Dynasty Fantasy Football: Future Free Agent Planning
March 20, 2014 | Rich Hribar
One of my favorite aspects of dynasty leagues is how they force you to become a fan of the entire game while focusing on the present but also keeping an eye on the future. With all of the hype that NFL free agency brings and the impact that those new comings and goings bring to our fantasy landscape, savvy owners were already ahead of the curve.
Not only does dynasty keep you looking towards prospecting youth, but you also need to focus on the business aspect of the league. A year ago, owners that were aware that Golden Tate was an efficient player on low volume or that Ben Tate would finally be freed from the clutches of Arian Foster’s shadows made plays at a discounted price for their services in hopes that they would end up in a position to contribute to their rosters in a new situation. Buying-in ahead lowers the cost of purchasing these commodities but can also increase their value if you need to move them when they become the hot new flavor this time of the year.
With the excitement stemming from this season’s free agency period mainly subsiding, we’re going to take a peek at some players that have expiring contracts after this season and who that may effect on their current club. Since there are so many situations, we’re not going to focus more on cheaper assets to acquire. I will note the top heavy players though for your awareness, but in general those types of players don’t usually hit the open market.
I’m also not going to speculate on any players that could be released after the season. So no mention of what could possibly happen if Marshawn Lynch is let go and so forth. Also, good quarterbacks really haven’t hit the market under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, so we’re bypassing them as well. Until a team finally blinks and doesn’t extend an upcoming free agent like Andy Dalton, it’s hard to get excited about the position playing musical chairs.
One other important thing to note is that when the NFL restructured the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011, they adopted a brand new rookie wage scale. That first season it was in place, teams were granted the rights to exercise a non-negotiable fifth year option on all first round picks. There are more ins and outs on that (read more about that here if you’re interested) that could get messy, but for the sake of this post you won’t see any of those guys listed. Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and so on won’t make the cut.
Noteworthy unrestricted free agents (UFA) players to monitor: Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Roddy White, Cecil Shorts
Colts – Both Reggie Wayne and newly acquired Hakeem Nicks will be UFA’s after the season. Wayne will then be 37-years old and likely putting a bow on his career. If Nicks can channel his 2010 form and make an impact this season, he opens himself up to get a big deal after the season and will only be 27, so he’s worth an add if the price is right and of low cost or you just hate yourself. The real player we care about who both of those guys effect though is Da’Rick Rogers.
Rogers has the very rare Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) tag for 2015. Meaning that the Colts can offer him a third season at the minimum salary or he can leave the league. He will not be eligible to negotiate with any other team, the only “free” in his free agency, is he will be free to quit or take that deal.
Owners got a small glimpse of the ability that Rogers has when he was pressed into playing time with all of the injuries the Colts suffered last season. Indy gets Wayne and Dwayne Allen back this year and they added Nicks, meaning Rogers will have to pay his dues and get better during the week while proving his maturity level before getting a break to once again make an impact. If he absorbs some of Wayne’s tutelage and the light goes on upstairs, you can have one the most athletically gifted receivers attached to one of the youngest ascending quarterbacks. An owner may be impatient enough to move him now or may have lost faith in what his ceiling truly is. If that’s the case, Rogers is one lottery ticket you want to add.
Raiders – Yes, the same team that just signed James Jones to a three year deal and currently has no plan at quarterback. Well, the rest of their receiving corps will ultimately be turned over one way or another. Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes will be UFA’s in ’15 while Rod Streater will be a restricted free agent (RFA). Streater likely won’t go anywhere due to that tag and slot flexibility and Holmes will then be a 27-year old with likely no real NFL level production. You can let another owner chase his desirable 6’5” height.
Moore will be the guy to add this season at a discount. He will be 26 this year, but has a December birthday, so he’s still relatively in the apex age for production when he is a free agent. He’s flirted with WR3 production his entire career, scoring 18 touchdowns over his first three seasons. He also has a penchant for the big play as six of those scores have come from 30 yards or more and had three top 12 weeks with Terrelle Pryor last season. Performance consistency and health have been an issue to this point, but he’s likely to come very cheap at the moment.
The other player this could affect is Brice Butler, Oakland’s seventh round pick a year ago out of San Diego State who flashed last preseason before getting hurt. Butler is under contract through 2016 and will be buried on the depth chart this upcoming season. Admittedly a longshot, but he likely doesn’t even have a cost right now in your league. With the possibility of both Moore and Holmes moving on after the season, he’s worth a look.
Bears – Brandon Marshall will be 30 this season and an UFA in 2015. The cat is already out of the bag on Marquess Wilson with the release of Earl Bennett and our own Chad Scott can tell you why Wilson is a hot commodity. Marshall has found career stability in Chicago, so my best guess would be that he finishes his career there, but don’t take anything for granted if you can grab Wilson for the right price.
Patriots – This will be fun for sure. The only Patriot runner currently signed past this season is Jonas Gray. We already know how they operate in house and we also know that they understand the current market value of the running back position itself. So nobody really knows how this will play out next offseason.
Shane Vereen is obviously the most important back for what they want to achieve on offense, which is creating mismatches at the intermediate level. His value to them and in fantasy in 2014 has never been higher and likely will never be this high again. This upcoming season he will have a large role, but what happens beyond is guesswork.
The other 2011 rookie drafted along with Vereen, Stevan Ridley could be the real bargain here. He’s definitely deserved some of his trips to the Hoody’s doghouse, but all of that jerking around probably isn’t incentive for him to re-sign in New England once the season ends when bigger money could be elsewhere.
Ridley will only be 26 entering 2015 and currently is only at 632 career touches. He’s also been formidable near the paint, converting 14 of 33 career carries inside the five-yard line into touchdowns. He isn’t a plodder either, with 23 runs of 15 yards or more over the past two seasons, 12th most of all NFL backs.
The downside is the fumbling issue (nine in three years) and the fact that he is a non-factor in the passing game (19 career receptions). With so many fantasy leagues providing a reception boost to scoring and so many backs now involved in catching passes in the real game, Ridley will have his fantasy ceiling capped.
Cowboys – It’s never a dull moment in Dallas as the World of Jerrah Turns. Dallas already has $111.5 million tied up in 2015 and that’s without the impending signing of Dez Bryant. DeMarco Murray will also be an UFA while Lance Dunbar will be an RFA.
I would like to assume that Dallas is smart enough not to let Murray go anywhere, but I’m not assuming anything with the Cowboys. I mean, this is a team with a half dozen offensive coordinators. Obviously Murray is and has been underrated because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field, missing 11 games in his first three seasons.
When he’s on it, he’s fantastic, averaging 72.5 rushing yards per game. The most underrated facet of Murray’s game is his involvement in the passing game. He’s averaged 3.6 receptions per game over the past two seasons and the Cowboys have brought in Scott Linehan this season to call plays. During his time in Detroit from 2009 through last season, backs under Linehan accounted for 46.8 percent of all receptions in the offense.
I won’t lie to you; second year runner Joseph Randle (under contract through 2016) isn’t good at football. You can add him if any of this sounds appealing to you and if somehow both Murray and Dunbar are gone after the year. Randle is too small for his running style and he’s too slow for his size, a combination that screams NFL mediocrity that needs volume.
The true add in hopes of running into a find is third year back Dunbar. He was dominant in college at North Texas, rushing for over 1,100 yards in each of his final three seasons and also caught 97 passes in college. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field either, amassing only had 30 carries a season ago, but 13 went for five or more yards. With teams reluctant to sign players designated as RFA because they don’t want to give the compensation, Dunbar has a window, even if small to inherit a big role and will only be 25 entering 2015.
Chargers – With everyone down in the dumps after hoping that Donald Brown would turn his strong 2013 into a starting gig somewhere, I recently noted at XN Sports that his signing in San Diego isn’t a reason to give him the Eyeore treatment.
Both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead will have expiring deals entering 2014 and only Brown is signed beyond this season. Believe it or not, but Brown actually has 350 fewer touches than Mathews in his career and both will be 27 entering this season. Woodhead is already 30 and only plays one role.
Mathews is a better overall runner than Brown and Woodhead is a better receiver, but Brown is versatile enough to be the backup to both roles this season and occupy the departing role of either back isn’t retained even if he will never be a lead back on his own.
Saints – After dealing Darren Sproles to the Eagles and resigning Pierre Thomas to a two year extension, the Saints backfield is once again a muddy mess heading into 2014. The good news is that Mark Ingram is entering the last year of his deal, opening up a possibility for himself to move on to a better situation while also creating an opportunity for Khiry Robinson to inherit a full time lead down job (whatever that means with Sean Payton) in 2015.
Ingram has been more than a disappointment to this point, rushing for under 1,500 yards and only 11 scores in his first three seasons. He did show flashes of running hard versus Carolina and Philadelphia late last season, so there’s still light in the tunnel. He’s still relatively fresh because of his role in New Orleans, having only 411 touches up until this point and will still be 26 when he hits the open market. Like the aforementioned Ridley, his lack of receiving ability will keep his low price in a desirable target area.
Robinson was everyone’s love child after showing his abilities off against the Super Bowl Champs in the postseason. Just because the tides have shifted slightly against his favor with Thomas returning and the ongoing quagmire in the Saints’ backfield doesn’t mean you have to ignore him now. If Ingram were to depart after the season, or he can beat him out in 2014 (which isn’t farfetched by any means) for rushing down duties, Robinson stands have some value. He is currently only 24, but the word is also already out on him.
49ers – This one isn’t under the radar, but it should still be reminded that aging workhorse Frank Gore will be 31 in the last year of his deal along with their fantasy version of Ben Tate, Kendall Hunter, who will be 27 entering 2015.
Hunter will likely never get a real opportunity at age 27 after being caught in what could be a massive timeshare this season with redshirted rookie Marcus Lattimore and Gore. A year removed from a partially torn Achilles, Hunter may never achieve the fantasy relevancy many once envisioned.
Lattimore is an unknown asset at this point but also can’t really be gained at a favorable price point either with his college resume and possible opportunity behind one of the best offensive lines in football. This is a situation that I’m likely to stay away from in startups and in making deals for acquiring any of their services.
Noteworthy UFA to monitor: Kyle Rudolph, Julius Thomas
Only one real player to watch, Charles Clay is a player you may want to acquire while his price is still favorable who will be a UFA next year. “Miami Marcel” was a H back in college at Tulsa, rushing for over 900 yards and 10 scores while adding 189 receptions and 28 receiving touchdowns.
With the majority of his NFL time at pure tight end, Clay notched seven top 12 weeks in 2013 on his way to 69 receptions and six receiving touchdowns (he also carried seven times and added a rushing score) at age 24. His versatility could really be utilized in an open offense and Miami is already locked into a ton of cash at the receiver position. He is not James Casey all over again.
Not everyone here will bear fantasy fruit down the line, but these are some of the intriguing options to follow along and probe owners for in trades, even as add-ons to bigger scale trades. One eye on the future doesn’t always mean focusing on the incoming draft class.