Raymond Summerlin

Free Agency Update

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Best Free Agent Destinations

Monday, March 6, 2017


No period exemplifies the old NFL adage of “no offseason” better than free agency. For at least a week the sports world is fixated on which free agent lands where, how much they make, and how humorously we can compare their “pittance” of a salary to those of athletes in other sports, some of which have their regular season overshadowed by the NFL’s “offseason.”

Along with the madness happening in the real league, free agency is also an exciting time for fantasy players. Opportunity is the foundation of fantasy success, and there are plenty of teams bursting at the seams with available targets or carries who will make a splash this spring.

That said, not all opportunity is created equal. Despite somewhat surprisingly re-signing Jeremy Kerley, the 49ers are set to lose around 200 targets, and there is not much in the way of competition for a new No. 1 receiver. Unfortunately, San Francisco does not have a quarterback. That is not hyperbole, either. They literally do not have a quarterback on the roster.

Perhaps they sign or draft a reasonable starter out of whom new coach Kyle Shanahan can coax a respectable season, but the 49ers are not an exciting destination for a player like Alshon Jeffery. The situation is similar for the Vikings’ running game, which is set to lose Adrian Peterson and almost 200 carries but also plays behind perhaps the worst offensive line in the league.

It is not all bad, however. There are plenty of high-upside landing spots at every fantasy position.

Quarterback
Broncos: 
Denver has a lot of work to do on the offensive line, but their pros outweigh the cons. They have two outstanding receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, a backfield which should produce if the issues up front are fixed, and a defense which will consistently put the offense in good positions. Add in a quality offensive coordinator, and this attack has a chance to be very good with the right quarterback.

Texans:
Perhaps no team has ever been more “a quarterback away” than the Texans. In fact, Houston has many of the same things working in its favor as Denver. The receiver weapons are not quite as good, but DeAndre Hopkins is a high-end No. 1, Will Fuller should be more dangerous with a competent quarterback, and C.J. Fiedorowicz is a quality tight end. Lamar Miller is a high-end back who should only become more effective if defenses have to worry about the passing game, and the defense is one of the best in the league. Like the Broncos, the Texans’ biggest concern other than quarterback is the offensive line, but it is still a great destination.

Honorable Mention:
The Browns were originally listed with the top two teams because they are quietly pretty similar on offense. Cleveland has a great offensive mind at head coach, a solid backfield duo, a pass catching tight end with an albeit limited history of success, and a stellar receiver duo…or at least they had a stellar duo. Corey Coleman is there for the long haul, but it now looks likely Terrelle Pryor will bolt in free agency, making the decision not to tag him despite cap space which rivals the Republic of Kiribati’s GDP questionable to be kind. If they end up reaching a deal with Pryor, the Browns will quietly be a solid landing spot for a quarterback.

The 49ers, Bears, and Jets all offer immediate starting opportunities, but the surrounding talent is bad to terrible in all three spots. The 49ers have one of the worst receiver depth charts in the league, the Bears are looking at an unproven Kevin White and Cameron Meredith as their top receivers, and the Jets will be left with Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson if Eric Decker follows Brandon Marshall out the door.

Buffalo will be another interesting destination if they move on from Tyrod Taylor, and the Jaguars and Cardinals are teams to pay attention to in Dynasty formats. Carson Palmer could be entering his final season, and Blake Bortles may end up getting run out of Jacksonville if he struggles again.

Running Back
Raiders:
Oakland has been trying to replace Latavius Murray for two years, so it would be shocking if he re-signs. Even with complementary backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard stealing work, Murray topped 225 touches and saw 43 targets in 2016. Perhaps the Raiders want to get Washington and Richard, who are basically the same player, more involved moving forward, but it is more likely they are looking for a back who is hopefully more dynamic than Murray to fill a similar role, a role with offers top-20 touches behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Patriots:
Even if LeGarrette Blount bolts in free agency, New England will not be staring into a bare cupboard. Dion Lewis is a dynamic back when healthy, and James White was serviceable and at times stellar, Super Bowl especially, down the stretch. Neither of those backs can fill the role Blount has occupied, however, and that role comes with significant fantasy upside. Blount was a monster with 18 touchdowns in 2016, and while that explosion was bigger than ones he has provided in the past, Blount’s time in New England has been marked by stellar touchdown production. He has 34 touchdowns in 49 games with the Patriots, and he had 16 scores in 33 games entering last season, almost an eight-a-season pace. Those touchdowns will have to go to someone if Blount leaves.

Packers:
Ty Montgomery had his moments as the lead back and proved he needs to be involved as a runner moving forward, which is not surprising to many who watched him at Stanford, but it is unlikely he alone is Green Bay’s answer at running back. Even after Montgomery took over in Week 7, the Packers’ other running backs averaged more carries per game combined in the 13 contests in which Montgomery played. He had more than 10 carries only three times and more than 11 just once in that run. Montgomery is going to have a role, but there is room for a 12-15 carry back with solid touchdown upside in this offense assuming Eddie Lacy signs elsewhere.

Honorable Mention:
Both the Vikings and Giants have some degree of an opening at running back, but they are hardly situations to target. Neither Jerick McKinnon nor Paul Perkins appear to be going anywhere, and neither running game has been good enough to support one fantasy back let alone two. Perhaps that changes if either team miraculously fixes their offensive line, but for now there is not much to be excited about.

The Bengals and Saints form another group of running back needy teams which have nominal starters but heavily use complementary backs. Cincinnati is the more interesting of the two on the surface because Jeremy Hill is not very good and headed into the final year of his deal, but Giovani Bernard should return relatively early in the season, putting a damper on the redraft upside. 2016 seventh-rounder Daniel Lasco is an interesting name, but he and special teamer Marcus Murphy are the only two backs currently under contract behind Mark Ingram. Considering Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet combined for 199 touches in 2016, there could be a pretty big role waiting for a free agent or rookie in New Orleans.

Finally, the Eagles, Bucs, Ravens, Colts, Panthers, and Lions make up a group of teams who have a starter or stable of backs with serious questions marks. Of these, Philly seems like the best landing spot because Ryan Mathews both has an injury question and looks unlikely to return, but Tampa Bay if they do not retain Doug Martin or Carolina if they decide to move on from Stewart will be just as interesting as Oakland, New England, and Green Bay.


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Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
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