open space, as he had a 5.0 YPC on 56 carries this past season (282/1), and added 26/173/1 receiving. He also played the Wildcat role a few times this season, but there wasn’t much success there. Still, with the team expected to move on from Arian Foster and unspectacular backs in Blue and Polk on the roster, Grimes should still be an important puzzle piece from time to time.
Chase Reynolds (LA, 28) – Reynolds has been primarily used on special teams during his career, as he actually led the Rams in tackles in that department in 2014. But without a single NFL carry under his belt, Reynolds will most likely continue his career on special teams. He’s obviously very important to the Rams in that department.
Cory Harkey (LA, 25) – More of a FB/TE combo, Harkey had an impressive 5.2 YPC in 2015, but it was just 5 carries, so the small sample size doesn’t exactly work in his favor. Harkey can catch a little bit, so his playing time may depend on what the team feels is best to help Todd Gurley.
James Develin (NE, 27) – Develin missed all of 2015 with a broken leg but is looked favorably upon as a lead blocker by the New England coaching staff. For salary purposes, it’s more likely Develin signs a multi-year deal than gets a one-year tender, so Develin should be back on the field blocking as soon as he can.
Zach Line (Min, 25) – Line had his 2013 season cut well short by a shoulder injury and didn’t play at all in 2014, but he saw 16 games of action this past season. Line is the only FB on the 53-man roster as of now, so he should have a good chance of blocking for Adrian Peterson come September.
Derrick Coleman (Sea, 25) – Unfortunately, Coleman has made news lately not because of anything NFL related, but because of hit and run charges after he allegedly smoked synthetic marijuana. He was suspended one game by the Seahawks and will likely face more punishment from the league as the legal process continues. 23-year-old Brandon Cottom is waiting in the wings as the backup FB pending Coleman’s future.
Jorvorskie Lane (TB, 29) – Lane broke his leg against the Bears in Week Sixteen and hasn’t stood out in any area in his NFL career. At 29, it’d be surprising if Lane gets a tender from the Buccaneers.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent RBs
Charcandrick West (KC, 24) – We still feel that Jamaal Charles has plenty left, but he is 29 and is coming off a serious ACL injury, so it’s a no-brainer that the Chiefs will tender West, who was very impressive in short spurts filling in for Charles this past season, until his own injury woes opened the door for Spencer Ware. West worked as the no-doubt top back from Week Six through Week Eleven, a five-game stretch, until a hamstring injury sidelined him for Week Twelve. In that five-game span, West averaged 17.5 FPG, which tied him for 7th among RBs in that time. He played 78.3% of the offensive snaps over that time, and had over 100 yards from scrimmage three times. But he went down late in Week Eleven, missed Week Twelve, and then split time with Ware the rest of the season. Both he and Ware should be back to form a solid tandem behind Charles.
Chris Thompson (Was, 25) – If Thompson can stay healthy, he’s a valuable changeup RB, as he illustrated with Washington this season. In 13 games, he posted 35/216 rushing for a whopping 6.2 YPC, but also added 35/240/2 receiving. He played through a torn labrum in the final month of the season, and his performance reflected that, but he’ll be back in Washington as a depth option.
Terrance West (Bal, 25) – The Titans waived West in early November and the Ravens signed him three days later, promoting him from the practice squad a week after that. He saw some action primarily because of Justin Forsett’s season-ending injury, mixing in as the No. 2 man behind Buck Allen. He didn’t score a TD last season, but was decently effective when he did see action, so he will be back to compete for a job.
Cierre Wood (Buf, 24) – Unfortunately, Wood may be done with football soon if he can’t stay healthy or make any sort of impact. He was placed on IR mid-October with a torn ACL, and there simply isn’t any need for him on the Bills with LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and Mike Gillisleeoccupying the top three spots on the depth chart.
Raheem Mostert (Cle, 23) – Mostert flashed some ability in Eagles camp in 2015, but he was cut by the Ravens after getting signed in November and was little more than a stashed back behind Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson during his time in Cleveland.
Terrence Magee (Bal, 22) – The Ravens promoted Magee to their active roster mid-October but he served primarily as the No. 3 back and totaled just 5 yards rushing on 2 carries. He has youth on his side but with a healthy Justin Forsett at the helm backed up by Buck Allen, Magee will be fighting for a roster spot in camp. He’s solid in pass protection, which will help his case.
Kendall Gaskins (SF, 25) – There was always talk of Gaskins getting more work, getting more red-zone carries, etc., especially after the injury toShaun Draughn, but Gaskins ended up with just 16/38 rushing in nine games. The San Fran backfield was a bit of a mess after Carlos Hyde went down, and Gaskins simply didn’t do enough to show his worth and solidify himself as a No. 2 or No. 3 back, so he’ll have to fight Mike Davis andJarryd Hayne for a spot on the depth chart in 2016.
Team Needs (*Teams with greatest needs)
*Browns, *Bears, *Lions, *Vikings, *Rams, *49ers
*Bengals, *Texans, Titans, *Bills, *Patriots, *Chiefs, *Chargers, *Falcons, Cowboys, *Eagles, *Giants
*Ravens, Broncos, Raiders, Saints, *Panthers, *Buccaneers, Redskins, *Seahawks
Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, Dolphins, Jets, Packers, Cardinals
Unrestricted Free Agents WRs
Marvin Jones (Cin, 25) – Jones had some hype in the summer leading into the 2014 season, but foot and ankle issues ended up wiping out his entire campaign. He got off to a bit of a slow start at training camp in 2015, but he eventually won back his #2 WR role from Mohamed Sanu before the start of the season. Jones put together a solid campaign as a fantasy bench piece, finishing with 65/816/4 receiving on 103 targets (63.1% catch rate, 12.6 YPC) for 10.9 FPG (46th). He played on 85.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.69 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He was a bit of a hit-or-miss fantasy option, failing to reach 10+ FP in seven games. He also scored just 4 TDs and never reached 100+ yards in a game, as Tyler Eifert’s emergence hurt him a bit. He disappointed slightly at times for fantasy, but he proved to be a reliable WR once again off his 2014 injury issues, and he did set career highs in catches and yards. Both Jones and Sanu are free agents this off-season, and the Bengals are likely to start first with trying to retain Jones before moving onto Sanu. Jones is one of the top WR free agents this off-season, and he’ll have a strong market. Also, his old OC Hue Jackson, who absolutely loves him, took the Browns job and they need WRs. The Lions and Patriots also have needs for an outside WR and could show some interest in Jones. While making the rounds before the Super Bowl in San Francisco, Jones said he won’t be taking a hometown discount to stay in Cincinnati.
Jermaine Kearse (Sea, 26) – The Seahawk passing game has been sporadic at times ever since Russell Wilson arrived in Seattle, but Kearse truly had a bizarre season. He finished without a catch on three different occasions and he had a mid-season slump with 8 catches in a seven-week span from Weeks 4-10. He also played pretty well down the stretch, starting in Week Twelve when TE Jimmy Graham went down for the rest of the season, posting 24/303/4 receiving in his final six games. He also had another strong postseason for the second straight year, with 14 catches and 2 TDs in two games. Kearse finished the year with 49/685/5 on 67 targets (73.1% catch rate, 14.0 YPC) for 9.2 FPG (60th) in 16 games, which were career-best numbers across the board for fourth-year pro. He played on 71.5% of the snaps this year and averaged an impressive 2.20 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Kearse has already said he won’t take a hometown discount in free agency, and the Seahawks won’t be inclined to break the bank with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett already in the fold. It isn’t a great free-agency class at the position, and Kearse could be one of the more coveted WRs on the open market, so he could be an interesting spot like Golden Tate was two years ago. Heck, Tate could even recruit his former teammate to Detroit with Calvin Johnson’s potential retirement hanging over the franchise. The Seattle Times reported that Seahawks will try hard to re-sign Kearse, but Kearse will likely find more money elsewhere. HC Pete Carroll admitted at the Combine that the team has some work to do to get a deal done with Kearse.
Travis Benjamin (Cle, 26) – Benjamin was a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners through the first 12 weeks of the season, but he ended the season with a thud in the final five weeks. He ranked 20th among fantasy WRs in his first 11 games, posting 54/826/5 receiving for 15.2 FPG. In his final five games, he ranked 85th with just 14/140/0 for 5.8 FPG. The season appeared to catch up to him, as he dealt with shoulder and ankle issues late in the year. It also didn’t help that he dealt with a QB carousel between Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis to end the year after Josh McCown went down for the year. Even with his late-season swoon, Benjamin finished with 68/966/5 receiving on 124 targets (54.8% catch rate, 14.2 YPC) for 12.2 FPG (37th). He played on 77.0% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.58 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Benjamin is a free agent this off-season and it will be interesting to see just how much interest he generates on the open market. The Browns are heavily interested in bringing him back, no matter what happens with the Josh Gordon reinstatement. New HC Hue Jackson and Benjamin have already hit it off, and Benjamin sounds pretty optimistic about reaching deal with the Browns before free agency opens.
Rueben Randle (NYG, 24) – Randle was given a golden chance this season to earn a fat free agency contract in 2016. He was in the final year of his contract and Victor Cruz missed the entire season with his calf injury. Not surprisingly, he disappointed like usual because of his inconsistent play, even with Odell Beckham commanding all the attention across from him. Randle finished with 57/797/8 receiving on 90 targets (63.3% catch rate, 14.0 YPC) for 11.5 FPG (42nd), while playing 89.4% of the snaps this year. He actually averaged an impressive 2.05 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs) thanks to his 8 TDs. He’s driven Eli Manning and the coaching staff nuts because of his inconsistent play in his first four seasons, and he’ll likely find a new landing spot for the 2016 season. Randle will actually turn only 25 this May, and he has the physical attributes to get plenty of interest as a free agent, but he did squander an opportunity to impress in 2015. The Newark Star-Ledger believes Randle will receive more money in free agency than the Giants will be willing to pay for his services, and a fresh start is probably best for both sides.
Rishard Matthews (Mia, 26) – Matthews originally started last summer wanting out of Miami, as he was buried down the depth chart behind Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker. The Dolphins didn’t give in and held onto him, and he eventually became the second option early in the year before a rib injury ended his season in Week Twelve. The Dolphins seemed to be extra cautious with Matthews in the final weeks of the season, as the organization was clearly taking a long look at Parker at the end of the year. Matthews was a viable WR3 in PPR formats while he was healthy, finishing with 43/662/4 receiving on 61 targets (70.5% catch rate, 15.4 YPC) for 12.1 FPG (38th) in 11 games. He played on 72.8% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.19 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Matthews isn’t an explosive receiver downfield, but he plays much bigger than his 6’0”, 217-pound frame. He’s a physical player in the intermediate areas, which is where Ryan Tannehill is at his best. Matthews definitely has a rapport with Tannehill and it may be in the interest of both sides to work out a deal. Still, Matthews would be no more than the #3 WR next season with Parker a definite starter next year and Stills ticketed for a bigger role in Adam Gase’s offense. Matthews could want to compete for a bigger role somewhere else, and the Dolphins also have bigger needs on this roster, so a parting of the ways seems almost inevitable at this point. However, in what the Miami Herald called “stunning news”, the Dolphins have reached out to Matthews about a new contract.
Mohamed Sanu (Cin, 26) – Sanu went back to his #3 WR role this season with a healthy Marvin Jones back in the fold in 2015. The Bengals love Sanu because of his versatility out of the slot and in the backfield, but his numbers were suppressed due to the return of Jones and the emergence of Tyler Eifert. He finished with 33/394/0 receiving on 48 targets (68.8% catch rate, 11.9 YPC) and he also added 10/71/2 rushing for 5.7 FPG. Sanu played on 60.9% of the snaps this year and he averaged 1.91 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), which was aided by his running. Both Sanu and Jones are free agents this off-season, and the Bengals are likely to start first with trying to retain Jones before moving onto Sanu. It feels like the Bengals will try to retain Sanu, and he’ll certainly be the cheaper option to keep around. With Victor Cruz’s career up in the air and Rueben Randleexpected to leave during free agency, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports that Sanu is one of the Giants top free agency targets because of his ability out of the slot. Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez reports “there is virtually no chance Sanu returns to the Bengals”, and he lists the Falcons and Browns along with the Giants as teams that have expressed interest.
Roddy White (Atl, 34) – White, who will be 35 next season, has seen his production dip some since 2013, but he fell off a cliff in 2015 despite plenty of playing time. He had a surprisingly reduced role in first-year OC Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and he even fell behind Leonard Hankerson – when he was healthy – in the passing-game pecking order. White still finished with the second-most catches for a WR on the team, but he had 93 fewer catches than Julio Jones, as Matt Ryan had basically the entire passing game through Jones. White finished with 43/506/1 receiving on 70 targets (61.4% catch rate, 11.8 YPC) for 6.2 FPG in 16 games. He still played on 82.1% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.42 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He posted two goose eggs and he hit 10+ FP just four times all season, and he never even reached 13+ FP in a single game. GM Thomas Dimitroff didn’t exactly give Roddy a ringing endorsement at the end of January, so it wasn’t shocking when the team cut him in early March. White is the best Falcon WR of all-time – at least for now – but Roddy plans on continuing his career for at least one more season. The Bucs and Roddy could be an interesting pairing since he played under HC Dirk Koetter for three seasons in Atlanta and the Bucs desperately need WR depth.
Brandon LaFell (NE, 29) – All you need to know about LaFell’s season is that Tom Brady didn’t even consider throwing it to him in the AFC Championship, and he eventually found himself on the bench behind the likes of Keshawn Martin and Danny Amendola. LaFell underwent off-season foot surgery and then never looked right after he returned in Week Seven after missing the entire spring and summer. He had major issues with drops, his route running was sloppy, and he lacked explosiveness even when he did catch the ball. LaFell also saw by far the most targets (73) at WR without scoring a touchdown. He ranked right up there with Davante Adams for being the worst WR that saw starter snaps. LaFell played on 86.4% of the snaps this year and averaged a pathetic 1.22 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs), ahead of only Adams among WRs with 50+ targets. He finished with 37/515/0 receiving on 73 targets (50.7% catch rate, 13.9 YPC) for 8.1 FPG (68th) in 11 games. The Patriots saved $2.7 million by cutting ties with LaFell in early March.
Anquan Boldin (SF, 35) – Boldin just won’t go away as he continues to find ways to be fantasy relevant each season despite his diminishing skills. He’s never been a prolific athlete, but he’s struggled to get separation from defenders more than ever in his 13th season. Still, he was the only reliable WR in a terrible QB situation with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, so he saw plenty of work most weeks. He finished the year with 69/789/4 receiving on 109 targets (63.3% catch rate, 11.4 YPC) for 12.3 FPG (33rd) in 14 games, missing two games because of a hamstring injury. He played 86.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.58 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). For being thought of as a safe option for PPR formats, he was completely hit or miss this season, with seven games under 9 FP and 14+ FP in his other seven games. New HC Chip Kelly does love big, physical WRs to work out of the slot like Jordan Matthews (6’3”, 212 pounds) did the last two years, and Boldin would seem to be an ideal fit for Kelly’s offense. Still, Boldin will be 36 years old next season, and Kelly could look to get younger at the position instead of using a one-year stopgap in Boldin. The 49ers might want to bring Boldin back at a reasonable price, but he might look to land in a place where he can contend for another championship before the end of his career. He has chance to be a WR3 in Kelly’s offense and is more likely to be a fantasy bench piece in another location.
Brian Quick (LA, 26) – Quick was headed toward a breakout season early in 2014 before a shoulder injury that needed surgery ended his season. His subsequent glacial recovery got him off to an incredibly slow start in 2015. He saw limited work in the preseason and was inactive for the first three games of the year before he even started to see limited snaps. He finished the year with 10/102/0 receiving on 32 targets (31.3% catch rate, 10.2 YPC) for 1.6 FPG in 13 games. He played on just 44% of the snaps this year and averaged a miserable .63 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Of course, the Rams had the worst QB play of any team in the league, which squashed Quick’s limited chances to show any of his talent this season. Quick, who will turn 27 in May, should have an interesting market this off-season because he is loaded with talent as a big target (6’3”, 218 pounds) on the outside but has yet to really accomplish much in four years – outside of his promising stretch to start the 2014 season. He could look to sign a one-year deal in a better offense to try to establish more value in free agency in 2017.
Andre Holmes (Oak, 27) – Holmes saw his playing time dwindle in 2015 after a mini-breakout season in 2014, which wasn’t surprising with the addition of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. What was a surprise was that Holmes also fell behind rookie Seth Roberts, as Holmes was the #4 WR in this offense. Holmes finished with just 14/201/4 receiving on 32 targets (43.8% catch rate, 14.4 YPC) for 3.6 FPG in 16 games, failing to register a catch in eight games. Holmes played on 33.8% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.87 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He should have some interested teams because of his speed and length (6’4”, 210 pounds), and he still has some potential with more playing time despite the fact that he’ll 28 years in June.
Nate Washington (Hou, 32) – Washington is just fine as a veteran #4 WR at this point in his career, but he was miscast as #2 WR for the Texans last season. He did a serviceable job across from DeAndre Hopkins, posting 47/658/4 receiving on 94 targets (50% catch rate, 14.0 YPC) for 9.8 FPG (54th). He missed two games to a hamstring injury early in the year, and he also dealt with a hip issue late in the year. He dropped 6 passes this season and his miserable catch rate helped him to average 1.46 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He played a solid 76.6% of the snaps this year, but he and Cecil Shorts were below-average complements to Hopkins. Washington could be back in Houston as a depth option, but the Texans should be in the market for younger legs with more speed than Washington – who will be 33 next season – provided this season.
James Jones (GB, 31) – Jones went from being cut twice in one year – by the Raiders and Giants – to being the most reliable WR for Aaron Rodgers by the end of the year. It was that kind of year for the Packer passing game. The Giants released Jones in early September and the Packers quickly snatched him up to fill the void left behind after Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury. Jones has never been great at creating much separation from defenders, but he’s good at making contested catches and Rodgers trusted him inside the red zone. He finished the year with 50/890/8 receiving on 99 targets (50.1% catch rate, 17.8 YPC) for 11.7 FPG (40th). He played 91% of the snaps this year and averaged an impressive 1.89 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Jones opened the season with a bang, posting 21/424/6 through Week Six, and he played well in the final four games, with 19/279/1. What happened in between? Not much. He hit 3+ catches just one time between Weeks 7-13, and he had two goose eggs and two 1-catch games in that stretch. Jones hopes to re-sign with Green Bay for his 32-year-old season, but the Packers have plenty of young talent behind him, so we’ll see if he fits into their plans going forward. The Packers let Jones walk back in 2013, so they have done it in the past. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel expects the Packers to move on from Jones and give their younger WRs a chance to play.
Marques Colston (NO, 32) – Colston will likely end his career as the best wide receiver to ever play for the Saints, but he was clearly on the downside of his career in his 10th season. Age – he’ll turn 33 this summer – and injuries caught up to him in 2015. He missed a game because of a shoulder injury and the final two games of the season because of a chest issue. It also didn’t help that Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman looked like better options for Drew Brees by the end of the year. Colston finished with by far his worst numbers of his career, recording 45/520/4 receiving on 67 targets (67.2% catch rate, 11.6 YPC) for 9.3 FPG (58th) in 13 games. He played on 60.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.81 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Colston did score 3 TDs in his final two games of the year, which helped his fantasy bottom line, but he still topped 40+ yards in just three games. The Saints no longer viewed Colston as a viable asset to this passing game, and they cut him in late February to save $3.2 million. It looks like Coleman is a viable replacement at an 11 times cheaper salary ($525K compared to $5.9 million).
Percy Harvin (Buf, 27) – It feels like we may have seen the last of Harvin, who will actually turn only 28 in May but has been ravaged by injuries through seven seasons. He got off to a fine start with 19 catches in his first four games but yet another one of his seasons ended because of injury. His chronic hip issues came back and he missed the last 11 games of the year. He finished with 19/218/1 receiving on 30 targets (63.3% catch rate, 11.5 YPC) for 10.0 FPG (52nd) in five games. He played on 74.1% of the snaps this year and finished with the league average 1.66 FP per target for WRs. Harvin essentially signed a one-year prove-it deal – his contract automatically voided on Feb. 12 – but couldn’t stay healthy once again. Harvin hasn’t given any indication on if he’ll play football again or retire, but we can’t imagine he’ll have much of a market, and he simply can’t be trusted at this point.
Leonard Hankerson (Buf, 27) – Hankerson bounced from Atlanta to New England and eventually to Buffalo at the end of the season. He dealt with a rib injury and a lingering hamstring issue for parts of the season, and the Falcons eventually placed him on the IR, but he got his release from the team after being medically cleared to play again. The Falcons tried desperately to make him their #2 WR over Roddy White, and he had a decent three-game run in Weeks 2-4 with 15/225/2 receiving. Other than that stretch, Hankerson did little because of his hamstring issues and general poor play. He finished the year with 26/327/3 on 46 targets (56.5% catch rate, 12.6 YPC) for 7.7 FPG (72nd) in 10 games, averaging 1.67 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Hankerson played well for three games, but he’s had durability issues throughout his career and won’t have a big market for his services.
Chris Givens (Bal, 26) – The Ravens were desperately lacking a vertical threat early in the season with Torrey Smith gone to the 49ers and rookieBreshad Perriman unable to get on the field, so the Ravens acquired Givens in a trade with the Rams in October. Givens gave the Ravens some much-needed speed but little else, as he didn’t hit many big plays and struggled to run any other routes outside of “fly” patterns. He finished the year with 20/353/1 receiving in 15 games split between the Rams and the Ravens. Givens had some potential after posting 42/698/3 as a rookie in 2012, but he hasn’t developed into an all-around receiver and is still a one-trick pony after four seasons. The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec believes the Ravens will let Givens walk because of their other options at WR, but he should get a couple looks simply because of his speed.
Jerricho Cotchery (Car, 33) – Cotchery was about as boring as it gets for a #3 WR in 2015, but he did see a few targets a game from Cam Newton each week. Including the playoffs, Cotchery caught to 2-4 passes in 14 of his 17 games, and he rarely did much after the catch. He finished with 39/485/3 receiving on 54 targets (72.2% catch rate, 12.4 YPC) for 7.7 FPG in 14 regular season games. He played on 42.8% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.98 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Cotchery was little more than a glorified check-down option because Cam rarely throws it to his RBs – they combined for 51 catches as a group. The Panthers could do better than the soon-to-be 34-year-old WR out of the slot next season, but he’s also a safe fallback plan for them.
Lance Moore (Det, 32) – Moore is hoping to return to the Lions next season, but we’ll see if he fits into the Lions’ off-season plans at WR. The Lions signed him to a one-year deal because of his familiarity with Joe Lombardi’s offense, but Lombardi is now obviously gone and Jim Bob Cooter is now in charge. And Moore’s usage tailed off in the second half of the year with Cooter in charge, as Moore had just 5 catches in his final five games. He also missed two games from Week Eleven on with an ankle issue, so his health may have also hurt his production. He finished the year with 29/337/4 receiving on 42 targets (69% catch rate, 11.6 YPC) for 6.2 FPG. He played on 61.4% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.06 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Moore had a nice two-game run in Weeks 5-6 with 39.1 FPG, which accounted for 45.2% of his fantasy production for the year. The Lions should look to the future with T.J. Jones out of the slot, but Moore could return on a cheap contract.
Jordan Norwood (Den, 29) – Norwood’s 2015 season will be most remembered for his wacky punt return in the Super Bowl, which turned out to be the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (61 yards). Norwood actually finished third among Bronco WRs with 22/207/0 receiving on 32 targets, which obviously put him well behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Norwood is nothing more than a slot WR, but he did a solid job after not seeing an NFL snap since 2012, and he’ll be a cheap option once again for next season.
Greg Jennings (Mia, 32) – The Jennings signing never worked out for both sides, and the Dolphins cut ties with him in early March to save $4 million for 2016. He had by far his worst season in his 10th year, finishing with just 19/208/1 receiving on 36 targets (52.8% catch rate) for 2.9 FPG. Jennings could never rise up the depth chart in Miami, as he was locked in as the #4 WR for most of the year. He’ll have a limited market as purely a veteran backup for next season.
Andre Johnson (Ind, 34) – There’s a reason you don’t sign a 34-year-old WR when his former team was trying to unload him as fast as they possibly could last off-season. The Johnson experiment was an utter failure for the Colts, as he finished with just 41/503/4 receiving on 74 targets (55.4% catch rate, 12.3 YPC) for 7.2 FPG. Quarterback and O-line issues obviously complicated every Colt receiver’s performance in 2015, but Johnson really showed his age, as he looked slower and less explosive and dropped more passes. He played just 64.3% of the snaps, with Donte Moncrief taking over as the #2 WR by mid-season. The Colts saved $5 million in cap space for 2016 by cutting Johnson in early March, and will give 2015 1st-round pick Phillip Dorsett a bigger role next season. Johnson appears ready to play one more season, but he’s not going to get anything more than a one-year deal to be a #3 WR at best.
Rod Streater (Oak, 28) – Streater went from leading the Raiders in receiving just two seasons ago to being a regular inactive in 2015, appearing in just one game. He posted 60/888/4 receiving in 2013, but he has just just 10/92 in four games over the last two seasons. Of course, the Raiders completely overhauled their entire WR corps in those two years, bringing in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and Streater sunk down the depth chart behindSeth Roberts and Andre Holmes. He also played just three games in 2014 because of a foot injury, so his once bright future with the Raiders faded pretty quickly. Streater probably could use a change of scenery at this point, and a couple teams could look to take a flyer on him during free agency.
Jason Avant (KC, 32) – Avant, a favorite of his longtime HC Andy Reid, continues to stick around despite his limited ability, but he was a barely a factor in this passing game in 2015. He posted his worst numbers since he was a rookie in 2006, finishing with just 15/119/0 receiving on 24 targets in 16 games. Avant actually became a factor in their Divisional Round loss to the Patriots, posting by far his best game of the year with 4/69 on 5 targets. Avant has never been loaded with talent, but his skills are diminishing even more than before. Still, Avant is Reid’s guy and he is a strong presence in the locker room, so there’s a shot he hangs around with the Chiefs for another.
Mike Wallace (Min, 29) –Wallace will be playing for his fourth team in five years next season, as the Vikings saved $11.5 million by cutting Wallace. He was a terrible fit from the start in his first season with the Vikings, as his deep speed never translated with the weak-armed Teddy Bridgewater in this run-heavy offense. Wallace finished the year with 39/473/2 receiving on 71 targets (54.9% catch rate, 12.1 YPC) for 6.2 FPG. He played on 73.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.39 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). The Vikings weren’t exactly deep at WR, but it was tough to justify bringing back Wallace at his current contract. Wallace is coming off a year when he posted career-worst numbers in his seventh season, and his career has been trending downward since he left Pittsburgh in 2012. Wallace will be 30 years old next season, but he could easily turn back into a viable vertical threat if he lands in the right situation, as his last two QBs (Ryan Tannehill and Bridgewater) are two of the worst downfield throwers in the league.
Andre Caldwell (Den, 30) – Caldwell didn’t contribute much this season, but he did come up with a big catch in the Super Bowl and capped it off with a little dab. He posted just 10/72/2 receiving in 14 games, competing for snaps with Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, and Jordan Norwood. Caldwell sure looks like he could be the odd man out next season with those younger options at WR bigger priorities. He has just 32 catches over his four seasons with the Broncos, and he’ll have almost no market for his services this off-season.
Marc Mariani (Chi, 28) – The Bears had a number of injuries at WR this past season, and Mariani was forced to play more with slot WR Eddie Royalmissing quite a bit of time. He showed well for himself, posting 22/300/0 receiving in the final 10 games of the season, and he didn’t miss a game and is a solid returner. However, Deonte Thompson passed him as the primary kick returner by the end of the year, so his path to staying with the Bears will be a little more difficult. At least it does help that new OC Dowell Loggains coached Mariani back in Tennessee. Even if Mariani doesn’t return to Chicago next season, he played well enough as a receiver and has return capabilities to compete for a roster spot elsewhere next season.
Chris Owusu (NYJ, 26) – Owusu came into the league with major concussion concerns, a big reason why he went undrafted in 2012. He suffered the fifth concussion of his career in Week Seven and the Jets decided to shut him down for the year to be safe with his health. He also missed three games earlier in the year to have his knee scoped, and he finished with just 6/80/0 receiving in three games. It’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen the last of Owusu in the NFL with his concussion history.
Ricardo Lockette (Sea, 29) – We sure hope Lockette plays football again after suffering one of the scarier injuries in 2015. He suffered a neck injury on an illegal blindside block on a punt return against the Cowboys in Week Eight, and he needed surgery to repair ligament damage in his neck and obviously missed the rest of the season. He had just 4/69/1 receiving in eight games before his injury, but there is potentially a chance for more playing time if Jermaine Kearse leaves in free agency. Still, Lockette’s health is the top priority and will determine his status for the 2016 season.
David Nelson (Pit, 29) – Nelson’s career has been riddled with injuries, and he made it through only one practice with the Steelers before getting hurt. Nelson obviously didn’t play a single snap for the Steelers in 2015, and he eventually ended the season on the IR with a shoulder injury that never healed after his practice. The Steelers cut him in early February to give him a chance to latch on with another team, and we’ll see if another team wants to take a chance on his intriguing size (6’5”, 215 pounds) out of the slot.
Kyle Williams (Den, 27) – Williams’ career has been riddled with major injuries, tearing the same ACL in consecutive seasons in 2012-13 and then tearing his ACL early in training camp with the Broncos last August. Williams isn’t anything more than a fringe roster option to begin with and now he keeps having to recover from major injuries, so we may never seem him play in regular season action ever again.
Brandon Gibson (NE, 28) – The Dolphins brought in Gibson to be a sure-handed option on the outside last off-season, but his season never got off the mat after he tore his ACL during the preseason. Gibson has a history of knee issues in recent years, which will scare off the majority of teams despite his respectable production when he’s been on the field in his seven-year career. The Patriots could give him another chance to make the team out of training camp this summer.
Wes Welker (LA, 34) – Welker signed a one-year deal with the Rams in early November, but he didn’t make an impact with the Rams’ abysmal QB situation. An injury after Week Twelve left him a little hampered, and Welker finished his 8-game stretch with 13/102/0 receiving on 22 targets. The Rams need to drastically upgrade their WR corps and Welker definitely isn’t a solution at this point. Most teams have been scared off from Welker because of his extensive concussion history, and it’s for the best that he hangs it up this off-season.
Hakeem Nicks (NYG, 28) – The Giants are expected to address their receiver position through free agency, so it’s unlikely Nicks will be back unless they miss on some of their targets. He was active for the first time in 2015 in Week Twelve, and totaled 7/54/0 receiving in six games. He’s not old but past injuries have definitely sapped his explosiveness, and he’ll be lucky to get a one-year deal in free agency.
Jeremy Ross (Oak, 27) – Ross had a small role with the Ravens in five games early in the year, hauling in 9/88 receiving before getting cut. He latched on with the Raiders in late November after getting waived by the Ravens, but they used him strictly as a returner in six games. He had a shaky year as a returner, which is why the Ravens cut him in the first place, so he’s got some work to do to make a roster next year.
Seyi Ajirotutu (Phi, 28) – Even on a team that struggled extensively at wide receiver, Ajirotutu was never anything more than a special teams player, catching just 1 pass all year. The most he’s ever totaled in a season was in 2010 with San Diego, when he posted 13/262/2 in six games, so he’s only going to make a roster as a special teams player.
Brandon Tate (Cin, 28) – The one thing Tate has going for him is his work as a returner in his seven-year career. It also doesn’t hurt that since his rookie season in 2009, Tate hasn’t missed a game. He can compete for a spot because of his return ability, but he’s not going to be much of a contributor as a receiver.
Jace Davis (Den, 24) – Davis was waived by the Broncos in early February, a few weeks after receiving a DUI. Out of Northern Colorado, he has yet to see action in a regular season game in his career, and his arrest could spell the end of his career.
Restricted Free Agent WRs
Marlon Brown (Bal, 24) – Brown has fallen quite a bit since his promising rookie season in 2013, and he couldn’t make any noise in 2015 even with a number of injuries in front of him in one of the league’s worst WR corps. A back injury hampered him at the end of the season and he didn’t play after Week Eleven, posting 14/112/0 receiving in 10 games. Brown had 49 catches and 7 TDs in his rookie season, but he’s posted just 38 catches and 0 TDs in the last two years. HC Jim Harbaugh summed it up best when talking about Brown at the end of the year, “Marlon is one of my favorite guys, and he works really hard at it, has a great attitude and, to my eyes, is very talented,” Harbaugh said to the Baltimore Sun. “But, it just hasn’t worked in the last two years like we all expected after his rookie year, especially how Marlon expected to continue to improve. It’s going to be a really important offseason for him.”
Kenbrell Thompkins (NYJ, 27) – After a respectable 11 games for the Patriots in 2013, Thompkins has been slowly declining ever since. He was on the Pats practice squad for a time in 2015 after getting waived by the Raiders, and then picked up by the Jets, where he tallied 17/165 receiving in six games. The only real reason he was given a shot were because of injuries to Devin Smith and Jeremy Kerley, so he’ll be battling for a roster spot once again next summer.
Brenton Bersin (Car, 25) – Bersin spent much of the season buried in the depth charts, posting 9/119/0 in eight games in 2015. He was activated from the practice squad late in September with Jerricho Cotchery sidelined and did post 4/54 receiving Week Four at Tampa Bay, but was otherwise an afterthought for this Panther offense. He’ll be fighting to keep up with the likes of Kevin Norwood and Corey Brown come summer.
Brian Tyms (NE, 26) – Tyms’ last regular season action was Week Seventeen of 2014 with the Pats. A foot injury in training camp last summer ended his season prematurely, and he’s never been able to build off his impressive 2014 preseason. The Patriots have really struggled to find anyone to do anything as an outside WR, so Tyms could get another look this training camp.
Deonte Thompson (Chi, 27) – Thompson was just an afterthought in this weak Bear WR corps, which isn’t that great of a sign considering Cutler had to play a lot with Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani. Thompson had just 2 receptions in 7 games after being promoted to the practice squad in early November because of an injury to Eddie Royal. Thompson does contribute as a kickoff returner, which he’ll need to continue to do to have any chance of making this roster out of camp.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent WRs
Seth Roberts (Oak, 24) – Roberts was on our radar early after he caught the eye of our film guy Greg Cosell in the preseason because of his combination of size (6’2”, 196 pounds) and speed. Roberts was a small-school product out of West Alabama and buried on depth chart to start training camp, but it didn’t take him long for him to emerge as the #3 WR ahead of Andre Holmes and Rod Streater. He finished with 32/480/5 receiving on 53 targets (60.4% catch rate, 15.0 YPC) for 6.9 FPG in 16 games. Roberts played on 53.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 2.08 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). Roberts took advantage of his opportunity in training camp and definitely flashed at times in his first season. Now, his next goal is to become a consistent piece in this passing game, as his production was quite sporadic with Derek Carr. Still, there’s enough here to be excited about his potential going forward in what should be an improving Raider passing game.
Dontrelle Inman (SD, 27) – Inman took on a bigger role after Keenan Allen’s season-ending injury in Week Eight, but he put up sporadic production even with his increased role. He never became a consistent fantasy option from Week Nine on, posting 26/344/2 receiving for 10.3 FPG (51st) in seven games. Inman finished the year with 35/486/3 receiving on 61 targets (57.4% catch rate, 13.9 YPC) for 7.3 FPG in 14 games. He played on 67.3% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.67 FP per target (league average was 1.66 FP/target for WRs). He missed the season opener after suffering a concussion late in training camp and he missed another game in Week Fourteen because of a neck injury. Inman will be back as an exclusive-rights free agent, and he’ll have a chance to battle for more playing time on the outside with Malcom Floyd retiring, but he hasn’t earned the right to be handed the job.
Jeremy Butler (Bal, 24) – Butler played a big role in the depleted Raven WR corps in the second half of the season, totaling 31/363/0 on 43 targets from Weeks 10-17. He even earned some praise from HC John Harbaugh for his ability to play the ball in the air. The organization values him and his talent, but the reality is that Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman will be back and healthy, and Kamar Aiken is expected to be re-signed. Butler won’t be much more than a No. 4 on this depth chart.
Bennie Fowler (Den, 24) – Fowler dealt with injuries a lot during college but has the quickness and speed to at least be a puzzle-piece WR. There was nothing spectacular about his 2015 season (16/203/0 receiving on 22 targets), but he was the top backup to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside. He also may have caught Peyton Manning’s last NFL pass on a 2-point conversion in the Super Bowl. Fowler is still young and stayed healthy for all of 2015, and he’s been a more consistent backup than former 2nd-round pick Cody Latimer the last two years.
Chris Matthews (Bal, 26) – Matthews went from anonymity, to shocking 2014 Super Bowl hero, back to anonymity this season. He failed to make anything happen with the Seahawks in 2015 off his stunning Super Bowl performance, and they eventually waived him in November. The Ravens picked him up and he totaled 7/70/1 on 10 targets in Weeks 16-17. He’s a big guy (6’5”, 218 pounds) but has yet to really do anything outside of Super Bowl XLIX, and he’ll be competing for a roster spot this summer.
Adam Thielen (Min, 25) – Most recently, Thielen made some noise when he ran 41 yards on a fake punt in Week Seventeen against the Packers. Prior to that, however, you have to go all the way back to Week Four against Denver to see any noteworthy performance (6/70 receiving on 8 targets). It’s difficult to have success on a run-based team with a mediocre QB, but Thielen has stepped up when needed and could be a piece considering there’s no stars in this Viking WR corps, especially if they cut Mike Wallace.
Darius Jennings (Cle, 23) – Jennings was the beneficiary of multiple injuries to Brown WRs with some end-of-the-season playing time. He was promoted from the practice squad, cut, and re-signed by the Browns all in December. Jennings actually posted 14/117/0 receiving in four games, but he’s still a longshot to make the 2016 roster, especially if Josh Gordon is reinstated and the team re-signs free agent Travis Benjamin.
Daniel Brown (Bal, 23) – Brown had an unlikely path to seeing NFL game action, as the former FCS player (James Madison University) got a shot afterMarlon Brown got hurt. He delivered in Week Fourteen, catching 5 of 6 targets for 47 yards. The Ravens signed him as a free agent the week after the 2015 NFL draft but was released shortly after the final preseason game. He was re-signed and then added to the active roster just hours before the Ravens’ Week Twelve game against Cleveland. At 6’5 and 225 pound, he has the physicality to make plays, and he could have a better shot than expected to make the final 53-man roster in 2016.
Kaelin Clay (Bal, 24) – Valued primarily as a return man, Clay saw game action in 7 games in 2015 but didn’t see a target. He did have 587 return yards and a punt-return TD, so he was pretty effective on special teams to end the year. Drafted in the 6th round by the Bucs last year, Clay saw practice squad action for the Bucs and Lions before landing with the Ravens, where he returned an 82-yard TD against the Browns in Week 12. He won’t make an impact as a receiver but has a chance at a roster spot because of his return capabilities.
Travis Harvey (Ari, 25) – The undrafted player out of Florida A&M has yet to see regular season action in his short career. If the Cardinals bring him back, he’ll likely be competing simply for a practice squad position behind a loaded group of WRs.
Marcus Harris (NYG, 26) – Harris has yet to appear in a game since coming into the league in 2011 and has been plagued by injuries during his NFL career. He underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee last July and was on IR in 2014 because of a shoulder injury, when he actually had a shot at significant playing time after impressing them in off-season workouts. The Giants will not retain Harris on his exclusive rights free agent, and he is a longshot to make a roster this summer.
Team Needs (*Teams with greatest needs)
*Steelers, Texans, *Colts, *Jets, *Chargers, *Packers, *Falcons, *Saints, Giants, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers
Ravens, Browns, *Jaguars, *Bears, Buccaneers, *Patriots
Bengals, Titans, Bills, Dolphins, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Lions, Vikings, Panthers, Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks
Unrestricted Free Agent TEs
Antonio Gates (SD, 35) – Gates’ 2015 season started in less than ideal fashion with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He also missed a fifth game to a knee injury, which nagged him for much of the year and hurt his production. Still, he remained a threat and should have at least one more year left, and he could possibly retire after 2016 if this is the Chargers’ final season in San Diego. Gates finished the 2015 season with 56/630/5 receiving on 84 targets (66.7% catch rate, 11.3 YPC) for 13.5 FPG (7th) in 11 games. He finished with 10+ FP eight times despite scoring TDs in just three games. He played on 61.7% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.77 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). The Chargers have a brutal dilemma at TE this off-season with both Gates and Ladarius Green hitting free agency. It’s no secret that the Chargers want Gates back and all indications are he has no plans on retiring. But Gates’ return could hurt their chances of retaining Green if his top priority is to be a starter in the league. Gates certainly isn’t moving great anymore and he’ll turn 36 years old in June, but he has a knack for getting open still and Philip Rivers will continue to feed him until he can’t move any longer. Gates’ representatives and the Chargers will open up contract talks at the Combine, according the The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Ladarius Green (SD, 25) – Green could go down as one of the more intriguing skill position free agents this off-season. He never quite lived up to his billing playing behind Antonio Gates, but some team will likely roll the dice with the 26-year-old TE to see if they can get the most out of him. Of course, the Chargers could also look to keep him around with Gates nearing the end of his career. Green got a big opportunity to start the year with Gates suspended the first four games, and he did well with 14/174/2 in the three games he appeared in. He missed a game in Week Three because of a concussion, and he suffered another concussion in the preseason. He also dealt with a nagging ankle injury for much of the year, which finally landed him on the IR before Week Seventeen and required surgery. He finished the year with 37/429/4 receiving on 63 targets (58.7% catch rate, 11.6 YPC) for 8.0 FPG in 13 games. Green played on 69.5% of the snaps this year and averaged 1.65 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Green is a rare talent but it hasn’t always come out during his time in San Diego but maybe he just needs more playing time. The Chargers have a brutal dilemma at TE this off-season with both Gates and Green hitting free agency. It’s no secret that the Chargers want Gates back and all indications are he has no plans on retiring. But Gates’ return could hurt their chances of retaining Green if his top priority is to be a starter in the league. We’re guessing that Green will be drafted like a TE1 if he lands in a decent offense where he’ll start. According to the The San Diego Union-Tribune, Gates’ representatives and the Chargers will open up contract talks at the Combine, which could give Green a better idea of where he stands with the Chargers.
Coby Fleener (Ind, 27) – Fleener had a disappointing season in 2015 but so did this entire Colt passing game because of Andrew Luck’s injuries. Fleener was also used a lot more in pass protection this season because of their O-line issues. Fleener finished with 54/491/3 receiving on 83 targets (65.1% catch rate) for 7.6 FPG (26th) and a 1.46 FP per target average (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). He was used slightly more than Dwayne Allen, playing 66.4% of the snaps this year compared to Allen’s 56.9%. Fleener has proven to be a capable receiver but he’ll always have inexplicable drops – especially over the middle of the field. However, he also struggled after the catch the season, as he saw his YPC average drop from 15.2 in 2014 to 9.1 in 2015, which obviously had a lot to do with Luck’s injuries. The feeling is that Fleener is the bigger priority to re-sign this season over Allen, and he has a chance to have TE1 status if Allen leaves and if the Colt O-line improves and can protect Luck better. The Indianapolis Starbelieves that Fleener is the better fit for this offense over Allen, and that he’ll be back in 2016.
Benjamin Watson (NO, 35) – The Saints made out very well in the Jimmy Graham deal. They got their starting center (Max Unger) and an impressive rookie LB out of the deal (Stephone Anthony), and the ageless veteran Watson outproduced Graham anyway. In 16 games, Watson posted 74/825/6 receiving on 110 targets (67.3%, 11.1 YPR). He averaged 12.0 FPG to rank 8th among all TEs. So it was the vet Watson, and not Josh Hill, who became the beneficiary of the Graham trade. Watson got off to a slow start, topping out at 8.2 FP over his first four games. But in his final 12, he was below 10 FP just four times, and in two of those games he was above 9.0 FP. Watson caught at least 3 passes in 14 games, ranked 5th among all TEs with 18 red-zone targets, and played a monster share of snaps (84.9%). The end result for Watson were career-highs in every major receiving category, and also in fantasy points (the last time he averaged 10 or more FP came in 2010). Watson’s a free agent and just turned 35, but there seems to be mutual interest in bringing him back and they are already in contract talks. A durable player, Watson’s missed just one game in the last four years. This seems like a Cinderella type of season, but if he’s back with the Saints, he’ll be drafted as a TE2 next summer.
Zach Miller (Chi, 31) – We’ve long thought Miller had potential, but it looked like he’d never hit it considering he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2011 (injuries in each of the last three years, including a foot in 2014). But in 2015, he put together a career year (this is not the same Miller who used to play for the Raiders and Seahawks). Playing in 15 games (missing Week Seventeen with a toe injury), Miller posted 34/439/5 receiving on 46 targets (73.9%, 12.9 YPR). He averaged 7.2 FPG, ranking him tied for 28th among all TEs. But Miller also had five games of 10 or more FP, more than Martellus Bennett had all year. In the last three games he played, all with Bennett injured, he posted 18/211/1 receiving on 20 targets, averaging 15.0 FPG, which ranked him 5th over that span among all TEs. His 56.2% snap share in 2015 is easily a career high. Miller showed more big-play ability than Bennett did. We’d say his play makes the expensive Bennett expendable, but Miller is a free agent, and is going into his age 32 season, and has never been healthy. Miller clearly has chemistry with Jay Cutler and Bennett’s future is up in the air, so it makes sense for both Miller and the Bears to continue their marriage. However, The Chicago Tribune believes the Bears will let Miller hit the open market to find out what his value actually is, and they have heard that his former OC Adam Gase and the Dolphins are interested in him.
Owen Daniels (Den, 33) – Daniels will be most remembered in 2015 for roasting stud athlete Jamie Collins for 2 double-move TDs in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Other than those two plays, it was a pretty nondescript season for the veteran TE, who will turn 34 next season. Daniels followed his long-time coach Gary Kubiak to Denver, taking over in Julius Thomas’ old spot. Daniels finished the year with 46/517/3 receiving on 77 targets (59.7% catch rate, 11.2 YPC) for 7.2 FPG (27th) in 16 games. He played on 74.6% of the snaps and averaged 1.50 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Daniels was still a pretty reliable receiver and blocker in his 10th season, but he can no longer make many plays with his feet after the catch. The Broncos saved $2.5 million by cutting Daniels in early March, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Daniels hang it up after winning a Super Bowl.
Scott Chandler (NE, 30) – The Patriots seemed to have some plans for Chandler to start the 2015 season, using him in some 2-TE sets along with Rob Gronkowski, after impressing in the summer months. However, he disappointed during the season, struggling to catch and even run block, and Michael Williams started to steal his snaps late in the year. Chandler played on 36.3% of the snaps this year, but he barely saw the field after Week Thirteen – actually after his two best games with Gronk banged up. Chandler finished with 23/259/4 receiving on 41 targets (56.1% catch rate, 11.3 YPC) for 4.9 FPG. Including the playoffs, he didn’t catch a pass in the final five games of the season. The Patriots saved $2.05 million by cutting him in early March with a failed physical designation. The Jets could be interested in Chandler since they badly need TE help and because Chan Gailey is running the offense, who was Chandler’s HC in Buffalo.
Garrett Graham (Hou, 29) – Graham didn’t play in the final eight games of the season once Ryan Griffin came back off the IR/designated for return list. Graham fell behind C.J. Fiedorowicz and Griffin on the depth chart, and he never fit into HC Bill O’Brien’s plans the last two years, posting just 22/227/2 receiving. He finished 2015 with just 4/30/1 receiving in eight games, catching a miserable 21.1% of his passes (4 of 19). The Texans saved $3.12 million by cutting Graham, and the six-year pro should see a limited market as a potential backup next season.
Marcedes Lewis (Jac, 31) – Lewis moved into a secondary role with Julius Thomas joining the team in 2015, but he didn’t do a whole lot when Thomas missed the first four games of the year. Lewis failed to catch a pass in the first three games and just 5/40 over those first four games with Thomas out of the lineup. He finished the year with 16/226/0 receiving on 37 targets for an ugly 43.2% catch rate. Both Lewis and Clay Harbor are free agents this off-season, and it’s a priority for the Jags to keep one of them under contract behind Thomas, who has been injury-prone in the past. HC Gus Bradley said he wants to keep Lewis around, but re-signing a backup TE obviously isn’t their top priority. Still, it looks like both sides would like to continue their marriage, and at the Combine GM Dave Caldwell said he hoped to get a deal with Lewis done before free agency starts.
Jermaine Gresham (Ari, 27) – #BIGGRESH signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals in late July, a late veteran addition to the club along with Chris Johnson. Gresham played a lot, taking 57.6% of the Cardinals’ snaps in the games in which he was active (15 games), but he was used mostly as a blocker. In 15 games (missing one with a knee injury), he posted 18/223/1 receiving on 32 targets (56.3%, 12.4 YPR). He averaged 3.1 FPG to tie for 52nd at the position. Gresham is only 28 in June, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he didn’t find work until July this past off-season, though he was coming off back surgery. Gresham made it through the year healthy, but he wasn’t particularly impressive but should still find some work.
Jared Cook (LA, 28) – Cook’s talent has always outweighed his production. Never was that more true than in 2015, when he played in 16 games but posted just 39/481/0 on 74 targets (52.7%, 12.3 YPR). Cook averaged 5.4 FPG, tying him for 35th among all TEs. Now, far be it from us to blame all the Rams’ passing-game woes on Cook, because their quarterbacks and offensive line were awful. But Cook managed just two games of 10+ FP (one of them in Week One) despite playing 70.2% of the snaps, and in 48 games with the Rams, he has just 10 of them total. In 2015, Cook had nine games of 2 or fewer catches, simply not close to enough for what the Rams are paying him. The Rams saved close to $6 million by cutting Cook, and the five-year, $35.1 million deal he got from the Rams in 2013 will go down as an epic failure. Cook has always been an intriguing prospect, but he remains a total enigma and won’t be handed a starting job next summer.
Vernon Davis (Den, 32) – The Broncos acquired Davis and a 2016 7th-round pick at the trade deadline for 2016 and 2017 6th-round picks. Well, VP John Elway could’ve saved those picks as Vernon could barely even get on the field in the postseason – he played just 19 snaps in three playoff games. Between the 49ers and Broncos, Davis finished the year with 38/395/0 receiving on 57 targets (66.7% catch rate, 10.4 YPC) for 6.0 FPG in 13 games. He played on 46.4% of the snaps with the Broncos and averaged 1.36 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs). Davis, who just turned 32 at the end of January, looks well past his prime as both a receiver and as a blocker. We can’t imagine he’ll have much of a market as a free agent this off-season.
Clay Harbor (Jac, 28) – Harbor was buried behind Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis for much of the 2015 season. About half of Harbor’s production came in Weeks 3-4 when Julius Thomas was out of the lineup, as he posted 7/74/1 receiving in those two games. He went on to finish with 14/149/1 receiving on 20 targets in 15 games before undergoing a sports-hernia surgery shortly after the season ended. The surgery shouldn’t hinder his market too much, and he’ll be the next priority if the Jags can’t re-sign Lewis first. Harbor is best suited as a #2 TE, and he’s obviously not guaranteed to be back with the Jaguars.
James Hanna (Dal, 26) – Gavin Escobar has been a major bust for the Cowboys since they took him in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. Hanna continues to work ahead of Escobar in most 2-TE sets, but Hanna continues to be an afterthought in the passing game with just 9/79 receiving on 14 targets. Hanna has developed into a dependable blocker is also a contributor on special teams, so the Cowboys would like to keep him around at a reasonable price. Hanna’s return will also hinge on if the Cowboys think Geoff Swaim can be a reasonable replacement for Hanna.
Rob Housler (Chi, 27) – Housler was an intriguing prospect back with the Cardinals just a few years ago because of his size and athletic ability, but he’s fallen short of expectations. He’s now hanging on to his career at this point, starting in 2015 with the Browns before landing on the IR with a hamstring injury in November and getting waived two weeks later. Housler eventually worked out and landed a job with the Bears to end the season, with 3 of his 4 catches coming with the Bears over the final four weeks. There is some uncertainty surrounding the future of TEs Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller, so Housler could be retained as a cheap insurance option.
Logan Paulsen (Was, 28) – Paulsen looked ready for a bigger role this season after Niles Paul went down for the year in early August with a fractured and dislocated ankle. However, Paulsen suffered his own season-ending injury a few days later with a severe a case of turf toe, which required surgery and landed him on the IR. Paulsen certainly isn’t known for being much of a receiver, but the Redskins did miss his run-blocking this year in 2-TE sets, so they could look to bring him back at a reasonable price.
Jim Dray (Cle, 29) – The Browns released Dray in the middle of the February to save about $1.8 million. He did little in 2015 with Gary Barnidgehaving a breakout season, finishing with just 6/61/0 receiving in 16 games. Dray had 26 catches in 2013 with the Cardinals to get a three-year deal with the Browns, but he combined for just 23 catches the last two years. He’ll be competing for a #2-3 TE role in a camp this summer.
Michael Hoomanawanui (NO, 27) – The Saints traded for Hoomanawanui at the end of September to boost their TE depth after he fell to #4 on the Patriots TE depth chart. He finished the year with 11/76/3 receiving on 16 targets, as he saw 6 red-zone targets as a TD vulture. Hoomanawanui won’t have much of a market for his services this off-season as he’s little more than TE depth.
Rhett Ellison (Min, 27) – Ellison suffered a devastating blow to his career after he suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week Seventeen. A torn patellar tendon is one of the toughest injuries to overcome for any player – just ask Victor Cruz – and it will kill his market in free agency. Ellison did a good job as a blocking TE for RB Adrian Peterson, but he did little in the passing game with 11/124/1 receiving on 19 targets in 15 games. Ellison’s best bet is to sign a one-year deal with the Vikings and try to get healthy enough to get on the field by the middle of the season.
Tony Moeaki (Atl, 28) – After a promising start to his career back in 2010, Moeaki’s career has hit the skids. He totaled 47 catches with the Chiefs during his rookie year, but he has just 44 catches in the five years since split between the Chiefs, Bills, Seahawks, and Falcons. Atlanta released Moeaki before Week One but eventually re-signed him in early October to backup Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo. The Falcons will be able to replace Moeaki with any number of free agents or rookie TEs, so he’s clearly not a priority to keep around.
John Phillips (SD, 28) – The Chargers surprisingly released Phillips out of training camp when they had to get down to 53 players, but they reversed course a couple days later and re-signed Phillips days before Week One. They needed him with Antonio Gates suspended for the first four games and later in the year with Ladarius Green dealing with ankle issues. Phillips ended up playing all 16 games but posted just 10/69/1 receiving – he did catch all of his targets. Gates and Green are also free agents, so the Chargers will be hard pressed to keep both of them, so Phillips could be a cheap alternative for a #2 TE option next season.
Chase Coffman (Sea, 29) – The Seahawks brought Coffman in for depth after Jimmy Graham’s season-ending torn patellar injury, and he actually posted 4/29/1 receiving in Week Seventeen against the Cardinals. Coffman had just 10 catches in 14 games with the Titans in 2014 and in early 2015 before landing with the Seahawks. Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet are still ahead of Coffman and Anthony McCoy, but Seattle could look to keep one of them around at least through training camp while they see if Graham will be available for opening week.
Anthony McCoy (Sea, 28) – McCoy actually totaled 146 yards and 291 yards receiving in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but he didn’t see a snap from then until this year. He saw limited time early in the year before getting cut and signed again in early December. He primarily helped on special teams and didn’t record a single catch. It’s mainly the Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson show, and McCoy is also behind Cooper Helfet on the depth chart, so he might have to go elsewhere to see more time. Still, Graham has an uphill battle to be ready for opening day off his patellar tendon injury, so McCoy could stick around another year.
Bear Pascoe (Det, 29) – Pascoe was signed by the Lions in mid-December after Brandon Pettigrew was placed on IR with a torn ACL, but Pascoe was purely there for blocking reasons. He’s been a blocker all his career, from the Giants to the Falcons to the Bears, as he’s never had more than 12 receptions in a season, but he has played in at least 15 games for five of his seven NFL seasons. Pascoe is at the bottom of the depth charts and has never been much more than a blocker. He’s more of a low-risk, low-reward player but is turning 30 soon and is on the decline. The Lions could probably find someone younger.
Kellen Davis (NYJ, 30) – It’s tough to think of a more boring TE that’s seen regular playing time over the last eight seasons than Davis. He finished the year with 3/18/1 receiving in 16 games for the Jets, finishing just behind top Jet TE Jeff Cumberland, who finished with a whopping 5/77/0 receiving. Needless to say based on those statlines, the Jets were an embarrassment at TE last season and it will be a spot they will be looking to upgrade this off-season. Jace Amaro will be back in the mix but the Jets are likely to bring in another TE as well, so Davis could be the odd man out.
Alex Smith (Was, 33) – Smith hasn’t caught a pass in two seasons and has played in just five games between the Bengals in 2014 and the Redskins in 2015 – he also got cut by the Saints last training camp. The Redskins got hit hard by injuries at the end of the 2015, and he signed with the Redskins and played the last three games of the year for his former OC Jay Gruden. Smith is preparing for life after football by working with Scouting Academy at the Senior Bowl in January, so it’s clear his career could be over soon.
Allen Reisner (Bal, 27) – Reisner hasn’t appeared in a game the last two seasons, and his 2015 campaign ended in the preseason opener because of a broken ankle. The Ravens will be in need of a #3 TE next season to start the year with Nick Boyle suspended for the first 10 games of the year, but Reisner certainly isn’t guaranteed to be back with the Ravens or in the league after being a non-factor the last two years.
Dorin Dickerson (Ten, 27) – Dickerson’s career could be nearing the end after missing his second straight season because of injuries. He suffered a season-ending Achilles injury during minicamp last July, and he missed all of 2014 with an undisclosed injury. Dickerson is an athletic H-back/TE but his career has been riddled with injuries since he broke into the league in 2010, and no team is going to take anything more than a training camp flyer on him at this point.
Daniel Fells (NYG, 32) – It’s fair to wonder if Fells will ever play again after contracting a deadly MRSA infection last fall, which required seven surgeries and had doctors worried that they might have to amputate his foot. Doctors eventually got Fells’ Staph infection under control by the middle of October, but he did need a 10th surgery as of early December. Fells needs to focus on getting back to full health, and we wouldn’t count on him playing again.
Rob Blanchflower (Pit, 25) – Blanchflower was expected to compete for a roster spot behind Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth but after he suffered a high-ankle sprain in camp last year. Blanchflower didn’t see any action in the regular season, and the Steelers ended up cutting him in February with a “failed physical” designation, so he’ll be in a battle to stay in the league.
Restricted Free Agent TEs
Tim Wright (Det, 25) – The Lions acquired Wright from the Buccaneers for K Kyle Brindza, but he continued to flounder after his outstanding rookie season in 2013. He’s been traded twice by the Bucs and waived once by the Patriots since 2014, so his career hasn’t gone as planned. Wright did little in nine games with the Lions in 2015, posting just 9/77/2 receiving on 16 targets. Backup TE Brandon Pettigrew tore his ACL at the end of 2015, and he could struggle to be ready by the start of 2016, so there could be an opportunity for playing time for Wright, at least early in the year.
Josh Hill (NO, 25) – The “hot candidate” to replace Jimmy Graham, Hill played in 16 games, but pretty much did nothing. Playing in 36.5% of the Saints’ snaps (actually a lower percentage than Michael Hoomanawanui played), Hill was one of the most inefficient receivers at the TE position. He managed just 16/120/2 receiving on 30 targets (53.3%, 7.5 YPR). He averaged 2.5 FPG, fewer than he averaged with Graham around in 2014 (4.1). Hill went catchless in six games, and had just one grab in five more. Hill turns just 26 in May, and GM Mickey Loomis still thinks Hill has some potential.
Cooper Helfet (Sea, 26) – With the start of Jimmy Graham’s 2016 in question after his torn patellar tendon, Helfet will likely be back to provide depth at the position once again behind Graham and Luke Willson. Helfet finished with 13/130/0 receiving on 22 targets in 14 games, with 12/123 coming in the five games after Graham’s injury in Week Twelve. The Seahawks like the depth that Helfet provides, especially with Graham’s health up in the air, and he’ll provide a cheap option as a #3 TE.
Chase Ford (Bal, 25) – Ford was waived by the Vikings in mid-November of 2015 and picked up by the Ravens shortly after and placed on season-ending IR at the end of November with a shoulder injury. He didn’t play a snap for either team this year but was a contributor for the Vikings in 2014, totaling 23/258/1 receiving. He’ll likely be fighting for a roster spot this summer, as he’s behind Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams. However, Nick Boyle is suspended for the first 10 games of the year, so there is an opening for the #3 TE job.
Zach Sudfeld (NYJ, 26) – Sudfeld was placed on IR with a torn ACL even before the 2015 season began, but he should return at a very cheap price in 2016. He’s behind Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro on the depth chart, but it’s not like those guys are world beaters. The Jets got only 8 catches from their tight ends all of last season, so they will be looking to significantly upgrade the position this off-season.
MarQueis Gray (Buf, 26) – Gray played in the first four games last season before landing on the IR with a broken arm in early October. He was in the mix for the No. 2 TE job in camp, and should again compete with Chris Gragg and Nick O’Leary for that role in 2016.
Brandon Williams (Mia, 28) – He’s a tight end in Miami behind Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims, and Jake Stoneburner, so that should give you a pretty clear picture of Williams. He appeared in six games and didn’t see a target before landing on the IR with a broken foot. He has plenty of athleticism but simply can’t stay healthy and rarely saw the field in Miami and with his previous team, Carolina.
Konrad Reuland (Bal, 28) – He appeared in just the last four games at the end of the year with a number of injuries and suspensions at the TE position for the Ravens. TE Nick Boyle will be suspended for the first 10 games of the year and Crockett Gillmore did have some back issues last year, so Reuland has an outside shot to stick with the Ravens next year.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent TEs
Justin Perillo (GB, 25) – He’s behind both Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless on the depth chart, but Perillo did step up when Quarless was out of the lineup in the middle of 2015. In 9 games, he tallied 11/102/1 on 13 targets including a big game against the Lions in Week Ten when he went for 5/58/1. The Packers could address the TE position in free agency or the draft, which could have Perillo in a battle for a roster spot.
Nic Jacobs (Jac, 24) – In 11 games in 2015, Jacobs had a grand total of 1/6 receiving. Both Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor are free agents this off-season, so there is a chance for some upward mobility behind Julius Thomas if Lewis and/or Harbor move to new teams for 2016.
Gabe Holmes (Oak, 24) – We started noticing some real potential in Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford midway through the season, so Holmes will be lucky to take on the No. 4 role. If that doesn’t pan out, the young TE out of Purdue will have a better shot on a TE-needy team.
Top Offensive Linemen
Alex Mack (C, Cle, 30) – Mack had an option in his contract to void the last three years of his deal, and he took that option, after the franchise tag deadline so the Browns couldn’t immediately tag him after doing so. This is a move the Browns expected, and according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, it doesn’t mean Mack won’t be back in Cleveland under a new deal. But Mack is 30, so he has some good years left in him, and he’s instantly the top center on the market. He’ll draw plenty of interest.
Kelechi Osemele (Bal, LG, 27) – Osemele is the top target among interior offensive linemen this off-season, and he’ll most likely be playing elsewhere in 2016. Since moving to guard full time the last two years, he’s developed into of one of the best all-around interior O-lineman. However, he also brings some positional versatility with the size (6’5”, 230 pounds), experience, and ability to play at left tackle, so he might not stick at guard in the future. The Baltimore Sun believes it’s going to be “awfully tough” for the Ravens to retain Osemele because of the cap hell that they are currently in with just about $5.2 million in cap space as of Feb. 24. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Osemele will be looking for $10+ million per year.
Kelvin Beachum (Pit, LT, 27) – Beachum has been quite the revelation for the Steelers as a former 7th-round pick in 2012, and it is time for him to finally cash in on his unexpected success. Beachum’s market should be interesting since he’s coming off a torn ACL injury in October, which could scare away some suitors, but he’s been a good pass protector on the blindside when healthy. The Steelers aren’t exactly flush with cap space with just about $10.2 million available as of Feb. 24, so he’ll likely be playing elsewhere in 2016 as long as teams aren’t scared off by his ACL injury. The Steelers also liked the progression they saw from his replacement Alejandro Villanueva in the final couple games of the year, so they won’t overextend themselves to keep Beachum in the fold.
Russell Okung (Sea, LT, 27) – Okung is a former #6 overall pick in 2010 and is loaded with talent, but he’s had injury issues since he broke into the league. He’s never played a full 16-game season and has missed 24 games in his six-year career, which means he’s missed a quarter of his games since breaking into the league. He also suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Panthers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, which required surgery and will keep him out until approximately June. Okung would probably be the top talent out of the free agent offensive linemen this off-season if not for his injuries, but clearly his durability questions will scare some teams away and lower his value on the market. The Seahawks have shied away from paying up for their free agent offensive linemen in recent years, and it’s tough to see them giving a ton of money to the injury-prone Okung.
Richie Incognito (Buf, LG, 33) – Incognito certainly isn’t for everyone after sitting out the entire 2014 season because of his bullying scandal with the Dolphins in 2013. That will work in the Bills favor as they try to bring him back after an impressive return, establishing himself as one of the better run-blocking guards in the league. They were also the team that took the chance on Incognito, which should also work in their favor as they try to retain him. The Bills do have some major cap issues but by cutting DE Mario Williams they cleared up about $27.8 million the next two years, including $12.9 million for 2016. The Bills would love to keep the left side of their intact for 2016 by re-signing Incognito, since LT Cordy Glenn was recently given the franchise tag. Both Incognito and the Bills want to continue their relationship, so it’s all about clearing up their cap issues to strike a deal.
Mitchell Schwartz (Cle, RT, 26) – Schwartz is one of the best right tackles in the league, and he’s ready to get paid like a left tackle. The Browns and Schwartz opened contract talks in January, but they really didn’t go anywhere and Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that Schwartz appears poised to hit the open market. The Browns could also lose C Alex Mack by the beginning of March, as he could opt out of his contract by March 4. Schwartz and Mack would have their fair share of interested teams in free agency, and keeping one or both of them would be ideal for the Browns, especially if they’re breaking in a rookie QB with the #2 overall pick.
Alex Boone (SF, LG 28) – Boone’s market will be hurt some by his season-ending MCL back in Week Fourteen, but he should still be one of the more coveted run-blocking guards, especially since recovery from MCL injuries is typically quicker. Boone wasn’t happy about his contract status last spring and skipped the 49ers’ off-season program, and he initially had a dispute about his contract in 2014 before reworking his deal. He does bring some versatility to any offensive line, as he started his career at tackle before sliding inside for all but one of his last 61 starts over the last four years.
Donald Penn (Oak, LT, 32) – Penn said in December that he wanted to re-sign with the Raiders this off-season, and he did a good job as Derek Carr’s blindside protector. However, Penn indicated in February that he wouldn’t be giving the Raiders a hometown discount and things seem to have been going to south since. The Raiders have made no effort to re-sign Penn so far this off-season, and he’s even removed all references of the Raiders from his social media. The Raiders have a ton of cap space and would be wise to protect their franchise QB Carr in this improving offense, so they should look to keep Penn around on a short-team deal or invest in a younger option in free agency.
Brandon Brooks (Hou, RG, 28) – Brooks had a down season for his standards after two strong years in 2013-14, but the personnel around him on the O-line and at RB also went significantly south. Brooks has been an excellent fit in the Texans’ zone-blocking run scheme, so a team with zone schemes could look at this relatively young guard. The Houston Chronicle expects Brooks to be in “heavy demand” in free agency as one of the top interior lineman in the market. It also doesn’t sound like Brooks will be giving a hometown discount saying, “I just let my agent handle it all, all I can control is playing football. The whole free agent deal I look at it like I view the draft, it’s going to take care of itself.” That shouldn’t be a surprise for someone studying for his MBA in finance from the University of Houston.
Stefen Wisniewski (Jac, C, 26) – Wisniewski essentially signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Jaguars last off-season after he had a surprisingly limited mark as a free agent in 2015 because of a shoulder surgery. Wisniewski will hit the market for the second time in two years after leaving Oakland after the 2014 season, and he’ll likely be the top center on the market until Alex Mack eventually opts out of his contract with the Browns. Wisniewski isn’t one of the best centers in the league, but he’s still above average – especially as a pass blocker, giving up only 2 sacks last year. He should have a bigger market this off-season and should get the long-term deal he’s looking for. GM Dave Caldwell told the Florida Times Union at the Combine that Wisniewski is likely headed to the open market, but the Jags do have quite a bit of cap space to work with.
Top Defensive Linemen
Malik Jackson (Den, DE, 26) – Jackson scored the opening TD of the Super Bowl and was a force throughout the game and the season. Of course, edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware got all the press, but Jackson was just as pivotal as an interior pass rusher – he also was pretty good against the run too. He finished the regular season with 45 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries for 4.5 FPG in our site default scoring. Jackson will hit the open market now as the Broncos gave Miller the franchise tag. The Chicago Tribune reported that Jackson is looking for $12 million a year, and the Raiders and Jaguars are just two of the teams that have been mentioned as interested in Jackson.
Mario Williams (DE, Buf, 31) – Williams is coming off the least productive season in his career, registering just 15 solo tackles and 5 sacks. Williams has had inconsistency and effort problems in the past, including in 2015, but it’s clear he was just a poor fit in Rex Ryan’s system. Williams can still help a team that lets him be himself – a 4-3 defensive end. He may not get a long-term deal, but any team looking for pass-rush help will be calling, we’d imagine.
Damon Harrison (NYJ, DT, 27) – In terms of free-agent interior defensive linemen, Harrison ranks behind Muhammad Wilkerson and Malik Jackson because they are better pass rushers. Still, Harrison is easily one of the best run-stuffing DL in the league, which isn’t too bad for a former undrafted player out of William Penn, an NAIA school in Iowa. “Snacks”, as he’s called, finished with 72 tackles and 0 sacks for 3.7 FPG as the Jets nose tackle in 2015. GM Mike Maccagnan said both Harrison and Wilkerson were candidates for the franchise tag, but the team hit Wilkerson with the tag yesterday. The Jets clearly have some major decisions to make with their defensive line this off-season.
Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG, DE, 27) – JPP is making headlines leading into free agency for his suit against ESPN and Adam Schefter for tweeting his medical records over the summer. The Fourth of July accident that robbed him of a couple of digits hindered him some, but he still generated plenty of pressure despite registering just 1 sack. JPP did finish with 26 tackles and he averaged a solid 4.6 FPG. Pierre-Paul wanted a long-term deal last year before getting slapped with the franchise tag, and obviously his hand issue and his lack of sacks will hurt his market this off-season. The Giants are interested in re-signing JPP, but it would likely have to be a one-year, prove-it deal, and Pierre-Paul would obviously like a long-term deal.
Bruce Irvin (Sea, OLB, 28) – A rotational player in most of his time with the Seahawks, the former first-round pick Irvin turned in 21.5 sacks in four seasons. Irvin isn’t exactly a bust, but Seattle likely would have liked to see more than that from him in his career thus far. Given Irvin is now 28 and has merely decent production that can ultimately be replaced, the assumption is that he won’t be back in Seattle, according to the Seattle Times. Irvin will probably command more on the open market than the Seahawks are willing to pay, given how many teams need pass rushers.
Derrick Johnson (KC, ILB, 33) – A long-time Chief and leader on the club, Johnson has expressed his desire to 1300 The Zone in his college town of Austin to stay with Kansas City. The Chiefs are potentially losing multiple free agents defensively this year, and though Johnson remains incredibly productive (96 solo tackles, 4 sacks in 2015), his age may make him the easiest to keep in Chiefs red. He’s still an extremely good player, and it feels like there’s no better fit for him than Kansas City. GM John Dorsey told the Kansas City Star that the Chiefs will do everything they can to re-sign Johnson.
Danny Trevathan (Den, ILB, 26) – Trevathan is a really good player and a key component of the Broncos’ championship defense, but he may feel the “free agent squeeze” this off-season. The Broncos just gave the franchise tag to Von Miller and likely view DL Malik Jackson as a higher-priority option than Trevathan, so if he wants to stay with Denver and get paid what he’s worth, he may have to wait out to see what happens with Jackson. If Trevathan hits the open market, he’ll have no problem finding a big deal to be the anchor in the middle for any team with a glaring need. Trevathan made 75 solo tackles for Denver this year.
Jerrell Freeman (Ind, ILB, 30) – The Colts’ defense has been abysmal for quite some time, but that’s not Freeman’s fault. One of the top IDP options at LB in 2015, Freeman made 66 solo tackles, 47 assists, 3 sacks, and an INT. A solid run-stopper who is more than adequate in coverage, it can be argued Freeman is the Colts’ most indispensable defensive player, maybe outside of CB Vontae Davis. But Freeman may not be back in 2016 – even the Colts’ official website suggested he’s going to be able to test the open market. Age almost certainly has something to do with that, given the Colts’ recent history of mega free agent busts who were past their prime (Andre Johnson, Todd Herremans, Trent Cole).
Top Defensive Backs
Sean Smith (KC, CB, 29) – Smith missed the Chiefs’ first three games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He’s missed a game just one other time back in 2010, so he’s been incredibly durable during his seven-year career. He finished the year with 7 PD, 44 total tackles, and 2 INTs. The Chiefs played poorly in the three games he missed and the defense really rounded into top form as Smith got his legs underneath him and rookie CB Marcus Peters took off in the middle of the year. Smith has size (6’3”, 220 pounds) that you just don’t normally see at the position, which makes him a coveted free agent. Teammate Eric Berry was given the franchise tag, as there was little progress in their contract negotiations, so it looks like the Chiefs will have to either dig into their pockets or unfortunately see Smith walk. The Chicago Tribune hears that Smith is looking for $8-10 million per year with his new contract.
Eric Weddle (SD, FS, 31) – It’s well known that Weddle wants out of San Diego, saying after the season that he may never speak to the franchise again. He played through a groin injury for much of the 2015 season and was placed on IR at the end of December against his wishes. What seemed to infuriate Weddle to the point of no return was when the team fined him $10,000 for staying on the field at halftime in Week Sixteen to watch his daughter perform in a dance ceremony at the stadium. Weddle, who turned 31 in January, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he’s looking for a “chance to win a title,” which would rule out numerous possible destinations. Since 2008, no safety in the league has more tackles that Weddle (638), and he’s coming off a 75-tackle campaign in 2015.
Janoris Jenkins (LA, CB, 27) – The team wasn’t expected to use a franchise tag this off-season, and ESPN reported that both Jenkins Trumaine Johnson could be candidates for the transition tag, but against all intitial expecations, Johnson received the franchise tag yesterday over Jenkins. Jenkins been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, getting beat for big plays at times but also making plays of his own, but he also remains wildly talented. He’s totaled 59 tackles in each season, defending at least 12 passes in three of his four years. He’s recorded 10 INTs over that 4-year span, with a whopping 5 of them going for TDs. The good news for Jenkins (and the Rams) is that by releasing Jared Cook, James Laurinaitis, and Chris Long, the team saved about $23 million in cap space and has around $58 million to spend this offseason, which bodes well for the re-signing of Jenkins.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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