It’s about to get real. And by real, I mean real crazy.
On March 13, the floodgates will open and free agency will officially begin in the NFL. By the time that occurs, many of the top free agents will already have new homes, compliments of the “legal tampering” period that begins a few days earlier. Regardless of which day it technically happens, a whole lot of players are about to get paid a whole lot of cash to change mailing addresses. Most importantly for us, a whole lot of fantasy values are going to change along with them.
It’s difficult (if not impossible) to truly gauge the fantasy values of free agents until we see exactly where they wind up. If you’re the type of speculative dynasty fantasy owner who just can’t sleep unless he’s ahead of the game, we can at least look at the latest rumors and scuttlebutt regarding these players in an effort to discern where they might be headed (and what that could mean in fantasy).
Then, once the dust settles, we’ll circle back and revisit how wrong I was—because that’s always fun.
10. QB Nick Foles
This one may be the easiest on this list to forecast because everyone and their mother appears to believe they know where Foles is going.
Per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Enquirer, the market for Foles’ services essentially consists of one serious suitor on Florida’s northeast coast. It certainly makes sense that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be interested in the Super Bowl LII MVP after they went from the AFC title game in 2017 to the AFC South cellar in 2018—mostly due to poor QB play.
However, it’s hard to imagine Foles as a fantasy starter in Jacksonville. Yes, the 30-year-old had big games here and there in Philly, but his numbers were up-and-down and the Eagles have more passing-game talent than the Jags.
Assuming that this signing comes to pass (and at this point it would be an upset if it didn’t) Foles is an OK fantasy QB2—and that’s about it.
9. WR John Brown
John Brown’s career to date has been a tale of two players—the productive downfield threat and the disappointment who can’t stay on the field. In 2018, for the first time since his 1,000-yard season in Arizona in 2015, we saw the former in Baltimore.
Yes, Brown’s 42/715/5 stat line and WR45 PPR fantasy finish last season are hardly jaw-droppers, but the 28-year-old averaged a career-best 17 yards a catch. The run-centric nature of Baltimore’s offense once Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback caused his numbers to dip toward the end of the season.
As you get deeper into the free agents—players like Brown, Ajayi, Adrian Peterson and Randall Cobb—this is what you get—some upside and a bunch of question marks, whether it’s due to age, injury or some other factor.
Is it possible that Brown could land somewhere where, if healthy, he could potentially post numbers even better than his top-25 fantasy season back in 2015?
Yes, but potentially possible is right about where I should talk about a quarterback really quick and then check out before I develop a migraine.
March is a touch early for those.
8. RB Jay Ajayi
Per Jeff Kerr of 247 Sports, Ajayi had his moments with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. “Ajayi began to look like the running back that had a breakout 2016 season with the Dolphins after he was traded to the Eagles,” Kerr said, “when he had 260 carries for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and earning a Pro Bowl berth. That Ajayi had three 200-yard rushing games and averaged 17.3 carries a game.”
However, there have also been injuries galore—including a torn ACL that ended his 2018 season after four games and just 45 carries. Additionally, there have been whispers dating all the way back to Ajayi’s time with the Miami Dolphins that his effort level can be inconsistent.
Is the four-year veteran a potential featured back and fantasy steal in the making who will likely be available on a short-term “prove it” deal in free agency and later in fantasy drafts this summer? Or is he a complementary player at best setting up to be a waste of cash and fantasy draft capital?
No, really…I’m genuinely asking. I have no idea.
7. WR Adam Humphries
According to Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, it’s a good year to be a free agent slot receiver. He says he is, “Hearing some of the leading slot receivers in this year’s free agent class (Golden Tate, Adam Humphries) are asking for $10 to $14 million a year on the open market, per league sources.”
The thing is, they’ll as likely as not get it—largely because while this year’s crop of receivers isn’t exactly imposing, teams still need pass-catching help. They also have money to burn.
With the 25-year-old Humphries, it’s all about the potential of the youngster building on last year’s career season—76 catches, 816 yards and five scores in Tampa. That production was good for a WR24 finish in PPR fantasy points.
That’s also a reasonable baseline for expectations for Humphries moving forward–given a neutral landing spot—a higher-end WR3. He could be bumped up or down from there, depending on which team hands him a greasy ball of cash.
6. WR Jamison Crowder
Per ESPN’s John Keim, Washington head coach Jay Gruden said the team is going to make a concerted effort to retain Crowder.
“He’s got great quickness in intermediate routes, can separate, has good hands, he’s tough, he’s physical in the running game,” Gruden said. “There is really not anything that Jamison can’t do. You look at his size and say he’s little, but he plays big, so we have to try and get him back for sure.”
The problem is that in a weak WR market, there will be plenty of demand for Crowder’s services, even after last year’s injury-marred fiasco of a season. As recently as 2017, Crowder was an effective slot receiver and viable fantasy WR3.
Crowder’s essentially a younger and cheaper Golden Tate. While I’m all for loyalty and teams keeping players, given Washington’s messy situation under center it would be better for the 25-year old’s fantasy prospects if he plays next season wearing a new hat.
5. TE Jared Cook
Cook’s without question the best of a shallow crop of free agent tight ends after hauling in career-bests in receptions (68), yards (896) and touchdowns (6) as Derek Carr’s top target in Oakland last year.
Given that the 31-year-old was easily Oakland’s No. 1 pass-catcher last year, at first glance it would appear to make sense for the Raiders to bring Cook back, but new Oakland GM Mike Mayock has already stated that Cook will at least be allowed to test the open market.
Cook wasn’t just Oakland’s top receiver in 2018. He was also a godsend for fantasy owners in a terrible year for tight ends, finishing fifth in PPR fantasy points. That was also easily the best season by a player with a long history of playing “Lucy” and yanking the ball away from fantasy owners at the last second.
The best-case here is simple—Cook finds a softer-than-expected market and winds up back in Oaktown. Even then he’s a player who will be at risk of being overdrafted based on last year’s spike.
4. WR Tyrell Williams
Williams is one of the more interesting players among the top free agents of 2019—in that the 27-year-old potentially has the most upside of the lot.
For most of his four seasons in the NFL, Williams’ production has been somewhat underwhelming—including a 41/653/5 line in 2018 that ranked Williams 49th in PPR fantasy points. However, with Keenan Allen on the shelf back in 2016, Williams exploded for 69 receptions, 1,059 yards and seven scores—numbers that slotted Williams inside the top-20 fantasy-wise.
Among this year’s free-agent receivers, Williams is easily the best boundary option—a player that has shown he can serve as the top option in an NFL passing game.
Williams has been linked to a number of teams in need of help in that regard, from Oakland to Cleveland and all points in between. Fantasy owners need to cross their fingers that Williams’ big payday comes with a side of competent quarterback play.
3. WR Golden Tate
That a 30-year-old receiver coming off one of the worst seasons of his career is the cream of this year’s crop tells you just about everything you need to know about this year’s free agent receivers.
However, Golden Tate deserves something of a mulligan for last year’s down production. The ninth-year veteran didn’t ask to be traded to Philadelphia in the middle of the season, and it took him a while to find a niche in the Eagles’ offense.
In both 2016 and 2017, Tate topped 90 catches and 1,000 yards with the Detroit Lions—finishing as a top-20 PPR wide receiver each of those years. Tate’s also been durable—playing in each 15 games every year since 2011.
Tate has already lobbied to sign with the New England Patriots, because of course he did. However, that’s just the sort of landing spot that would be ideal for the veteran—a team with an established quarterback in need of some receiving help.
2. RB Tevin Coleman
As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported, after a career-high in total yards in 2018, Coleman’s well-thought of in NFL circles. McClure says, “He is a solid guy who can be a starter, but I think he is a better rotational guy,” one NFC coach said. Who starts is up to the team. He’s got a very good change of pace.”
The Falcons haven’t completely ruled out bringing Coleman back, but given the team’s cap situation and how much money the team has tied up in Devonta Freeman, the overwhelming belief is that Coleman is moving on. He will likely be the consolation prize for the teams that either miss out on the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes or just can’t afford a ticket.
With strong pass-catching ability, Coleman has been a fantasy RB2 each of the last three years despite never notching 200 touches in a season. If he falls into a gig as an NFL’s team’s lead back instead of that change of pace, the top 15 isn’t outside the realm of reason.
1. RB Le’Veon Bell
There isn’t an offensive free agent in the NFL whose new home is being more scrutinized than Bell’s. In fact, the other 19 players on this list put together may not be of as much interest to fantasy owners as Bell, who finished as the runner-up to Todd Gurley in PPR fantasy points two years ago.
Bell has been linked to about 35 teams—which is puzzling given that there are only 32 teams in the NFL. The leading contenders to obtain his services would appear to be teams that possess both a need at the tailback position and oodles of cap space—like the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Houston Texans.
Frankly, I’m as concerned about Bell’s year away from football and injury history as I am the prospect of his landing with the worst run-blocking team in the NFL last year (the Jets). But even then, it’s hard to imagine the 27-year-old falling farther than high-end RB territory. Best-case? A return to the top-10 and Round 1 of fantasy drafts.
Be sure to check back here at Fanium for the upcoming preview of Free Agent defenders (IDP Alert!) and then after the madness gets underway, when Gary will update who landed where and what it all means.
He’ll almost certainly have that migraine by then—it’s a morbidly funny thing to watch.