Five Free Agents to Keep an Eye On
Written By: Adam Drewery (@ad87)
The NFL season has been over for a month now, and unless you are a Broncos fan the season probably did not go as you had hoped. For everyone else free agency is right around the corner. Hopes are high that [insert your team here, for me it’s the Texans] are going to start the new season with a bang, and they will land a shiny new running back, or a wide receiver, or that elite edge pass rusher. With that in mind, we are going to take a look at a few free agents, their potential landing spots, and what that might do for their and their new teammates’ fantasy value (assuming 10 team standard scoring).
This is not a list of where I think a player should go, but instead it is a list of moves that I found intriguing. I also wanted the fit to be somewhat realistic. All cap numbers reported are from OverTheCap.com.
Let’s take a quick look at some key dates coming up in the NFL offseason before diving into the free agents. A complete list of offseason dates can be found at this article here on NFL.com.
- March 7 – 9, 2016: Clubs can begin contract negotiations with Unrestricted Free Agents. Contracts expire at 4 PMET on March 9.
- March 9, 2016: At 4 PMET the NFL league year begins and free agency opens.
1. Lamar Miller, RB
The Miami Dolphins currently sit at $17.6 million under the cap after restructuring Suh’s contract, but they still have a lot of needs to address in the offseason. As much as they want to keep Miller, who is arguably their best offensive weapon, there have been several reports this offseason of Miller being unhappy with his role. He also is asking for over $5 million a year, but the Dolphins are hoping he will settle for that number or less. He appears set to test free agency after several years of head scratching underutilization. At 5’ 10” and 225 lbs he is not the biggest back, but he has excellent vision, he is explosive, and is a threat out of the back field. He is also an excellent pass blocking back, and has all of the tools needed to be a true three down back. Gase coming in as the new head coach could change things. I am sure Miller would like to stay in his hometown, but if a team will pay him what he is asking for he will almost surely take his talents from South Beach.
Arian Foster was released by the Texans, which saved them just over $6.6 million in cap space. The Texans now have $42.8 million in cap room. It also leaves them with a huge question mark at the running back position. Alfred Blue came on down the stretch last year, but he does not appear to be a legitimate workhorse back. The Texans also have major question marks at the quarterback position, and it appears that Tom Savage and potentially a rookie QB will compete for the starting gig. Miller’s ability as a pass blocker and as a receiver out of the backfield would alleviate some of the pressure on Savage or the yet to be drafted rookie. If Miller lands in Houston I believe he would be a top 10, possibly even top 5 fantasy running back in 2016.
The Titans have some very nice pieces in place, but they lack a true running back threat. Miller could fill that role. They have nearly $50 million in cap space, and they could offer Miller a nice contract and still address their offensive line and defense. Don’t forget that they also have the number one overall pick. If a team is interested enough in a player, like Wentz or Goff, they may be able to find a trade partner to trade back and gain more picks, or they could stay put and draft a guaranteed starting caliber player for the next 10 years. If Miller winds up with the Titans expect him to get the lion’s share of the workload, and that workload combined with his talent would assuredly make him a high-end RB2 option with top 5 RB upside.
2. Alfred Morris, RB
The Redskins find themselves in a bit of a bind now that they have tagged Kirk cousins. They currently are over the cap by almost $6 million, and so it appears that Alfred Morris will hit free agency. At 5’10” and 224 lbs he is similar in size to Lamar Miller, but he is far less talented than his fellow free agent from Miami. He is a strong, physical, bruising runner that would rather run you over than try to make you miss. He is not as much of an asset catching passes out of the backfield, but more importantly he is not a great pass blocker. His running style surely has worn him down since coming into the league in 2012. He had an impressive rookie season but his performance has trended in the wrong direction since then. Look for him to sign with a team in a two-down role.
The Oakland Raiders seem to have an on-again, off-again relationship with Latavius Murray. As a Murray owner this last season I cannot express how frustrating it was to see him break off a big run only to see him be pulled at the goal-line. My frustration as a Murray owner in 2015 aside, they just do not seem to fully trust him. The Raiders have an enormous amount of cap room, so they may be willing to overpay Morris to have a different option. The irony would be too sweet if he and Helu were to be reunited in Oakland. Aside from frustrating fantasy owners of Latavius Murray, and ruining his fantasy value, Morris would steal goal line work in Oakland making him a flex-worthy consideration.
The Lions have several needs, but they only have $25.9 million in cap space. If Calvin Johnson really does retire the Lions will be in slightly better shape, but I don’t see them being a major player in free agency. I would expect them to spend a later round pick on a bigger back, but, again, they have a lot of needs that they need to address. They let go of Joique Bell, and they have a very talented prospect in Ameer Abdullah. I expect Abdullah to be a RB2 next year with another offseason to figure out the NFL. If Alf would be willing to take a team-friendly deal, the Lions may be able to add him as a goal-line and short yardage back and to occasionally spell Abdullah. If they can replace Megatron this offense will have some potential, and that would make Alf a flex-worthy option.
A potential AFC South landing spot for Morris might be with Andrew Luck in Indy. The Colts currently have $25.3 million in cap space, but Andrew Luck is about to get paid. A lot. Morris is an interesting two down back, and with Frank Gore turning 33 before next season begins the Colts would be wise to preserve him as much as possible. Gore also accounts for $3 million in dead money against the cap, and so they may as well use him as much as they can. The Colts lack any other legitimate options at the position. I see Andrew Luck bouncing back in a big way, and any running back on a team quarterbacked by Luck is intriguing. Morris signing in Indy would hurt Frank Gore’s value, but both backs could still be viable flex options.
3. Travis Benjamin, WR
Standing only 5’10” and weighing 175 lbs, Travis Benjamin is an interesting fifth year player set to hit the free agent market. He showed off his remarkable speed, his quickness, and his toughness on several plays last year, but he could never consistently put it together. He also played in Cleveland, so there’s that. Josh Gordon reportedly kept his nose clean, and looks to be on the right track to coming back in 2016. Despite having a solid season, catching 68 of 124 targets totaling 966 yards and five touchdowns, Benjamin is not worth a cap hit totaling over $14 million had the Browns tagged him. His performance last season, however, was good enough to make him the 28th ranked fantasy WR in 2015. The Browns could and should wind up keeping him, as they have almost $50 million in cap space, but Benjamin is 26 years old and about to enter the prime of his career. It is unlikely that the Browns will let him go, especially with Gordon coming back to help take pressure off of him. There is only a limited window to play though. Get that money, Benji. No? Okay. Sorry.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers could potentially lose one of their own wide receivers in Malcom Floyd, and they also have a pair of tight ends set to test free agency as well. The Chargers should look to add depth even if they keep all of their own free agents, and Benjamin could fill in as a slot receiver and kick returner. While he does not offer much in the way of blocking, his playmaking ability could provide the offense with a spark. Benjamin joining the Chargers would make him a much more valuable fantasy asset as well. As a member of the Chargers, and with Phillip Rivers throwing him the ball, Benjamin could easily become a legitimate WR2.
The Falcons recently released Roddy White. They have just over $30 million in cap space, and they lack a solidified secondary receiving option. While they have hope in fourth round pick Justin Hardy, they need to invest in depth at their receiving position this off season. Benjamin is not talented enough to be a number one receiver on his own, but he is talented enough to take some pressure off of Julio Jones. Likewise, being the number two option behind one of the best receivers in the game would also give Benjamin more favorable match ups as well. He also would contribute in the kick return game as well. Expect him to be in the low end WR2/high end WR3 mix if he signs with Atlanta.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston looked good in his rookie year. He made mistakes early on, but he appeared to get in a groove through the end of the season. With Vincent Jackson in the twilight of his career, the Bucs should look to add younger depth at WR. Jackson will probably not get a new contract after 2016, but that void can be addressed later. Benjamin would fill a slot receiver need that is missing from the roster. With $49.5 million in cap space the Bucs could offer Benjamin more than the Browns are willing to match. A shifty receiver running through the middle of the field could bolster an already promising offense, and it would provide Winston with another potential big play outlet. As with the other teams mentioned here, Benjamin could also prove to be valuable in the return game as well.
4. Ladarius Green, TE
The 6’6”, 240 lb tight end has gobs of talent, and he is set to test free agency after sitting behind fellow free agent, Antonio Gates, for four years. The Chargers would definitely like to keep this talented young prospect, and they currently sit with $37.5 million in cap space. Gates is also 36 years old at the start of the 2016 season, and there has been some speculation that the Chargers would like both to come back with reversed roles. In 2015 he posted meager numbers, catching 37 of 63 for 429 yards and 4 TDs, but it was still his statistically best season thus far in the pros. Nearly 3/4 of that production came in the first half of the season – when Gates was out. The Chargers offensive line was also a major issue, and the entire offense struggled as a result. Nonetheless, I see big things on the horizon for this talented, young tight end. His best bet would be to stay in San Diego, but in the event that he does not he may wind up in one of the following places.
The Texans cleared some cap room by cutting Foster and Rahim Moore, but they also cut one of their tight ends, Garret Graham. Currently sitting with $42.8 million in cap space, the Texans could make a push to sign Green. Bill O’Brien has said numerous times in press conferences about his desire to get more from the tight ends, and having a big target like Green in the middle of the field would be a nice safety valve for the aforementioned young quarterback. Green currently sits at number 10 on my personal TE rankings for the 2016 season regardless of where he winds up at. With an unproven solution at QB, Green could easily dink and dunk his way to low end TE1/TE2 status as a member of the Texans.
Green Bay Packers
Richard Rodgers has not budded into the tight end the Packers had hoped for. They only have $22 million in cap space, and they have much bigger needs to address this off season. The Packers also tend to build from within, but if a talent like Green is available at the right price they would be wise to make a push for him. A-a-ron would likely become fast friends if this big tight end finds his way to Green Bay. With Jordy Nelson back, and Eddie Lacy (hopefully) coming back in shape, the Packers offense should return to former glory. And besides, with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, there is always the potential for a huge game for any member of the offense. This fit would firmly place Green inside my top 10 TE ranks for the 2016 season.
The Falcons need to do something to help take some pressure off of Julio Jones. Currently with $30 million in cap space, the Falcons have several holes on their roster. They seem pretty excited about their young fourth round draft pick, Justin Hardy, but they lack a big bodied threat quite like Green in the middle of the field. Green would be a massive upgrade over Jacob Tamme, who was effectively the Falcons second receiving option in 2015. Kyle Shanahan made Owen Daniels look pretty darn good while serving as offensive coordinator under Kubiak in Houston. I think this would be a home run, and Green would be solidified as a top 10 TE going into the 2016 season.
5. Rishard Matthews, WR
Another underutilized Dolphin makes our list. Matthews apparently commands more than the Dolphins can pay him, and with the emergence of DeVante Parker it appears Matthews is set to test free agency. Miami has restructured Suh and has some cap space now. However, if Miller resigns with Miami to stay in his hometown that cap space will disappear quickly. Matthews caught 43 of 61 targets for 662 yards and 4 TDs, but he has always fought to earn playing time on the Dolphins. He is an underrated receiver when it comes to blocking, which should help keep him on the field wherever he ends up. As with Miller, I sense some frustration from the player with his franchise. Ranked 35 of 121 WRs, per ProFootballFocus, expect Matthews to land a decent contract with a receiver needy team.
Believe it or not, but I actually have some faith in the Browns organization. Sashi Brown is effectively the GM, and I expect him to apply some money ball principles to this organization… only to get fired two years from now. All kidding aside, the Browns have more than enough cap space to offer Matthews a competitive offer. They also have almost no depth at the wide receiver position. Even if Travis Benjamin stays in Cleveland, Matthews could open the field up even further if the Browns decide to upgrade to Goff or Wentz with the 2nd overall pick. This would potentially set the Browns, yes, those Browns, up offensively for years to come. Other Browns wide receivers not named Josh Gordon will take hit to their fantasy value, and even Gordon’s value would take a slight hit if Matthews ends up in Cleveland. If Benjamin is not there in 2016, and if Matthews winds up a Brown expect him to put up WR3 numbers at worst.
New York Giants
It is my opinion that Victor Cruz is done, and with Rueben Randle set to be a free agent the Giants need to do something. OBJ can’t do everything on his own, and the Giants rank 3rd with $56.5 million in cap space. Matthews would provide a legitimate number two threat that would be an upgrade over Randle or Harris, both in terms of pass catching and blocking ability. I am interested to see if OBJ learned from his scuffle with Josh Norman, but assuming that he has I think he would benefit from Matthews joining the Giants. Matthews would draw attention from OBJ, and OBJ would open the field up for Matthews. This would also open running lanes for whoever they wind up with in the backfield behind or beside Eli. I could see OBJ and Matthews’ fantasy value rising as a result. Matthews will potentially be a low end WR2 or high end WR3 if he made his way to the Giants.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams could potentially make some big moves when free agency comes around. Kroenke will be hell bent to enter the LA Market with a bang, and I fully expect him to try to grab any and all free agents he can. The Rams currently have $45 million in cap space. I don’t believe that Matthews is a number one receiver talent, but he is a good enough player that he could alleviate some pressure from a rookie they might grab in the draft. Depending on what they think of the QBs, the Rams may snag Treadwell at #15 overall. Matthews would give the Rams the most talented wide receiver they have had in quite some time. This would also prove to be a boon for Gurley as well, as ProFootballFocus rates Matthews as a better blocking receiver than anyone currently on the Rams. The NFL seems hell bent on making a splash in LA, and I believe the Rams will be aggressive in free agency to try to draw in a crowd.