2012 Free Agency Tracker
Last Updated: 5/7/12 @ 11:01 a.m. ET
It’s a great time to be an NFL fan, since we’re back on track with free agency kicking off in early March, as it always does – save for 2011’s lockout offseason.
We’ll usually include analysis on many signings immediately, especially the important ones. But as a general rule, it’s safe to assume we’ll have all key signings included no later than 24 hours after the signing is official. The key word is “official,” as we may hold off on writing up some reported signings until they are confirmed by the teams.
So check back here regularly to keep up with the fantasy impacts of all of these signings.
Players signed by new teams:
Note: Listing of players is based on overall fantasy impact.
Peyton Manning (QB, Signed by Den from Ind) – Manning and the Broncos agreed to a five-year, $96 million deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: If you wanted drama, we got it. After last season’s Tim Tebow explosion, with which the Broncos and team president John Elway were clearly not infatuated, the Broncos’ QB situation was already looking interesting heading into 2012. But now, we’ve got even more storylines: Peyton will go to play for John Fox, who will allow him to shape this offense the way he sees fit, and Tebow has now been traded. Obviously, Manning did enough in his workouts and visits with Elway, Fox, and crew to convince the Broncos he’s healthy, and Elway saw this as the only way to separate his club from the hysteria Tebow created last year. In that sense, it’s a masterstroke. There is offensive talent around Manning. WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are young, gifted receivers, Julius Thomas and Virgil Green are physically-gifted TEs, and while the OL has some issues, it’s not bad and Manning can help make up for it. We also saw the Broncos pick up Manning’s former Colt teammate in Jacob Tamme, who is athletic enough to fit in with the growing trend in the league of move guys being featured and who Manning obviously knows well. We don’t have to note that he needs to prove he’s healthy, but if that’s the case, we know how special Manning can be. With the talent around him, which could still be supplemented further through free agency and the draft, there’s a chance a healthy Manning could be a top-six fantasy QB, if not better. For now, we have him just barely in the top-10 because it will be hard for him to keep pace with some of the elite options at the position these days, players who are putting up massive numbers (Rodgers, Brees, Stafford, etc.). Updated: 4/5
Matt Flynn (Signed by Sea from GB) – After visiting just the Dolphins and Seahawks, Flynn signed a three-year deal worth $28 million ($10 million guaranteed) with Seattle, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Flynn’s price tag appeared to drop a little bit with Peyton Manning hitting the market, yet he only drew interest from Miami and Seattle. The former backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay follows in the footsteps of former Brett Favre backup Matt Hasselbeck in moving on to Seattle, where he appears to be the projected starter ahead of Tarvaris Jackson. Although his only start of the season came in a meaningless Week Seventeen game against the Lions, Flynn had a performance for the record books, throwing for 480 yards and 6 TDs on 31/44 passing in a victory that helped his stock rise in a league always looking for quality QB play. While Flynn will have just two starts under his belt when he turns 27 in June, the little we have seen from him has been positive, and Packer wideout Greg Jennings had a lot of good things to say about Flynn and his development in an interview we conducted with him in early February. Jennings said Flynn was a player who knew how to win, and that his arm strength and accuracy has improved greatly the last few years. While Flynn won’t have any receivers at the level of Jennings, he’ll join a team that has a dangerous, big threat in Sidney Rice, one of the better all-around TEs in the league (assuming they actually use him) in Zach Miller, and some young role players like WRs Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. Of course, Seattle’s offense should continue to revolve around Marshawn Lynch and the rushing attack and an improved defense. And their OL, while featuring two #1 picks on the edges, is a work in progress to be kind. Aside from his lone start in 2011, Flynn started just one other game in his four-year tenure with the Packers, but he rose ahead of Brian Brohm as Rodgers’ backup coming out of LSU as a 7th-round pick in 2008. While Flynn doesn’t have great arm strength, he should be able to do well in Seahawk OC Darrell Bevell’s version of the West Coast offense. It’s assumed Flynn will beat Jackson out for the starting job, but he does still have to actually do that. If so, he’s a viable backup on the low end, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to put up very healthy numbers on a team that averaged only 211 passing yards in 2011. Updated: 4/5
Tim Tebow (Acquired by NYJ from Den) – The final domino in the Peyton Manning saga fell when the Jets traded a 4th-round and 6th-round pick for Tebow and a 7th-round pick.
- Fantasy Analysis: Peyton didn’t end Tebowmania; he started it. Tebow now will play under America’s brightest lights, and what makes it interesting is that the Jets aren’t exactly secure at the QB position with Mark Sanchez, regardless of what they say publicly (and regardless of what his recent extension might suggest). What we do know is that both coach Rex Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano are fans of the Wildcat. Sparano built it into his offense a few years ago in Miami with Ronnie Brown, and Ryan has run it with Brad Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson (after Sparano had beaten him with it). In theory, the idea can work, because the run/pass threat of Tebow, coupled with his natural strength, can be a weapon in the red zone. Assuming Sanchez plays well enough to hold off the fans’ cries for Tebow, we assume Tebow’s role will be to play 10-20 snaps per game, liberally. What kind of affect does that have for fantasy? It’s hard to say, because we haven’t seen a Wildcat QB take consistent snaps throughout an entire season. The assumption is that Sanchez will lose enough TDs and Tebow won’t take enough snaps to make either worthwhile as a fantasy QB. But what if Sanchez doesn’t play well? The Jets are in the same position as the Broncos last year, in that they’d have to build an offense around the NFL’s most unconventional QB. In other words, Tebow doesn’t operate “in theory” because he’s Tim Tebow. Warranted or not, he’s a marketing superstar, and will bring a media circus with him. If everything works out as the Jets intend (and their intentions can only be guessed at this point), this move could have a lot of value. For example, many in New York feel Sanchez has been coddled, which has stifled his progression as a player. Clearly, the presence of Tebow should motivate Sanchez to raise his game to the next level. But if he doesn’t, what are the chances we go through the entire year without the New York Post back page asking for Tebow to start? Until it’s clear he will start, we can’t expect much for traditional fantasy leagues that start only one QB. Updated: 4/5
Chad Henne (Signed by Jac from Mia) – Henne agreed to a two-year deal with the Jaguars worth $6.75 million, according to the Florida Times-Union.
- Fantasy Analysis: Well, the Jaguars had to do something, as the QB position was a disaster after they jettisoned David Garrard and gave the offense to rookie 1st-round pick Blaine Gabbert early in the season. Gabbert simply wasn’t ready to handle the job, as, while he has an NFL arm, he’s totally lost under pressure and does not appear willing to stand in the pocket with defenders around him. That’s a big issue in the NFL, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Henne win the job from him, at least early in the season. That’s not to say Henne is a stud. The 26-year-old Henne was inconsistent and struggled with his decision-making ability in Miami, where he started 31 games, with only four coming last season because of a shoulder injury. Henne has the physical tools to succeed, and he will occasionally put up big numbers. In fact, he opened the season with 416 yards against the Patriots. But he’s erratic and was unable to sustain those numbers, as he ranked 29th among QBs for fantasy in 2009 and 32nd in 2010, his two full seasons as starter. Still, he’s young enough to consider him a player who could still perform well, and we’ll see what new Jaguar HC Mike Mularkey can do with him. The Jaguars fortunately added WR Laurent Robinson to the mix, so Henne will at least have a chance to do something if he plays. This is a run-first offense, though, and he’s going to have to do a lot to prove himself before he’s viable for fantasy. Again, that’s if he even starts over Gabbert, who can’t be totally cast aside just yet. In fact, on Thursday, Mularkey made it clear that Gabbert is still the starter at the moment, although he said he expects Henne to compete. Gabbert also revealed in late March that he played much of the season with a toe injury, which probably didn’t help his cause as a rookie. Updated: 4/5
David Garrard (Signed by Mia) – The Dolphins signed Garrard to a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Garrard sat out the 2011 season after the Jaguars cut him just days before Week One. Although he reportedly had interest from multiple teams, Garrard elected to have surgery on a herniated disk in his back in preparation to resume his playing career in 2012. Garrard said he’d be 100% recovered soon and had planned to work out for teams in early April, but the Dolphins decided not to wait that long. He spent his entire career with the Jaguars starting in 2002 and took the starting job away from Byron Leftwich at the beginning of the 2007 season. He missed six games in four years after taking over the starting job. Garrard is a mediocre QB in all facets of his game, and he tends to be robotic at times and does everything in slow motion. After trading Brandon Marshall, the only Dolphin receivers with any real experience are Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, and Anthony Fasano, so whoever wins what we’d expect to be an open competition between Garrard and Matt Moore (and likely a rookie QB) will have his work cut out for them in 2012. Updated: 4/5
Kyle Orton (Signed by Dal from Den) – According to ESPN, Orton and the Cowboys agreed to a three-year deal worth a reported $10.50 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: After the retirement of Jon Kitna, the Cowboys went searching for a backup to Tony Romo, as it became apparent they didn’t believe Stephen McGee could fit that role. Orton will be that guy after starting for the Broncos to open the 2011 season and then moving on to the Chiefs when Denver turned to Tim Tebow. In nine games (eight starts) with the Broncos and Chiefs, Orton threw for 1758 yards, 9 TDs, and 9 INTs, which was good for 13.9 FPG (37th among QBs). Orton was solid but nothing special with the Chiefs, who operated a fairly simplistic offense with quick throws, play-action passes, and a lot of runs. As always, he was fairly erratic at times, but he has a solid arm and can be really effective in the play-action game. While Cowboy fans may try to turn this into a QB controversy, the 30-year-old Orton is only being brought in as a capable backup for Romo. It was a bit odd Orton would agree to be a clear backup, but his contract was pretty significant, so he took the money. It is worth mentioning, however, that Romo missed 10 games in 2010, and he was also banged up badly for part of 2011. If forced to start here, Orton would likely have top-20 potential. Updated: 4/5
Jason Campbell (Signed by Chi from Oak) – Campbell signed with the Bears on a one-year deal, featuring a $2 million signing bonus, $1.4 million base salary, and up to $1 million in incentives, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: It’s pretty clear that Campbell needed to be signed as a backup at this point, so he’s a logical fit in Chicago, where shaky backups have been forced to relieve Jay Cutler. Cutler is clearly the guy here, but Campbell gives the team much better insurance than Caleb Hanie. Campbell entered last season as the Raiders’ starter, but he broke his collarbone in Week Six, which resulted in the Raiders trading for Carson Palmer. Once that happened, it was clear that Campbell was finished in Oakland. At 30 years old, Campbell has been very up and down in his career, and while we like his arm, he’s always moved slowly in several aspects of his game – pocket movement, reads, throwing motion, etc. Ideally, the Bears won’t need to use him this year, but he may have low-end fantasy value if he’s forced into action, especially because the Bears acquired WR Brandon Marshall. As a backup quarterback, he’s a great fit and an upgrade for Chicago. Keep in mind the usually-durable Cutler has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons.
Brady Quinn (Signed by KC from Den) – Quinn and the Chiefs agreed to a contract with terms undisclosed, according to the Kansas City Star.
- Fantasy Analysis: Originally, it seemed like that the Chiefs could bring veteran Kyle Orton back to compete with Matt Cassel, but instead HC Romeo Crennel and OC Brian Daboll brought in a familiar face in Quinn. Crennel was the head coach of the Browns when they traded up in the 1st round of the draft for Quinn in 2007, and Daboll was his offensive coordinator in 2009, when he made 9 of his 12 career starts. Quinn hasn’t started a game since then, thanks to two years on the bench in Denver behind Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, so Cassel’s job appears safe. Quinn will likely slide into the #2 job vacated by Tyler Palko, with Ricky Stanzi serving as the 3rd QB. If he has to replace Cassel at any point, it will be tough to recommend him for fantasy, as the Chiefs would likely run the ball a lot – oddly enough, they acquired Peyton Hillis, who was traded by the Broncos for Quinn – and Quinn is too robotic and inaccurate as a passer.
Matt Leinart (signed by Oak from Hou) – After working out for the Raiders, Leinart agreed to a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: After not taking a snap in his first year with the Texans in 2010, Leinart finally saw action when he took over as the starter in Week Twelve of last season after Matt Schaub was lost to a foot injury. Unfortunately for Leinart, his tenure as the starter wouldn’t last long thanks to a fractured collarbone in his only start. Leinart was cut by the Texans in March, but landed with the Raiders after a tryout in early May. He’s expected to be the primary backup to former USC teammate Carson Palmer and will be reunited with former Texan QB coach Greg Knapp, who is now the OC for Oakland. While the Texans were reportedly very high on Leinart before his injury, the fact is he hasn’t appeared in double-digit games since his rookie year and has just two starts in 2009. Even though he was praised for his work as a backup in Houston, we’ve yet to see Leinart excel, as an average-arm QB, who tends to play in slow motion. Leinart will be 29 when the 2012 season begins, his seventh in the league. Added: 5/7
Josh Johnson (signed by SF from TB) – The Niners and Johnson agree to a two-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Johnson had been a backup in Tampa Bay for the first four years of his career, but he decided to cash in on his first experience as a free agent. Playing behind Josh Freeman, Johnson appeared in nine games last season, including a start in Week Thirteen that saw him throw for 229 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT in a loss to the Panthers. Johnson has a live arm and is mobile, which allows him to be used in Wildcat-like packages. While we don’t necessarily see him as a starter, Johnson does have five starts in 26 career games. He may not get a chance to start with San Francisco settling for a returning Alex Smith after Peyton Manning decided not to join. However, Johnson said he wanted to be a Niner even if Smith returned, and we should note it reunites him with HC Jim Harbaugh from their time together at the University of San Diego. It’s an interesting move considering Smith just got a three-year deal and Colin Kaepernick enters his second season after being drafted in the 2nd round last year. With three capable QBs on the roster, it should be notable to see what the depth chart looks like when the season begins. Johnson’s ability to run the Wildcat could make him the most versatile player of the three, although Kaepernick is also mobile. But if Johnson is up-to-speed in the offense, we’d have to think he will be the #2 QB unless Kaepernick makes huge strides. Updated: 4/5
Caleb Hanie (Signed by Den from Chi) – Peyton Manning has a new backup QB, as the Broncos added Hanie on a two-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: There probably isn’t a better fit for Hanie, who was a star at Colorado State before landing with the Bears. But as is the case with most Peyton backups, the Broncos will almost certainly be in major trouble if Hanie has to see the field for an extended period of time. Hanie saw action in six games for the Bears last year, including four starts, and he was really bad overall. He completed just 51/102 passes for 613 yards with 3 TDs against 9 INTs, so the hope here is that he learns behind Peyton and becomes a serviceable player in case he needs to see the field. But it appears as if the Broncos will concede defeat if Peyton reinjures his neck or comes down with another ailment, because nothing we’ve seen from Hanie suggests he can be anything more than borderline serviceable for a short period of time.
Dan Orlovsky (Signed by TB from Ind) – The Buccaneers announced the signing of Orlovsky to a two-year, $2.5 million deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: With Josh Johnson gone, the Bucs needed to find a new backup for Josh Freeman, and it looks like Orlovsky will be the one to fill that role. Last season, Orlovsky served as the backup to Curtis Painter until taking over the starting job for the rest of the regular season in Week Thirteen. In eight appearances (five starts), Orlovsky went 122/193 (63.2%) for 1201 yards, 6 TDs, and 4 INTs. We knew he was a scrappy signal-caller who can make some plays on the move, and when he threw with even a little bit of confidence, he had a chance because the weapons around him weren’t bad. Although he wasn’t consistent and didn’t have the arm that Painter did, Orlovsky was at least smart enough to get the ball to his receivers and give them a chance to make plays. He ended up getting both himself and the Colts into the win column a couple of times before the year ended. And he didn’t even cost them the #1 pick overall in the process.
Charlie Whitehurst (Signed by SD from Sea) – The Chargers reacquired Whitehurst – whom they traded to the Seahawks two years ago – on a two-year contract, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: This signing might be somewhat curious, as the Chargers opted to acquire Whitehurst and get rid of dependable backup Billy Volek. Maybe it doesn’t matter much, as Philip Rivers is one of the most durable QBs in the NFL. The Chargers would obviously prefer Whitehurst to stick on the bench. When Seattle dealt for him, they had hoped he’d develop into a starter based on his ability to really sling the ball. That obviously hasn’t been the case, as he spent 2010 backing up Matt Hasselbeck and 2011 playing behind Tarvaris Jackson, who signed a two-year deal with the team after the lockout ended. A pectoral injury opened the door for Whitehurst to make three appearances, including two starts, but he wasn’t very effective, going 27/56 (48.2%) for 298 yards with a TD and an INT. He’s started four of his nine games he’s played in over the last two seasons and appears to have made no real progression as a passer. He has a strong arm and can make plays with his feet, but he has a funky delivery and looked rattled in the pocket, especially when the pressure got to him. At age 30, this is his last chance to prove he’s got a chance in the NFL, but there’s a good chance we won’t even see him play.
Drew Stanton (Acquired by Ind from NYJ) – After Stanton originally signed a one-year deal worth $1.25 million with the Jets, New York traded for Tim Tebow, making Stanton expendable. So, after a very short stint in New York, Stanton was then traded to Indianapolis for an undisclosed draft pick.
- Fantasy Analysis: Stanton was actually a 2nd-round pick in 2007, but he’s failed to make much of an impact in his NFL career with the Lions. He spent his first season on IR, and since then he’s thrown a total of 187 passes with four starts, three of which came in 2010. He did not see the field this past season as Matthew Stafford stayed healthy. At 230 pounds, Stanton is a big quarterback with mobility, but after he signed with the Jets to be the backup, the Jets acquired a bigger name big quarterback with mobility when they added Tim Tebow. Rather quickly, Stanton no longer had a role in New York, and he was subsequently traded to Indianapolis. After losing Peyton Manning, Dan Orlovsky, and Curtis Painter, Stanton could be the backup to likely #1 draft pick Andrew Luck, who will almost surely start right away.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (signed by Cin from NE) – Green-Ellis and the Bengals agreed to a three-year, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Trying to figure out the Patriot backfield has been a fantasy nightmare for years now, which is why relying on a guy like Green-Ellis has been so difficult. He ran for 1000 yards in 2010 at a healthy 4.4 YPC clip, so, of course, the Patriots used two draft picks on RBs in 2011. Green-Ellis, who will be 27 when the 2012 season comes around, still led the Patriots in rushing in 2011, but his numbers were down across the board. Green-Ellis received 49 fewer carries than in 2010, and he was less effective, averaging only 3.7 YPC – down from the 4.4. For the season, he had 180 carries for 665 yards, but he managed to stay relevant for fantasy by scoring 11 TDs to average 9.3 FPG, ranking him 28th among RBs. But as fantasy players know, if he wasn’t scoring TDs, he wasn’t worth much (he played in only one-third of the Pats’ offensive snaps), and toward the end of the year, rookie Stevan Ridley was stealing significant work from BJGE. However, Green-Ellis has been pretty reliable in terms of falling forward and picking up the yardage that’s given to him, and he’s never fumbled in his NFL career. Cedric Benson, who wasn’t happy with his role in the Bengal offense last season, ran for just 3.9 YPC and the team as a whole ranked just 19th in rushing. Cincinnati has RB Bernard Scott and RB/FB Brian Leonard also on the roster, but with the addition of Green-Ellis, the Bengals could look to add another RB in the draft. The signing of Green-Ellis along with bringing in LG Travelle Wharton, coming over from a great Panther rushing team, should provide a boost to the rushing attack. He BJGE is clearly the guy this summer he will certainly be worth a mid-round pick. Although we’re generally down on “volume RBs” who need a lot of carries to do well, Green-Ellis isn’t a bad receiver out of the backfield, and the Bengals may view him as an every-down back. Updated: 4/5
Peyton Hillis (Signed by KC from Cle) – Hillis signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chiefs.
- Fantasy Analysis: Hillis had been trying to cash in on his big 2010 season, but the Browns refused to give in, and a messy 2011 season really diminished his value. Hillis’ deal with the Chiefs is small, so he’ll try to prove himself once again in a new home in 2012. He was constantly banged up last year, which cost him six games, and after averaging 4.4 YPC the year before, he averaged only 3.6 YPC this past season with 587 yards and 3 TDs and only 22 catches. The Browns didn’t trust him nearly as much after he had carried them in 2010, and we’re concerned about Hillis having sustained success. His biggest assets are his strength and physicality, but his punishing running style and heavy workload caused him to wear down late in the 2010 season. He’s a violent downhill runner and can be very successful at times, but it’s probably better in smaller doses. That’s why Kansas City appears to be a great fit, and it also helps that Hillis will be reunited with 2010 Cleveland OC Brian Daboll. The Chiefs will move on from Thomas Jones and welcome back Jamaal Charles from a torn ACL, and they can attempt to duplicate the success they had with Jones and Charles in 2010, when they led the league in rushing. As much as Todd Haley annoyed fantasy owners by splitting carries between Jones and Charles, it was probably the right call to keep Charles fresh. Hillis can do the same, providing power running and effective receiving to complement the explosive Charles, giving the Chiefs one of the league’s best backfields. Hillis will probably never duplicate the numbers he put up in 2010, but with Matt Cassel at QB, the Chiefs should run more than enough to give Hillis fantasy value alongside Charles, and Daboll obviously knows how to get the most out of him. According to the Kansas City Star, GM Scott Pioli said the Chiefs will use Hillis in a variety ways, both at fullback and running back, and they expect to use him in the same backfield as Charles or Dexter McCluster at times. His path to fantasy relevance isn’t exactly clear and simple, but he should have solid value this year, especially if Charles has issues returning from his knee injury.
Michael Bush (Signed by Chi from Oak) – Bush and the Bears agreed to a four-year deal worth $14 million, including $7 million guaranteed, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Fantasy Analysis: Well, this certainly isn’t a great move for fantasy, as Bush joins star RB Matt Forte in the Chicago backfield. We can at least say that this move probably spelled the end of Marion Barber in Chicago, but now we get a bigger mess. Instead of signing somewhere like Cincinnati, where he’d presumably start, the 28-year-old Bush will join Forte, who finished 9th among fantasy for RBs in standard leagues last year but is still embroiled in a contract battle with the team. The Bears placed the franchise tag on Forte, but the Chicago Tribune reports that little progress has been made on a long-term deal. Forte has been phenomenal fantasy and an indispensable part of the offense, especially because he’s caught at least 51 passes in all four of his seasons. So, where does Bush fit in? For one, he gives the Bears a capable starter if Forte either holds out, gets hurt again, or even gets traded, which has to be considered now that they have Bush. Remember, Forte missed the final four games last year with a knee sprain. Second, Bush gives the Bears a big, versatile back who can reduce the wear-and-tear on Forte and play a role in short-yardage situations. The 245-pound Bush started nine games last year, rushing for 977 yards and 7 TDs with 37 catches, as Darren McFadden missed much of the season. It’s somewhat surprising that Bush ended up with the Bears, and it’s also disappointing (at least for now) for fantasy, as he appeared set to become a lead back. Instead, we’re left with an unclear situation with the Bears. New OC Mike Tice is certainly more of a fan of the power running game than Mike Martz, but the Bears have also improved their passing game by acquiring Brandon Marshall. If Bush ever starts, he clearly has significant value. Otherwise, we’ll have to see how significant his role is. Clearly, though, if both are on the opening-day roster, it’s easy to see that he could become a big problem for Forte owners as a vulture. Updated: 4/5
Mike Tolbert (Signed by Car from SD) – In a surprise move, Tolbert signed a four-year deal with the Panthers worth $8.4 million, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego. He accepted less money than what the Chargers were offering.
- Fantasy Analysis: While Tolbert has been a valuable part of the Charger offense, we saw Ryan Mathews take a big step forward last season and that limited Tolbert’s role. In 2011, Tolbert finished with 120 for 492 yards (4.1 YPC) with 8 TDs, while adding 54/433/2 on 78 targets (69.2%) in the passing game. But he was still 7th in the NFL with 18 goal-line rushes, meaning the Chargers still valued him as someone who can produce in short-yardage situations and offer versatility in the passing game. If you want to make a crude comparison, he’s a slightly more skilled Peyton Hillis. Early in the year, it appeared the Chargers trusted Tolbert more than Mathews, who has had injury and ball-security issues so far in his brief career, but as Mathews’ performance became more impressive and Tolbert had his own injury problems to deal with, the youngster pulled away. Instead of finding a team where his role could increase, we see Tolbert join a loaded Panther backfield that already includes DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (but at least not Mike Goodson, who was traded to Oakland). Although the team denies it, Stewart’s entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Panthers and could be a trade candidate, especially after Williams signed a big deal last off-season. Tolbert, who is only 26 and entering just his fifth season in the league, can certainly be a valuable asset for the Chargers as a blocker, short-yardage back, and pass-catcher, but unless Stewart is shipped off to another team, it’s hard to feel good about Tolbert’s ability to be a consistent fantasy force in Carolina. Updated: 4/5
Joseph Addai (RB, Signed by NE from Ind) – Addai is expected to sign a contract with the Pats, according to ESPN.com
- Fantasy Analysis: If you thought the Patriots’ backfield would be easy to figure out this year, think again. Addai will come in with an uphill climb to win touches from Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead, but he also does things the Patriots value: He takes care of the ball (Ridley has had issues) and he protects well in the passing game. He might never touch the ball as many as 150 times again in a season, and he’s often injured, but he should have enough of a role here to make the fantasy landscape frustrating. Added: 5/7
Brandon Jacobs (signed by SF from NYG) – According to ESPN, Jacobs and the 49ers agreed to a deal, although terms were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Although Giant HC Tom Coughlin acknowledged the possibility of the team bringing Jacobs back after cutting him in early March, they never got a chance as Jacobs will switch coasts and play in San Francisco after spending his first seven years with the Giants. With Ahmad Bradshaw becoming the main ball carrier over the last two years, Jacobs saw his role reduced, although he was much better in 2010 (147 carries, 823 yards, 5.6 YPC, 9 TDs) than he was last year (152 carries, 571 yards, 3.8 YPC, 7 TDs). Knee issues have slowed him down in recent years and kept him out for a pair of games in 2011. Jacobs, who turns 30 in July, enters his 8thseason in the league and while he’s not as good of a short-yardage option he should be for someone his size, he does provide insurance for Frank Gore, who appeared to wear down a little bit at the end of last season. However, we have to wonder what it means for youngster Anthony Dixon, who continues to struggle in short yardage situations and continues to dance too much behind the line. It’s not great news for the promising Kendall Hunter, either, but Jacobs is seen more as a role player (short-yardage back). Jacobs was a decent flex option last season, finishing tied for 36th among RBs at 8.4 FPG and it wouldn’t surprise us to see him end up around there in 2012, especially since the Niner offense relies on the run more than the Giants do. He first has to make the team, which isn’t a 100% guarantee. Updated: 4/5
Mike Goodson (Traded to Oak from Car) – The Panthers announced the trade of Goodson to the Raiders in exchange for OL Bruce Campbell.
- Fantasy Analysis: It was apparent Goodson had fallen out of favor with the Panthers, as he appeared in just four games last season without receiving a single carry. Fumbles had been an issue for Goodson in his three years in Carolina with 7 of them on just 125 carries. He landed on the IR after Week Ten with a hamstring injury, but hadn’t been active since Week Four. The addition of Mike Tolbert to a backfield that already included DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart made Goodson expendable. His best fantasy season came in 2010, when he rushed for 452 yards and 3 TDs on 103 carries (4.4 YPC) and added 40/310 on 56 targets (5.9 FPG) when he was promoted to the #2 RB spot behind Stewart when Williams missed most of the season due to a foot injury. Goodson’s considered a quick, shifty back, who can make people miss while also showing patience as a runner and very strong receiving skills. With the Raiders losing Michael Bush, they needed to add another back when you consider Darren McFadden’s lengthy injury history and Taiwan Jones coming off a rookie season that saw him hampered by a hamstring issue and shaky in pass protection, so Goodson was a good add for the Raiders and makes a lot of sense. In addition to competing for the #2 job in Oakland, Goodson can be helpful in the return game. Updated: 4/5
Le’Ron McClain (FB, Signed by SD from KC) – McClain agreed to a three-year deal with the Chargers, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Chargers appear to want a more traditional fullback than Jacob Hester, and the 260-pound McClain can fill that role and more with Mike Tolbert expected to move on as well. McClain hasn’t been much a runner the past few years, as he’s done little on the ground since his 907-yard, 10-TD 2008 season. After carrying the ball 231 times that year in Baltimore, he’s had a total of 89 rushing attempts in three seasons with the Ravens and Chiefs since then with only 3 total TDs. However, while he’ll surely have a job clearing holes for Ryan Mathews as a blocker, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McClain get many of the carries that Tolbert has gotten the past few years. He’s been an effective runner in the past, and he could contribute as a short-yardage back and, unfortunately for Mathews owners, a possible vulture. He should be very much in the mix for carries behind Mathews with Curtis Brinkley, although it’s worth noting that Jacob Hester has also been re-signed. Updated: 4/16.
Kregg Lumpkin (Signed by Sea from TB) – Looking for a backup to spell Marshawn Lynch on occasion, the Seahawks agreed to terms with the former Buc.
- Fantasy Analysis: With LeGarrette Blount almost totally incapable of putting up decent receiving numbers, Lumpkin became an important part of the Bucs’ offense with Earnest Graham going down to injury. In 2011, Lumpkin appeared in all 16 games, rushing 31 times for 105 yards (3.4 YPC) and adding 41/291 on 53 targets to end up with 2.6 FPG, so at least he was a decent third-down option for the club. With the Seahawks, the 228-pound Lumpkin could play that same third-down role, because his size makes him an effective short-yardage option as well. He’s a former Packer, so there are some ties here to Seahawk OC Darrell Bevel and the west coast offense. His arrival likely means the departure of free agent Justin Forsett from the Seattle organization.
Lawrence Vickers (FB, Signed by Dal from Hou) – Vickers agreed to a deal with the Cowboys, according to the team’s official site.
- Fantasy Analysis: The signing of Vickers is big for the Cowboys, who had not agreed to a new deal with Tony Fiammetta. Fiammetta had been a key cog in the team’s running game with DeMarco Murray, whose production dropped off when Fiammetta was injured. Vickers was solid for the Texans last year, but they used the versatile James Casey a lot and didn’t necessarily need a blocking fullback in front of Arian Foster. That could change for Vickers in Dallas, as Murray is best running in two-back sets behind a FB. In six seasons with the Browns and Texans, Vickers has carried the ball only 34 times, so obviously he’s worth nothing for fantasy, but he’s a solid addition for Murray as a lead blocker. The team must feel he’s an upgrade over Fiammetta, who was a key player for them in 2011.
Spencer Larsen (FB, Signed by NE from Den) – Larsen and the Patriots agreed to a two-year deal, according to the Boston Globe.
- Fantasy Analysis: The signing of Larsen could partially be the work of Patriot OC Josh McDaniels, who worked with him in Denver. But Larsen is also the versatile type of player that Bill Belichick likes, as he can play on both sides of the ball as a fullback/H-back/linebacker. At 6-2, 243 pounds, Larsen has made little fantasy impact, as he has a total of 62 rushing yards and 14 catches in his four-year career – although, as the Globe point out, he has the distinction of catching Tim Tebow’s first TD pass. So, there’s that. Larsen has also made 33 career tackles, so expect him to be used on special teams.
Lex Hilliard (Signed by Min from Mia) – The Vikings agreed with the veteran RB to provide some depth at the position. Terms were not immediately known.
- Fantasy Analysis: Hilliard was used sparingly behind the Dolphins’ new acquisition Reggie Bush in 2011, carrying for only 16/41/1 and adding 5/49/0 as a receiver, and it’s not surprising that Miami didn’t even tender him a contract with Daniel Thomas also on the roster. The Vikings, however, might find him useful as the status of Adrian Peterson is unknown (although it’s all positive as of early April) heading in 2012. Hilliard’s a bigger guy who can catch the ball, so he might remind you a bit of Toby Gerhart, but we have to notice that he only has 130 career rushing yards heading into his age 28 season. In other words, it’s probably not going to be pretty if Hilliard gets a bunch of playing time.
Tony Fiammetta (FB, Signed by NE from Dal) – The Patriots didn’t carry a fullback on their roster last year, but they’ve spent their off-season adding them, signing Fiammetta to an undisclosed deal, according to the Boston Globe.
- Fantasy Analysis: It still remains to be seen how the Patriots will utilize Fiammetta – they also signed FB/LB/ST Spencer Larsen, and cut FB Lousaka Polite – but they clearly have a plan after bringing multiple FBs in. And for a guy who touched the ball a grand total of 7 times in 2011, we sure spent quite a bit of time talking about Fiammetta. Why? Because he was a major reason Cowboy rookie RB DeMarco Murray had a great stretch of success in the middle of the 2011 season. Behind Fiammetta in two-back sets, Murray excelled, and when Fiammetta missed several games with an illness, Murray fell back to earth quite a bit. The Cowboys opted to bring in Lawrence Vickers to fill their FB need, and the Patriots decided to pay Fiammetta. While we have no idea how Bill Belichick will use him, it could make owners feel a little better about drafting Stevan Ridley, at least.
Jerome Felton (FB, signed by Min from Ind) – Felton signed with the Vikings after visiting with the team, but the details of the contract haven’t been released.
- Fantasy Analysis: Felton was cut by the Lions just days before the beginning of the 2011 season, but was quickly claimed by the Panthers and was named the starter soon after. He appeared in 9 games for Carolina, but started just once and was eventually cut in late November. The Vikings tried to claim him then, but Felton ended up with the Colts, starting in two of his five appearances with the team. Felton, who turns 26 in July, enters his fifth season in 2012, and will join Viking FBs Lex Hilliard and Ryan D’Imperio.
Brandon Marshall (Acquired by Chi from Mia) – In a surprising move just minutes before the start of free agency, FOXSports.com reported that the Bears acquired Marshall from the Dolphins in exchange for 3rd-round picks in 2012 and 2013.
- Fantasy Analysis: While we’ve seen Marshall recently opine about a reunion with Jay Cutler, we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Instead of Cutler relying on his old buddy from college Earl Bennett to be his most reliable receiver, he finally gets the #1 talent that’s been missing from the Bear receiving corps since Cutler joined the team in 2009. Of course, the two played together in Denver from 2006-2008, before Cutler was traded to Chicago. Neither player became a full-time starter until 2007, but they immediately clicked. In 2007-2008, Marshall grabbed 206 of 352 targets (58.5%) for 2,590 yards and 13 TDs, as part of two of his three straight seasons with 100+ catches. While Marshall hasn’t been as productive without Cutler, he still had 81/1214/6 on 142 targets (57% caught) and was 19thamong WRs in 2011 with 9.9 FPG primarily playing with Matt Moore as his QB. Cutler will obviously be a huge step up from Moore, and Marshall will join a Bear receiving corps that certainly could use his help. Bennett is fine as a slot receiver, but they’ll have to hope that Johnny Knox will be able to return from a back injury that ended his season in mid-December of last season. Knox would be a nice #2 opposite Marshall with Bennett in the slot, but he’s expected to open the season on PUP and his immediate future is very cloudy. That makes this Marshall signing even more important. Marshall may have had lapses in concentration, but he’s still one of the league’s most physically talented WRs at 6-4, 230 pounds. We’d still like to see the Bears provide a little more protection for Cutler, but this addition is a great step forward for his fantasy value and probably Marshall’s as well. Of course, we also have to note that off-the-field concerns have arisen yet again, as reports shortly after the trade indicated that a woman has accused Marshall of hitting her at a nightclub in New York. However, Marshall has not been charged. Updated: 4/5
Vincent Jackson (Signed by TB from SD) – Jackson signed a five-year, $55.55 million deal with the Bucs that includes $26 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Jackson was the biggest name on the free agent WR market after franchise tags were applied, and not surprisingly, he ended up on a team with a ton of cap room. The Bucs desperately needed help at WR, as they’re young but unproven with guys like Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Dezmon Briscoe. Williams and QB Josh Freeman have looked fantastic at times – particularly in 2010 – but both guys struggled with inconsistency in 2011 and didn’t have the fantasy value expected of them. After the Bucs had so many issues with chemistry last year, people are going to question the addition of Jackson, but the team is relying on new HC Greg Schiano to change the team’s culture. On the field, Jackson is certainly a huge get, as he is a big target who commands the ball as a vertical target. He’s not a burner and occasionally struggles to get separation against man coverage, but he can make plays downfield, and that’s something this offense has really lacked. Last year in San Diego, the Charger offense was erratic, and Jackson was his typical inconsistent self. However, he still had a nice year with 60/1106/9, giving him averages of 18.4 YPC and 10.6 FPG. He’s capable of being a low-end #1 fantasy WR, but now we have to see how Freeman develops under new OC Mike Sullivan, who did well with a vertical passing game in New York. Freeman has issues with accuracy, but he has the arm strength to get the ball to Jackson. Plus, the presence of Jackson will also take pressure off Williams, who won’t be subjected to so much attention anymore. Without question, the price tag for Jackson appears to be steep, but ignoring the financial aspects of the move, he is a huge acquisition for this offense. They’ll try to run the ball and stretch the field vertically, and Jackson is certainly a huge step forward.
Brandon Lloyd (Signed by NE from Stl) – Lloyd agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: This signing is a total home run for the Patriots, as that is an extremely reasonable contract for someone who led the league in receiving yards in 2010. The smaller contract is somewhat surprising, but the move is not, as Lloyd has made it clear that he enjoys playing for OC Josh McDaniels. After seven mostly forgettable seasons, Lloyd finally broke out in 2010 under McDaniels in Denver, posting 77/1448/11 with an average of 18.8 YPC and 13.1 FPG, placing him 3rd among WRs for fantasy. However, McDaniels was fired, and Lloyd no longer fit in the conservative John Fox-led offense in Denver last season. He was traded after only four games, and he landed in St. Louis, where McDaniels was OC. Unfortunately, the Rams were a total mess, particularly on the O-line and in the rest of the receiving corps, but Lloyd still put up decent numbers in a horrendous offense, posting 51/683/5 in 11 games with the Rams. Now, Lloyd finds one of the best homes in football. He’s with his favorite OC in McDaniels, and he’s the deep threat the Patriots have needed since Randy Moss’ career fizzled. Tom Brady threw for 5,000 yards last season, but they still didn’t have a downfield threat. It will be tough for Lloyd to put up huge numbers in an offense that features Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, but he gives the Patriots an absolutely loaded receiving corps. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for defenses to guard against those three inside and Lloyd on the outside, so Lloyd will have fantasy value as a big-play receiver, and his addition may mean it’s time to consider taking Brady over Drew Brees in fantasy drafts. Lloyd is a solid route-runner with excellent downfield ability, and with this team-friendly deal – inexplicably, Eddie Royal got more money – the rich get richer.
Robert Meachem (Signed by SD from NO) – The veteran receiver will receive a four-year deal worth up to $25.5 million from his new club, with about $14 million guaranteed, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Chargers needed a deep threat to replace the departed Vincent Jackson, and Meachem should fit the bill for about half the dough VJax is receiving. While we like WR Vincent Brown, he’s entering only his second year, and we know that the gifted Malcom Floyd is oft-injured and unreliable. The Chargers hope that Meachem can help QB Philip Rivers keep some of that verticality in the offense in place. In the deep Saint passing game, Meachem was a rotational option whose job was mainly to stretch the field and make big plays. He played in little more than 60% of the snaps in 2011, and he put up 40/620/6 on 58 targets (69%) for an average of 6.7 FPG. After Week Five, he failed to catch more than 3 passes in a game. It’s safe to say the Chargers will want more production out of Meachem for the big bucks they’re paying him. Fortunately, he does have some experience moving around the formation. When Marques Colston was injured early in 2011, Meachem ran some of the “Colston routes,” which included lining up in the slot to create mismatches. The Chargers would do that often with Jackson to try to get him free down the field so he could create after the catch. It’d be hard to think Meachem can replicate what the special Jackson can do at his best (Jackson hasn't averaged fewer than 17.0 YPC since 2007, Meachem's career YPC in 16.1), but it’s not a stretch to suggest his fantasy production will finally become reliable, which it never really was in New Orleans, especially with the fantasy-friendly Norv Turner calling the shots and putting him in a position to succeed. Remember, while Rivers is a downgrade from Drew Brees, we’d still consider him an elite passer, and Meachem was a needed option in this downfield passing game with Jackson gone. The main concern is how this passing game could be something of a committee, at least early on, given the signing of Eddie Royal and the presence of Malcom Floyd and Brown. Meachem definitely has upside, but he’s best drafted as only a #3 WR. Updated: 4/5
Pierre Garcon (Signed by Was from Ind) – Garcon posted on his own Twitter account that he has agreed to terms with the Redskins. According to FOXSports.com, the deal is for five years and $42.5 million with about $21.5 guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Redskins have, apparently, set up a pitch-and-catch combo for the future. With March’s monster trade for the #2 overall pick in April’s draft, the Redskins will presumably pair strong-armed rookie QB Robert Griffin III with Garcon, who adds speed on the outside, although he’s way too inconsistent downfield. Obviously, Garcon broke out in 2009 with the help of QB Peyton Manning, but he managed to post a very solid 2011 season even without him. With Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky at QB, he actually had value as a deep threat. He had a career-high 70/947/6 on 131 targets (53.4%) with an average of 13.5 YPC, but unfortunately a lot of his production came in just a few games. He had three games with 100 receiving yards, and all 6 of his TDs came in those games, so he frequently came up small. Garcon’s had mental lapses in the past that bugged Manning, and for every big play he’s made he’s seemed to make a boneheaded one to offset it. But he’s fantastic after the catch, and if he and Griffin get on the same page with a full off-season of work, they could become dangerous. He might not be a #1, but ideally, he’s a great fit for a QB who throws an accurate deep ball. The Redskins also signed Josh Morgan to form a crowded receiving corps, but Garcon is the biggest name of the three. We’ll see what happens with guys like Santana Moss, who’s still a very good player, but no matter what the Redskins do, given the money he received, it’s pretty clear the Redskins want Garcon to play a prominent role, and they also got rid of Jabar Gaffney. Updated: 5/7
Laurent Robinson (Signed by Jac from Dal) – Robinson signed a five-year, $32.5 million deal with the Jaguars, ESPN reports. According to the Florida Times-Union, the deal includes $13.8 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Well, it’s pretty clear the Jaguars desperately needed a WR. Blaine Gabbert was horrendous last year, but it didn’t help that his WR corps consisted of Mike Thomas, Chastin West, Jason Hill, Cecil Shorts, and Jarret Dillard, among others. With that said, the signing of Robinson is certainly an interesting one, especially for so much money. Robinson has had only one good season, and, similar to TE Marcedes Lewis, that one TD-filled season resulted in a big pay day. That’s not to say Robinson will perform like Lewis did last year and disappear. We’ve always loved his talent, as he’s a taller receiver with the speed to get open downfield and the ball skills to be effective in the red zone. That’s exactly what he did in 2011 as a replacement for the often-injured Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, as he put up 54/858/11 on 79 targets (68.3%) with all 11 TDs coming in the final 10 games of the year. He did something of note every week, and it’s clear he can make a significant impact in this league. Of course, we’ve only seen him perform for one season, as he’s struggled with injuries and had a total of 4 TDs in his first four seasons. Without question, he steps in as the Jaguars’ #1 WR right now, so he’ll get a lot of opportunities, at least. But this is a run-first offense, and playing with Gabbert or the newly acquired Chad Henne is nowhere near the same opportunity as playing with Tony Romo. So, it’s important not to get overboard in praising Robinson here, because the situation is not ideal. Still, he’s the guy now – fellow new addition Lee Evans obviously isn’t going to be a go-to target anymore – and he clearly has the talent to put up some numbers if he can stay healthy. Just hope that Gabbert and/or Henne improves and plays more consistent football. Updated: 4/16
Randy Moss (Signed by SF from Ten) – With less than 24 hours to go before the official start of the league year and free agency, the 49ers signed the veteran Moss, 35, to a one-year contract. ESPN reports that the deal is for $2.5 million with up to $1.5 million more in incentives.
- Fantasy Analysis: It’s a little surprising, given the team-first (and winning) culture the 49ers built last year, that they would take a flyer on the veteran Moss, but it does illustrate their desperate need for speed and verticality in their offense. You also have to have some faith in the Niner decision-makers because everything they touched last year turned to gold, so it’s probably safe to assume that Moss won’t create too many waves in the Bay Area, at least during his first season there (if he makes the team). On the other hand, his track record certainly indicates that he could be a distraction and maybe even a poor influence on young receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, who the Niners also acquired in free agency. He won’t enjoy stellar QB play from Alex Smith on a consistent basis, and Smith’s arm strength is mediocre. But the savvy 49er coaches can certainly put Moss in a position to help the team, and Smith is capable of getting him the ball deep, despite his so-so arm. Moss will be worth owning in fantasy football this year if he’s on the team, but it’s important to note this is still going to be a team that is more about defense and running the ball than anything else, so Moss’ fantasy value won’t be through the roof. His biggest influence might actually be on TE Vernon Davis, who could be freed up more throughout the field and inside the numbers (Moss is an outside the numbers guy, for the most part), and who could be utilized better now as a moveable chess piece. In addition to making the occasional big play down the field – assuming Moss can still run well enough – he’s an excellent red zone threat, and the team has needed another viable option inside the 10 for fade routes, etc. Smith was a decent 15th in the league in QB pass attempts in the red zone last year, but only Joe Flacco had fewer pass attempts inside the 10 among all QBs with 16 starts last year, so expecting double-digit TDs from Moss this year might be asking too much. While this acquisition helps Smith, it probably doesn’t change Smith’s position as a low-end backup, but it might hurt Crabtree’s value a bit, since Moss should steal some valuable red zone looks from him. Again, we do like the move as it relates to the TE Davis’ fantasy potential this year. As for Moss himself, he should be viewed as a #3 WR at best, and ideally a #4/depth guy in a 10 or 12-team league. It’s not inconceivable he emerges as a top-25 threat, but based on his age, the year off in 2011 and his ugly 2010, and the conservative nature of the offense, it’s best to be cautious with the mercurial veteran. Although it might not matter much because Moss will always be Moss, and the Niners likely know that, it's worth pointing out that this destination seems to be the closest Moss has come to playing in a West Coast offense, which Moss has never been in, so there should be an adjustment there. Updated: 4/5
Mario Manningham (Signed by SF from NYG) – Manningham agreed to a two-year, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Manningham isn’t an elite receiver, but he certainly represents an upgrade for the WR-starved 49ers. No matter who’s playing QB, Manningham is an important piece, as he will join Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss as the top receivers for the Niners after they struggled to find a #2 opposite Crabtree last year. Of course, the 49ers took a huge hit when Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos, so now they’re left to fall back on Alex Smith, which might not be a terrible thing given Smith’s improvement in this offense last year. In 2011, Manningham was cast aside in favor of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and he finished the regular season with just 39/532/4, thanks in part to knee issues that limited him to 11 games. He’s been inconsistent throughout his career, although he did average 9.3 FPG in 2010, and he ended his four-year stint in New York on a high note, as his 38-yard sideline catch was one of the biggest moments of the Super Bowl. Injuries and a lack of focus hurt Manningham, but he’s a quick receiver who can make plays downfield and in the intermediate area. With Crabtree, Moss, and TE Vernon Davis in the mix, it will be hard for Manningham to be a reliable fantasy producer. Smith managed games well last year, but he’s still limited, and this offense revolves around the run. Manningham has performed well for fantasy before – he finished 2010 with three straight 100-yard games – but he was better off with Eli Manning than whoever starts at QB for the 49ers. Updated: 4/5
Jerome Simpson (Signed by Min from Cin) – Simpson signed a one-year deal with the Vikings, according to the Pioneer Press.
- Fantasy Analysis: Well, Simpson’s career with the Vikings will get off to a delayed start, as he’ll serve a 15-day jail sentence and sit out the first three games of the season because of drug charges dating back to last September. Even without the legal issues, Simpson is a frustrating player. He has great athleticism and some talent, and he even had three 100-yard games last year. But he’s very inconsistent and finished the year with 50/725/4 on 105 targets (just 47.6%) for an average of 6 FPG. He was held to 2 catches or less seven times, which makes him undependable for fantasy. In Minnesota, he’ll have a chance to compete for the #2 WR job with Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu alongside Percy Harvin. Harvin moves around the field a lot, so that means we could see plenty of formations with Jenkins and Simpson on the outside and Harvin in the slot or in the backfield. The Vikings clearly needed help at WR because Jenkins is a mediocre starter and, while very talented, Harvin’s at his best when he’s moved around the formation. If Christian Ponder plays well, Simpson could have some fantasy value, but he needs to become much more consistent – and it doesn’t help that he’ll sit three games to start the year too. Added: 4/26
Josh Morgan (Signed by Was from SF) – Morgan agreed to join the Redskins on what ProFootballTalk.com reports is a five-year deal that will void to two years. It’s worth $12 million with about $7.5 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Redskins aggressively pursued speedy WRs to pair with likely new QB Robert Griffin III, as Morgan joins former Colt Pierre Garcon as new additions to the receiving corps. Morgan played in just five games in 2011, putting up 15/220/1 before a broken leg landed him on IR. When healthy, he’s a pretty solid deep/run-after-the-catch threat, but the 5.6 FPG he averaged in 2011 was actually a career-best number. He’s been a mediocre option in the San Francisco offense with a total of just 9 TDs in four seasons. The hope is that a healthy Morgan could develop a good rapport with Griffin, who is a phenomenal deep passer. Griffin flourished in a system at Baylor that saw him throw downfield often, so expect the Redskins to run a lot of play-action and utilize the speed of Morgan and Garcon. The Redskins are in an odd situation now with these free agents joining a mix of veterans (Santana Moss, although Jabar Gaffney is one) and 2011 rookies (Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul). Obviously, further moves will have to be made, but it’s clear that Mike Shanahan wanted an infusion of speed to this unit, and he revealed at the owner’s meetings in late March how much he loves Morgan. Until the receiving corps sorts itself out, it will be tough to figure out how much fantasy value Morgan has. For now, the best assumption is that he’ll be more than a change-of-pace receiver for the Redskins who is capable of making big plays – especially with Griffin instead of Alex Smith. Morgan has been generally unreliable and doesn’t actually have elite speed, but he’s definitely someone to watch here. Updated: 5/7
Donnie Avery (signed by Ind from Ten) – Avery agreed to terms with the Colts, according to owner Jim Irsay.
- Fantasy Analysis: After missing the 2010 season with a knee injury, Avery was cut by the Rams shortly before the start of the 2011 season, but landed with the Titans just a few weeks later. Avery last year reportedly was back running 4.2 40s on grass, yet he didn’t get signed by the Titans until they lost Kenny Britt. He appeared in eight games with the Titans, but the 3 receptions, 45 yards, and 1 TD he had for the season didn’t come until Week Seventeen. Before his injury in 2010, Avery started 28 of 31 games in 2008-2009 with 100 catches for 1263 yards and 8 TDs. Avery, who turns 28 in June, did command some attention this off-season, however, as several teams were interested. The Colts signed him with the hope that he can start opposite Reggie Wayne with Austin Collie manning the slot. If Avery is back, he can definitely fill that role and give the team some verticality in their passing game, so he’s someone to place on the radar. Of course, we’ve yet to see him return to the form he displayed before his injury in 2010, so we’ll have to see how he looks this summer. Updated: 4/5
Steven Smith (WR, Signed by Stl from Phi) – Smith was given a one-year deal to add depth to the Rams’ WR corps, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Fantasy Analysis: Smith’s career has unfortunately gone downhill quickly, and it’s easy to forget that he’ll still be only 27 years old when the season starts, but on a low salary with incentives, he’s a worthy risk for the receiver-starved Rams to add to their roster, where he could provide some insurance against the slim chance of RFA Danny Amendola jumping ship and also give them a veteran presence in their receiving corps. He had 107 catches just a few seasons ago in 2009, but now he has to prove he can be healthy and at least show signs of returning to his previous form. Microfracture surgery was a huge setback, and he failed to make a big impact in one year with the Eagles after coming over from the division-rival Giants. Smith finished the 2011 season with just 11/124/1 – the TD coming against his former team – and he was ultimately placed on IR in December. Again, he clearly has to prove he can stay healthy, and no one was going to invest much in him. It makes sense for Smith to take his best chance at contributing with QB Sam Bradford, perhaps to show teams he’s healthy enough for a multi-year deal next year. There’s also believed to be a fairly significant roster bonus built into Smith’s deal, one that he can achieved with games played.
Eddie Royal (Signed by SD from Den) – Royal agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million deal, including $6.5 million guaranteed, with the Chargers, according to the Associated Press.
- Fantasy Analysis: Royal appeared set to sign with the Redskins early in free agency, but, as is the case with many people, a trip to San Diego changed his mind – which is worth nothing because Royal is a Virginia guy, so he passed on his hometown team. Royal is the second free agent WR the Chargers have signed after losing Vincent Jackson, and he’ll join Robert Meachem, Malcom Floyd, and Vincent Brown in a pretty solid receiving corps. Royal has had an unusual career path, as he burst onto the scene as a rookie with 91 catches for the Broncos in 2008, but since then he has not been a consistent producer. Last year, in a very conservative Denver offense, he managed only 19/155/1 on 48 targets, giving him a 39.6% catch rate. In his big year in 2008, he had a 71% catch rate. Royal will probably never duplicate that success he had as a rookie, but he’s still a talented player who can be an effective underneath receiver and contribute as a return man. He’ll benefit form a fresh start with a good QB in Philip Rivers, and he’ll also likely get a chance to boost the team’s return games. Given that Royal will probably split slot duties with Brown, his fantasy value probably won’t be great, but also keep in mind that he could see increased snaps if Floyd can’t stay healthy again. The team has signed the oft-injured Roscoe Parrish, who could handle more of the return duties, and Micheal Spurlock, who should allow Royal to focus on receiving. Updated: 4/16
Andre Caldwell (Signed by Den from Cin) – Caldwell and the Broncos agreed to a two-year deal, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: With the loss of Eddie Royal, the Broncos clearly needed to add receiver depth with star QB Peyton Manning now on board. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker give the Broncos a solid duo, but Caldwell now boosts the team in the slot. A versatile receiver who can play inside and outside, Caldwell was rarely a big-time performer for Cincinnati. He had a total of 37/317/3 on 68 targets last season, and while he caught 51 passes in 2009, he averaged more than 10 yards per catch in only one of four seasons with the Bengals. So, Caldwell hasn’t been particularly impressive and certainly isn’t a big-play guy, but he could fit well in Denver with Manning if the two can develop chemistry. Manning has a history of turning reliable underneath receivers into big-time producers, and while that may not happen with Caldwell, it’s certainly possible he’ll have fantasy value, particularly in PPR scoring, if he wins the #3 job.
Jabar Gaffney (WR, Signed by NE from Was) – Gaffney returns to the Patriots on a one-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: When the Redskins cut Gaffney last week, we figured he would get a chance to play elsewhere given his fantastic 2011 season (68/947/5 on 114). Unfortunately, he went where no fantasy player wanted to see him go – New England. Gaffney will now have to compete for a roster spot with the likes of Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, and others. We love him as a possession receiver, but there’s no telling what his role will be if he even makes this team. Added: 5/7
Chaz Schilens (Signed by NYJ from Oak) – The Jets announced that they had reached an agreement with Schilens.
- Fantasy Analysis: Schilens hopes to get a fresh start in New York after injuries derailed his career in Oakland. He’s following former Raider WR coach Sanjay Lal, who was his position coach the last three seasons. Schilens is a big possession receiver who has looked good at times, but he had only 23/271/2 in 12 games last season and has 72 catches in four seasons. He’s rarely caught more than 1-2 passes in a game, and foot problems have really limited him. The Jets will try to run as much as they can this year and manage Mark Sanchez, but, for now at last, Schilens could have a fairly large role in the passing game. He joins Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, and Patrick Turner in the receiving corps, although the Jets could certainly add someone else as the #2. If nothing else, he’s familiar with Lal, and he has some talent if he can stop getting hurt. If the Jets don’t bring in another receiver of note, there’s a decent chance that Schilens could start for them. Updated: 4/5
Legedu Naanee (WR, Signed by Mia from Car) – The veteran WR inked a one-year deal with the Dolphins.
- Fantasy Analysis: It’s hard to say exactly what Naanee’s role is, as he’s caught in an unspectacular jumble of receivers with Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates, and others. And remember that we still don’t know who will be throwing him the football, for sure (Matt Moore, David Garrard, or someone not yet on the roster). What we do know, however, is that Naanee played with the best rookie QB in NFL history last year, Cam Newton, and couldn’t make much of an impact before a broken foot sidelined him. In 15 games, Naanee caught only 44/467/1 on 75 targets, on a team that desperately needed a #2 receiver. He’ll have a job because he’s versatile and can block, but he’s off the grid for fantasy. Added: 4/18
Lee Evans (Signed by Jac from Bal) – Evans agreed to a one-year deal with the Jaguars, according to the Florida Times-Union.
- Fantasy Analysis: Last year’s change of scenery was a total failure. Evans was traded to the Ravens shortly before the season to give them a veteran deep threat, but he caught a miserable 4 passes for 75 yards on 25 targets and struggled to overcome an ankle injury in the regular season. Then, in the playoffs, he became the center of attention when he dropped a potential TD that could have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl. The Ravens then cut the 31-year-old Evans, who had 1000-yard seasons for the Bills in 2006 and 2008 but hasn’t produced consistently since then. Evans is the second free agent WR the Jaguars have signed, joining Laurent Robinson, who should be the #1 target. While Evans isn’t someone who’s going to be worth drafting after last year’s performance – especially given the Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne QB situation – it’s a decent signing for a team that is desperate for bodies in the receiving corps. Evans will likely compete for time with Cecil Shorts, among others, behind Robinson and Mike Thomas. Added: 4/16
Brandon Stokley (signed by Den from NYG) – Stokley returns to the Broncos after signing a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: While Stokley turns 36 in June, this move may not come as much of a surprise since he already lived in the Denver area, played for the team from 2007-2009, and as a friend of QB Peyton Manning, Stokley’s been part of his rehabilitation process as well as the recruitment to Denver. The two played together in Indianapolis from 2003-2006, which included Stokley’s best season, 2004, when he caught 68/1077/10 on 116 targets. Stokley hasn’t had much fantasy relevance in recent years. In 2010, he played 11 games with the Seahawks, grabbing 31/354 on 43 targets. He signed with the Giants early in the 2011 season, but suffered a quad injury and was released in October. Stokley, who’s been known as “The Slot Machine” in years past, will enter his 14th season in 2012, and joins a receiving corps that includes Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Andre Caldwell, Jacob Tamme, and Joel Dreessen. While Stokley certainly has an advantage as a friend and trust target of Manning’s, he is on a non-guaranteed deal and would be part of a crowded receiving corps if he ends up making the team. Added: 4/18.
Donte’ Stallworth (Signed by NE from Was) – Stallworth agreed to a one-year deal with the Patriots, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Stallworth hasn’t played consecutive seasons for one team since 2002-05 with the Saints, and now he’ll have his second stint with the Patriots. After catching just 2 passes in his return to the NFL in 2010 for the Ravens, he actually made a few plays with the Redskins last year, putting up 22/309/2 on 36 targets. Stallworth isn’t anything special, but he gives the Patriots another deep threat for depth after they signed Brandon Lloyd. The one thing the Patriot passing game lacked last year was speed, so Stallworth isn’t a bad signing for depth. He does know the offense after this previous stint with the team, which helps a lot. You can’t expect anything from him for fantasy, however, and the team could still target a young WR in the draft. Updated: 4/5
Anthony Gonzalez (Signed by NE from Ind) – Gonzalez agreed to a deal to join the Patriots. Terms were undisclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Gonzalez will look to revive his career as New England, as injuries have stripped production away from the former 1st-round pick in Indianapolis. He had a total of 90 catches in his first two seasons, but he missed all of 2009 with a knee injury and has played a total of eight games the last two years, with no catches in 2011. He’s dealt with knee, ankle, and hamstring injuries, and it’s going to be really hard to trust him until he proves he can stay healthy. If he can, he’s a talented slot receiver (he can also play outside) with good hands and route-running ability, and he could provide depth behind Wes Welker. The Patriots also boosted their receiving corps by adding Brandon Lloyd, and they’ve recently restructured the contract of Chad Ochocinco, who had a horrendous season and also added Donte Stallworth and re-signed veteran Deion Branch. They may also draft a WR prospect, so things are very crowded here for Gonzalez. If healthy and on the team, his presence could mean that Julian Edelman will stick to defense for now. For fantasy, will be hard for Gonzalez to produce given the talent in front of him at WR and TE, but there are more options than ever for Tom Brady. Updated: 4/5
Roscoe Parrish (Signed by SD from Buf) – The 29-year old veteran signed a one-year deal with the Chargers.
- Fantasy Analysis: After several years of being underutilized in Buffalo, Parrish actually had some value for the Bills as their slot receiver in 2010. He was on pace for his best season that year before a wrist injury derailed everything and caused him to miss the second half of the year. In eight games, he caught 33 passes on 53 targets (62.7%) for 392 yards and 2 TDs for an average of 6.7 FPG. Despite missing half the season, he still set a career high in receiving yards. The hope was he could return to form and help the team in 2011, but he once again landed on IR, this time with an ankle issue. Parrish at one time was a very fast receiver – he ran a 4.37 40 at the 2005 combine – but it remains to be seen if all the injuries have robbed him on his speed. When he’s played receiver he’s been pretty reliable, but he’ll likely be the #5 WR at best here, and he will likely focus on the return game. This addition does give the Chargers more depth and versatility, at least, and it could be good news for Eddie Royal, since Parrish could limit Royal’s exposure in the return game. The Chargers also signed Micheal Spurlock as a potential return man, so Parrish has competition. Updated: 4/16
Devin Thomas (Signed by Chi from NYG) – Thomas agreed to a one-year deal with the Bears.
- Fantasy Analysis: This is a pretty odd move for the Bears, as they already acquired a receiver with return ability in Eric Weems, and Devin Hester is also still on the roster, giving them a surplus of capable returners. They also have Johnny Knox, but, as CBSSports.com points out, the signing of Thomas could be insurance for Knox, who may not be ready for the start of the season because of his back injury. The Bears will likely use Hester as punt return with Weems and Thomas both seeing kick return and other special teams duties. As for Thomas on offense, you can’t expect much. He was an early 2nd-round pick in 2008 by the Redskins, but he’s caught a total of 3 passes for 37 yards in the last two seasons after he had a career-high 25/325/3 in 2009. He’s still only 25 and he does have the physical tools to be a starter in the NFL, so maybe he has room to develop a little.
Eric Weems (Signed by Chi from Atl) – Weems agreed to a three-year deal with the Bears, according to Scout.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Falcons re-signed slot receiver Harry Douglas, meaning Weems had no chance of stepping into a larger role in the Falcon passing game. He moves on to Chicago, where he probably won’t get significantly involved either, especially after the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall to fill out the top of their WR depth chart. Weems is a depth player on offense, and most of his relevance comes on special teams. In four seasons, he’s caught a total of 24 passes, including a career-high 11 for 90 yards in 2011. With Marshall, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, and Devin Hester on the roster, Weems isn’t going to show up on the fantasy radar, except in return leagues. He averaged 23.2 yards on 24 kick returns last year, and it will be interesting to see what the Bears do with returns, given that Hester is so dangerous in that area. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Weems will probably return kickoffs, which means Hester can continue to return punts – along with acting as a gunner and competing in the slot on offense.
Micheal Spurlock (Signed by SD from TB) – Spurlock agreed to a one-year deal with the Chargers, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego.
- Fantasy Analysis: For a brief few moments in 2010, Spurlock had a tiny bit of fantasy relevance as a WR, and he even caught 2 TD passes. But that’s about all he’s done on offense in his six years since entering the NFL, covering stints in Arizona, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Tampa again. In fact, from 2007-09, he failed to catch a pass, and 17 of his 23 career catches came in 2010. If he’s going to contribute in San Diego, it will be on special teams, although he had only 8 total returns in 2011 after he was the Bucs’ primary kick and punt returner in 2010. His signing with the Chargers allows him to join former Buc special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, who he had success under. Spurlock will compete for a role with Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish, and Richard Goodman. Added: 4/16
Martellus Bennett (Signed by NYG from Dal) – The Giants brought Bennett in for a visit and signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: Bennett, a former 2nd-round pick continued his disappointing tenure with the Cowboys in 2011 with just 17/144/0 on 25 targets in 14 games. While we never expected him to move past Jason Witten on the depth chart, Bennett’s great size at 6-6, 270 pounds made the team believe he could be a dangerous weapon, but nagging injuries and an inability to establish any sort of consistent role in the offense has made him expendable. The Giants are attempting to fill a need with Bennett after losing both TEs Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs in the Super Bowl. Bennett played about 30% of the snaps in Big D over the last four years, so he never caught more than 20 passes in a season. And after scoring 4 TDs as a rookie in 2008, he hasn’t crossed the stripe since. So there’s something going on with him, no question. But with an increase in playing time – his number of snaps this year should more than double – anything is possible with Eli Manning pulling the trigger and Kevin Gilbride calling the shots. In addition, Giant TE coach Mike Pope is a fantastic coach who typically gets much more out of his players than expected. Currently, the Giant receiving corps is actually pretty thin, so if things are going well in camp with Bennett, we will be okay endorsing him as an upside-oriented backup, assuming they don’t bring in someone else of note at the position. Updated: 4/5
Jacob Tamme (Signed by Den from Ind) – According to ESPN, Tamme joins the Broncos on a three-year deal worth $9 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: On the same day they announced the addition of TE Joel Dreessen, Tamme becomes the latest to join the Broncos. Last season, Tamme appeared in every game for the Colts, but had just 19/177/1 on 31 targets, which is a far cry from what he did with Peyton Manning when Dallas Clark was lost about halfway through the 2010 season. After Clark got injured, Tamme led the NFL with 67 catches from Week Eight on. He had 67 catches on 92 targets (72.8%, 7th best) for 631 yards and 4 TDs, an average of 8.7 FPG. He’s an athletic player and can be moved around the formation to exploit mismatches. Tamme isn’t the type of TE you’d consider an athletic freak like a Jimmy Graham, and at 236 pounds he’s actually relatively undersized for his position, and injuries are a concern with a large role forthcoming. While the 27-year-old may not have a lengthy resume over his four seasons in the league, Tamme has clearly shown that he can produce monster PPR numbers when called upon and that could certainly be the case in Denver, where he should be the top pass-catching TE, as Dreessen is expected to play more of a blocking role. The Broncos have a pair of second-year TEs in Virgil Green and Julius Thomas, but with Green suspended for the first four games of the season and Thomas coming off a disappointing rookie season, it was clear the Broncos were looking to find more reliable TEs, especially with Manning taking over under center.
John Carlson (Signed by Min from Sea) – The Vikings added the athletic Carlson to the fold, agreeing to a five-year deal worth up to $25 million, with $11 million guaranteed, according to our own Adam Caplan.
- Fantasy Analysis: It appears as if the Vikings want to take cues from the Patriots. With Visanthe Shiancoe leaving in free agency, Minnesota needed a veteran to supplement gifted youngster Kyle Rudolph at the TE position, and they’re taking a gamble that Carlson can rebound from a tumultuous last few years in Seattle to become a contributor. We’ve always liked Carlson’s skill set, but his output on the field has never matched his talent level, and now he’s entering his age 28 season coming off a shoulder injury that robbed him of his entire 2011 campaign. Since an impressive 2008 rookie season in which Carlson posted 55/627/5 thanks to a lot of targets, his production in catches, yardage, and yards per catch have declined each season, including his injury-caused goose eggs in 2011. And remember, even before his shoulder surgery, the Seahawks were willing to move past Carlson as their top option at the TE position, signing veteran Zach Miller to a big contract prior to the 2011 season. But Carlson moves well, and the Vikings are counting on his athleticism to help him contribute as a #1B TE to Rudolph’s #1A. We’d probably feel more comfortable calling Carlson a #2, but that’s a lot of dough for a backup, and we’d expect to see Carlson and Rudolph sharing the field rather often in front of QB Christian Ponder. If Carlson is healthy all year, him and Rudolph could cancel each other out for fantasy. After all, there’s no a ton of production to go around here. Updated: 4/5
Kevin Boss (Signed by KC from Oak) – The Chiefs locked up Boss with a three-year deal worth $9 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: Boss joined the Raiders in 2011 after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Giants. Boss’ numbers dropped somewhat considerably, as he hauled in just 28 receptions for 368 yards and 3 TDs in 14 games (11 starts). Injuries and a lack of a consistent role in Oakland’s offense made Boss a fantasy afterthought, and apparently he wasn’t in the Raiders’ plans for the future, as they decided to cut him just one year after signing him to a four-year, $16 million deal. Even though he was cut, Boss will collect the $2 million guaranteed to him by the Raiders for 2012 in addition to his money from the Chiefs. The Chiefs were looking for another reliable TE after losing Tony Moeaki to a torn ACL last season and Boss should fit that bill. While he doesn’t have any special talent, at 6-6, 255 pounds, Boss is a solid blocker and a capable receiver, who’s been a reliable chain-mover in the past. Moeaki should be recovered from his injury in time to take back the starting role in 2012, but Boss will provide the team insurance they didn’t have when Moeaki was injured in 2011. The 28-year-old Boss enters his sixth season in the league after being a 5th-round pick for the Giants in 2007.
Joel Dreessen (TE, Signed by Den from Hou) – Despite a late push from the Texans to keep him, the Colorado State alum returns home to catch balls from Peyton Manning, according to the Houston Chronicle. Terms of his contract are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: Dreessen made a name for himself as perhaps the most vicious of vultures in 2011, as he drove Owen Daniels owners nuts. Dreessen played in every game, and while he saw only 39 targets, he caught 28 of them (71.8%) for 353 yards and 6 TDs, while Daniels scored only 3 TDs with nearly double the catches. However, Dreessen averaged just 4.5 FPG, so while he wasn’t worth using in fantasy lineups, he did just enough to make Daniels a very frustrating player to own. So the major question now is whether the legendary Peyton Manning will make Dreessen more of a legitimate fantasy option, or just an even more frustrating vulture. Dreessen has the ability and size to be a solid fantasy starter with Manning throwing him the ball, but things got more complicated when the Broncos signed Jacob Tamme, who played with Manning in Indianapolis. Once again, expect Dreessen to drive fantasy owners nuts for another season.
Leonard Pope (Signed by Pit from KC) – The Steelers announced the signing of Pope to a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: When the Chiefs lost TE Tony Moeaki to a torn ACL before the start of last season, Pope, usually known as a blocker, played a bigger role in the passing game, starting 10 of 16 games. He set career highs in catches (24), yards (247), and targets (34), but caught just a single TD. He was really nothing more than a security blanket in the offense and didn’t have much of a presence in the red zone (2 targets). The Steelers will be Pope’s third team after spending 2009-2011 with the Chiefs and the previous three seasons with the Cardinals. He hasn’t missed a game over the last two seasons, but because he’s been primarily used as a blocker, his best fantasy season was 2007, when he averaged 4.9 FPG. While TE Heath Miller is firmly entrenched as the starter in Pittsburgh, the only other TE on the roster is Weslye Sanders, who signed as an UDFA in 2011, but will be suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season. Miller is a capable blocker, but with the Steelers interested in running the ball more, it makes sense for them to add someone like Pope, who is more of a blocker than a receiver. Added: 4/10.
Daniel Fells (TE, Signed by NE from Den) – Fells signed a three-year deal worth about $6 million, according to the Denver Post.
- Fantasy Analysis: While the Patriots already have the most crowded TE corps in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Fells has signed to be more of a TE than either of those two guys, as he can play the “traditional” TE spot and free up his teammates for more exciting things. Additionally, it has to be noted that both Gronk and Hernandez have suffered injuries in their brief careers, and for a team that uses two TEs so frequently, depth is important. At 6-4 and 272 pounds, he can stretch the field, and he’s always had a solid pair of hands, but he’s never put up big numbers. That was especially true in 2011, as he was the Broncos’ starting TE, but he had just 19/256/3 on 31 targets (61.3%) in all 16 games. It’s probably not going to be a huge fantasy signing unless either of the top two guys gets hurt, but he is a talented guy.
Dante Rosario (Signed by SD from Den) – Rosario stays in the division, signing a one-year deal with the Chargers.
- Fantasy Analysis: One year after following HC John Fox from Carolina to Denver, Rosario joins the Chargers just days after they re-signed veteran TE Randy McMichael. Rosario initially signed with the Broncos last July, but was cut before regular season began only to sign with the Dolphins. They’d cut him a few weeks later and he’d end up back in Denver, where he remained for the rest of the season. In 14 games (2 starts), Rosario caught 7/117/0 (10 targets) in a Bronco passing game that was limited by Tim Tebow. Rosario, 27, enters his 6th season and looks to be third on the Charger depth chart behind Antonio Gates and McMichael. Rosario was primarily a blocker in Denver, but he is an athletic player and has been used as a vertical threat in the past.
Matthew Mulligan (TE, Signed by Stl from NYJ) – The Rams gave Mulligan, a blocking TE, a two-year deal, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Fantasy Analysis: Mulligan was a restricted free agent who wasn’t tendered a contract by the Jets. He’ll provide depth with the Rams, and little else, but remember that guys like Michael Hoomanawanui and Lance Kendricks had injury issues last year. That said, it would be shocking if a player with 6 catches in three seasons makes anything more than a minimal impact in the box scores.
Neil Rackers (Signed by Was from Hou) – Rackers signed a one-year deal with the Redskins, according to the Houston Chronicle.
- Fantasy Analysis: Everyone loves a good kicker competition, right? Right? The 36-year-old Rackers joins the Redskins, where he’ll compete with incumbent Graham Gano. Rackers was better for fantasy last year in Houston, as he finished 7th among PKs with an average of 8.4 FPG, connecting on 32/38 FGs. Meanwhile, Gano made 31/41 FGs and ranked 18th with an average of 7.4 FPG.
Josh Brown (Signed by NYJ from Stl) – After being cut by the Rams, Brown signed with the Jets, according to the New York Post.
- Fantasy Analysis: After beating out Nick Novak for the Jets’ PK job last summer, Nick Folk will now have to hold off Brown. HC Rex Ryan said the Jets signed Brown to create a competition, so we’ll see what happens in camp. Folk finished 24th among PKs last year, averaging 6.3 FPG and making 19/25 FG attempts. Meanwhile, Brown played for a lousy Ram team and was the league’s worst starting PK for fantasy, averaging just 5.1 FPG, making 21/28 FGs but only 18 XPs. Brown had actually been decent previously, as he ranked 11th in 2010, making 33/39 FGs for an average of 7.8 FPG. Brown will have to adjust to kicking for a team that plays outdoors for the first time since 2007, when he averaged 7.9 FPG and made 28/34 FGs for the Seahawks. Added: 5/7
Notable Non-Skill Players:
Carl Nicks (G, Signed by TB from NO) – Nicks agreed to a five-year deal worth up to $47.5 million, including $31 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: With a lot of cap room, the Bucs were expected to be aggressive in free agency, and within the first 24 hours they locked up the top free agent WR, Vincent Jackson, and the top offensive lineman, Nicks, in addition to CB Eric Wright. A 2008 5th-round pick, Nicks entered the Saints’ starting lineup in the fourth game of his rookie season and has now started 61 consecutive regular season games, earning All-Pro honors in each of the last two seasons. Nicks is only 26 years old, and given that he’s arguably the league’s best guard, this move makes a ton of sense for the Bucs, who hope to operate with a power running game and downfield passing game under new HC Greg Schiano and OC Mike Sullivan.
Eric Winston (OT, Signed by KC from Hou) – Winston signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Chiefs, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: As the starting right tackle on one of the best offensive lines in the league in Houston, Winston was a surprise cap casualty earlier this year. That presented a big opportunity for the Chiefs, who signed Winston and will immediately slide him into the starting job on the right side, providing an upgrade over Barry Richardson. The addition of Winston, who is a talented run blocker, provides another boost to a running game that will feature the dangerous duo of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis in 2012. The Chiefs had the #1 rushing offense in the league with Charles and Thomas Jones in 2010, and if Charles and Hillis can stay healthy, they should form one of the league’s best tandems this season.
Ben Grubbs (G, Signed by NO from Bal) – Grubbs and the Saints agreed to a five-year, $36 million deal that includes a $10 million signing bonus, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Saints lost arguably the top guard in the league when Carl Nicks signed with the Bucs, so they locked up a cheaper replacement in Grubbs, although his price tag is still pretty steep. Grubbs started 70 games in five seasons with the Ravens after being selected with a 1st-round pick in the 2007 draft. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection this past season, and while he may not be quite as good as Nicks, he immediately fills a big hole, and there shouldn’t be a noticeable drop off on the interior of the Saint line.
Jeff Saturday (C, Signed by GB from Ind) – Saturday agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Packers, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Colts decided to blow things up this off-season, and while Peyton Manning gets the most attention, the man who snapped the ball to him for more than a decade and made five Pro Bowls is also headed out of town. The 36-year-old Saturday, who was an undrafted free agent in 1998, has started 188 games, including every game the last three seasons. Many expected him to follow Manning to Denver, but, instead, he’s a rare free agent signing by the Packers, who lost Scott Wells to St. Louis. Saturday’s age is a question mark, but he’ll immediately fill the spot vacated by Wells and become the center in front of Aaron Rodgers.
Scott Wells (C, Signed by Stl from GB) – Wells will make up to $25.5 million with $13 million guaranteed over four years, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Rams cut free-agent bust Jason Brown before the start of 2012 free agency, and the club hopes the 31-year-old Pro Bowler will anchor its line for the next half decade. He has average size (smaller than Brown), but he’s a good athlete and a smart player, and the Rams hope a change at the heart of the line will have a chain effect on one of the most underachieving units in the entire league last year. What’s curious is that Wells, obviously, is a more experienced pass blocker than a run blocker, so we wonder if this change was made to help QB Sam Bradford more than anyone else. That’s what seems to be the most likely scenario. But you have to give the Rams credit: they have been trying like heck to shore up their OL for a couple of years now. Updated: 4/5
Mike Brisiel (RG, signed by Oak from Hou) – Brisiel left the Texans to join the Raiders on a five-year deal worth about $20 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: Brisiel, 29, had spent the first five seasons of his career in Houston, starting 13 games in 2011 and 43 games over the last four years. Brisiel may have missed only three games last season, but he played hurt from early October on before what he called a “hot spot” on his right leg turned into a cracked right fibula in early December. Less than a month later, Brisiel returned to action in the playoffs after having six screws and a plate put in his leg to stabilize it. After losing to the Ravens in the Divisional Round, Brisiel had arthroscopic ankle surgery, but that isn’t expected him to cost him any time. After being part of what was arguably the best OL in football with the Texans in 2011, Brisiel is expected to replace former Raider starting RG, Cooper Carlisle, who was recently cut by the team. Brisiel already has some connections in Oakland, as OC Greg Knapp was the QB coach in Houston for the last two seasons and OL coach Frank Pollack was an assistant with the Texans for Brisiel’s entire tenure there.
Steve Hutchinson (Signed by Ten from Min) – According to ESPN, Hutchinson joins the Titans on a three-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Vikings cut Hutchinson just days before free agency began after he spent the last six seasons with the team. After not missing a game from 2003-2009, Hutchinson suffered a thumb injury that limited him to 11 games in 2010 and then missed the last two games of 2011 due to a concussion. While injuries may have slowed him toward the end of his tenure with the Vikings, he was an integral part of the team’s run-blocking, a role he’ll fill for the Titans, who did struggle at times on the interior of the OL in 2011. The former seven-time Pro Bowler turns 35 in November and will enter his 11th season in the league. While he’d certainly be a helpful blocker for whomever ends up as the Titan QB in 2012, his best days are clearly behind him. Updated: 4/5
Demetress Bell (OT, Signed by Phi from Buf) – The Eagles inked the talented lineman, suddenly a position of need, to a five-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Eagles suffered a huge blow in late March when superstar LT Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles in a training exercise, and the club needed to buttress the left side of its line in Peters’ absence (he’s going to miss at least six months of action). Enter Bell, who actually was the heir apparent to Peters in Buffalo when Peters was first traded to Philadelphia in 2009. Bell has suffered through his own injury concerns, including a torn ACL in 2009 and a torn meniscus in 2011, and his inability to stay on the field consistently has hurt his chances of reaching his full potential. They Eagles hope they strike gold with legendary OL coach Howard Mudd tutoring Bell, because if he can stay on the field and he responds to coaching, the loss of Peters might not be nearly as bad as initially thought. Updated: 4/5
Nate Livings (OG, Signed by Dal from Cin) – Livings agreed to a five-year, $19 million deal with the Cowboys, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Livings comes over from the Bengals after starting every game for the last two seasons. Based on the contract, it looks like the Cowboys are prepared to make Livings a starter, especially after Kyle Kosier suffered a torn MCL in Week Seventeen of last season. Livings, who just turned 30, has good size at 6-5, 332 pounds, and could help a Cowboy OL that struggled at times on the interior in 2011. Dallas also signed Mackenzy Bernadeau to a four-year deal, for what ESPN reports is “starter’s” money.
Adam Snyder (OG, Signed by Ari from SF) – Snyder signed a five-year, $17 million contract, including a $5 million signing bonus, according to the Arizona Republic.
- Fantasy Analysis: Snyder moves to the division-rival Cardinals after seven years with the 49ers. A 3rd-round pick of the 49ers in 2005, Snyder started 13 games last season, playing at right guard, but just two in 2010. In his career, he’s started 69 games. The 49er O-line struggled early in the season but put things together over the course of the season. He’ll try to help boost a Cardinal line that gave up the 2nd-most sacks in the league last season and could slide in as the starting right guard with Rex Hadnot gone. Updated: 5/7
Travelle Wharton (OG, signed by Stl from Cin) – Wharton agreed to a three-year deal with the Bengals, but no further contract details were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Wharton had been with the Panthers since 2004, but the team let him go after he was scheduled to be a $7.6 million cap hit in 2012. Wharton started all 16 games for Carolina in 2011 after having his season cut short by a shoulder injury in 2010. Wharton, who turns 31 in May, should be considered an upgrade to the Bengal OL, which struggled in run and pass blocking last season. Wharton is expected to fill the void left by OG Nate Livings, who recently signed with the Cowboys. While Wharton is primarily a LG, he has the ability to fill in at LT if needed.
Geoff Schwartz (OG, signed by Min from Car) – Schwartz agreed to a deal with the Vikings, but terms were not released.
- Fantasy Analysis: Schwartz missed the entire 2011 season due to hip surgery after starting every game for the Panthers in 2010. Schwartz was originally drafted by Carolina in 2008, but spent time on the practice squad until being promoted to the active roster in 2009. He’ll get a chance to start with the Vikings after they recently released OGs Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson, although he may be in competition with Joe Berger at RG. Schwartz, who turns 26 in July, is a versatile OL with the ability to play G or T, and considering the Vikings’ shaky line play in recent years, they’ll definitely take advantage of the depth Schwartz gives them.
Samson Satele (C, signed by Ind from Oak) – Colt owner Jim Irsay announced the signing of Satele on Twitter.
- Fantasy Analysis: With the Colts moving on from longtime C Jeff Saturday, they appear to have found his replacement in Satele. After joining the Raiders in 2009, Satele became the a full-time starter at center beginning in 2010 as part of a group that helped the Raiders finish second in rushing with 2494 yards. Despite the loss of Darren McFadden for more than half the 2011 season, Satele and the Raider OL still managed to do a good enough job for Michael Bush and the Raider rushing attack to finish seventh in 2011. Satele has started 74 of 78 games in his five years with Oakland and Miami and missed just two games his entire career. The 27-year-old was arrested in Hawaii just day into the start of free agency on a disorderly conduct charge, but it is considered just a petty misdemeanor. Satele should be an upgrade for a Colt OL that was exposed as a below-average group without Peyton Manning masking their deficiencies in 2011.
Rex Hadnot (G, Signed by SD from Ari) – The Chargers announced they signed Hadnot to a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: The 30-year-old Hadnot started all 16 games for the Cardinals last year, but line play was a huge issue for them. In San Diego, GM A.J. Smith said Hadnot will be able to compete for the starting LG job with Tyronne Green. Hadnot is a versatile player who has started games at guard, center, and tackle in his career with Arizona, Cleveland, and Miami. Added: 5/7
Mike Pollak (G/C, Signed by Car from Ind) – The Panthers announced they have come to an agreement with the veteran interior lineman. Terms were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Pollak had been relegated to the doghouse at times during his tenure with the Colts, thanks to some inconsistent play. And his starts over his four-year career tell that story – 8 in 2011, 13 in 2010, 7 in 2009, and 13 as a rookie in 2008. Pollak’s a big and physical player, but he’s never developed into the consistent starter the Colts had hoped when they used a second-round pick on him. Panther GM Marty Hurney said Pollak will have a chance to compete for a job, but nothing more than that.
Notable IDP Players:
Mario Williams (DE, Signed by Buf from Hou) – The off-season’s most prized free agent lands in perhaps the unlikeliest of destinations, signing a six-year contract worth up $100 million with $50 million guaranteed, according to ESPN, which makes him the highest-paid defensive player of all time.
- Fantasy Analysis: In perhaps the most surprising free agent signing in league history, the Buffalo Bills put the full-court press on Williams as soon as free agency started and filled their biggest need for an elite pass rusher. And “elite” certainly describes Williams. He had some struggles adjusting to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 OLB spot last season before tearing his pectoral muscle in Week Five, but he’ll be sliding back to his familiar 4-3 DE spot under DC Dave Wannstedt, on what now looks like one of the most formidable defensive lines in the NFL. Despite the new position, Williams still made 5.0 sacks in only five games last year, and in his last four seasons as a traditional DE, he racked up a total of 44 sacks. Those numbers are staggering, and it makes him, as always, a highly prized IDP in sack-heavy leagues. He’s not an elite run defender, but he’s capable of putting up solid solo tackle numbers, numbers that might increase with beefy DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus sucking up blockers. It’s clear what the Bills’ strategy is here: They believe in winning through strong QB play and a pass rush on the other side of the football. They locked up the guy they believe to be their franchise QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick last year, and now they made the franchise’s biggest splash since its last of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s. The Bills almost certainly overpaid for Williams, but they saw an opportunity to make an impact in free agency, and they got it done. If it works out, it’s the type of deal that can change the landscape in the AFC East.
DeMeco Ryans (LB, Acquired by Phi from Hou) – The Eagles filled their biggest off-season need by acquiring Ryans from the Texans for a 4th-round pick and a swap of 3rd-round picks in April’s draft.
- Fantasy Analysis: It’s a deal that should work well for both clubs, but for our purposes, we love what it does for the Eagles. Ryans’ has been an IDP beast in the past, as he’s posted between 86 and 125 solo tackles in each of his first four NFL seasons, starting in 2006. But in 2010, he tore his Achilles after only six games of action, and although he was healthy enough to play all 16 games in 2011, he wasn’t a great fit for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. In 2009, Ryans played all but two of the Texans’ defensive snaps, but in 2011, he played in fewer than 60% of them, as the ILB the Texans kept on the field in nickel situations was Brian Cushing. In Philadelphia, Ryans will go back to his natural position as a 4-3 MIKE, and assuming good health, he should play a much higher percentage of snaps. Although at best he’s an average cover man, Ryans is a physical run defender who can plug holes and stop backs in their tracks, and that is absolutely essential behind the Philadelphia Wide-9 defensive front. He’s also a fiery defensive leader who will likely call the signals on the field for this unit, and leadership on the defensive side was something the Eagles admitted they lacked last year. The Texans cleared some much-needed cap space and acquired a pick for Ryans, but the Eagles got a lot better, and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is going to look a whole lot smarter.
Curtis Lofton (LB, Signed by NO from Atl) – The veteran MLB switches allegiances in the NFC South, signing with the Saints on a five-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Lofton is an IDP stud, and it’s always a little disconcerting when IDP studs change teams, but he should be pretty comfortable in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense, with its rebuilt LB corps (which also includes Chris Chamberlain). Last year, he recorded 87 solo tackles and 147 stops overall, meaning he has over 118 total tackles in three straight seasons, and only once has he failed to achieve that mark (rookie year in 2008: 94 total tackles). While Lofton isn’t known for his coverage skills, he isn’t so much of a liability that he’ll kill a team if he’s in there on third down, so he should continue to rack up the solos. Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Lofton without mentioning current Saint MLB Jonathan Vilma, who allegedly had a major role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. The punishment for players involved hasn’t been handed down yet, but given the severe punishments given to head coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints could be bracing for some bad news regarding Vilma. If that’s the case, Lofton is a heck of a cushion.
Cortland Finnegan (CB, signed by Stl from Ten) – The Rams addressed perhaps their biggest need, signing the former Titan top CB to a five-year deal worth up to $50 million, with close to $27 million guaranteed, according to Yahoo! Sports.
- Fantasy Analysis: No question about it, since Finnegan entered the league, he’s been consistently among the best tacklers at the CB position, with at least 54 solos in each of his six seasons. Typically, this might be a move IDP players mourn, but remember that Finnegan is reuniting with his former coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Even if defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is disciplined for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal, Finnegan will be playing in a defense shaped by Fisher, a defense in which he had 83 solo tackles in 2010. Finnegan is a physical, scrappy corner who plays bigger than his size, and he’ll bring some much-needed attitude to the St. Louis defense. He should remain relevant for IDP purposes, as well.
Brandon Carr (Signed by Dal from KC) – The Cowboys and Carr agree to a five-year deal worth $50.1 million, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: We knew the Cowboy were looking to upgrade on the back end, and they made that known with the release of Terence Newman on the day free agency opened up. They get their man in Carr, who joins the Cowboys after spending the first four seasons of his career as a starter in Kansas City. Carr, who turns 26 in May, hasn’t missed a game and has started every game over the last four years. Carr is a tough corner who can play press coverage or off his man, but also in zone as well. He’s an aggressive player and a good tackler, but has been known to go for the big hit at times instead of wrapping up. Even though he was one of the top options on the market at his position, Carr finished tied for 128th among DBs with 4.1 FPG after racking up 45 tackles, 4 INTs, and 15 PDs last season. However, those numbers come as part of a Chief team that didn’t have much going for it on offense. Teams will have to pass to keep up with the Cowboys offense and Carr isn’t intimidating enough for the opposition to throwing at him, so he could improve as a fantasy option since he’ll pile up some tackles and possibly have more chances at INTs. Look for Carr to start opposite Mike Jenkins in 2012.
David Hawthorne (LB, Signed by NO from Sea) – The Saints continued to revamp their LB corps, signing the versatile Hawthorne to a five-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Hawthorne joins new acquisitions Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain in the New Orleans LB corps, which could need reinforcements once league suspensions are imposed on players (notably Jonathan Vilma) in the bounty scandal. Hawthorne is a versatile, underrated player who can play all three LB spots, and he’s good enough in coverage to play three downs. Last year, Hawthorne posted 72 solos, 2 sacks, and 3 INTs with the Seahawks, so he was a well-rounded, if not dominant, IDP. Added: 4/5
Kamerion Wimbley (Signed by Ten from Oak) – Wimbley agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with the Titans, including $13.5 million guaranteed, according to our Adam Caplan.
- Fantasy Analysis: A cap casualty in Oakland after signing an extension there last off-season, Wimbley ends up in Tennessee, where the Titans missed out on Mario Williams. A 3-4 OLB with the raiders, Wimbley will move to DE in the Titans’ 4-3 scheme. It’ll be the first time he’s played DE full-time in the NFL, and he should provide a boost to a Titan pass rush that finished 31st in the league in sacks following the departure of DL coach Jim Washburn. Wimbley had 7 sacks last season, with 4 of those coming in one game against the Chargers, and he had 9.5 sacks the previous season. For fantasy, Wimbley’s production has been fairly steady in his career with the Browns and Raiders, as he’s hovered around 5 FPG throughout his six-year career.
LaRon Landry (S, Signed by NYJ from Was) – The Jets give Landry a one-year deal worth up to $4 million, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Jets had a big hole at SS on their roster with the departure of Jim Leonhard, and they’re talking a risk that the gifted but oft-injured Landry can help fill that void. Achilles problems have limited Landry to 17 games over the last two seasons, and his effectiveness has been down in each. But at his best, he’s one of the quickest and most violent in-the-box safeties in football, which at times has translated to major IDP success (in nine games in 2010 before getting hurt, he recorded 66 solo tackles and averaged a whopping 10.7 FPG). At his worst, the injury has crippled his ability to plant his foot and explode, and he’s never been the best player in coverage anyway. Expect coach Rex Ryan to get the most out of Landry, if he’s healthy. On a one-year deal, he was probably worth the risk, and if he manages to play even 10 or so games, he’ll be a worthwhile gamble for the right price in IDP leagues, as well.
Eric Wright (CB, signed by TB from Det) – The Buccaneers continued their free-agent spree by signing away the Lions’ top CB from 2011 with a five-year deal worth up to $37.5 million with $15.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Wright’s developed a reputation for occasional mental lapses and inconsistent play, but IDP players know him as a guy who can produce solo tackles, making him very valuable at the CB position. With the Lions last season, Wright posted 66 solos and 4 INTs, while also being among the league leaders with 16 PDs. The Bucs brought in Wright to supplement the gifted but occasionally troubled Aqib Talib, and it means if Ronde Barber decides to play this year he can be used in a more situational role. For our purposes, Wright might give up the occasional play, but he has fantastic speed and athleticism, and he’s excellent in run support. His tackle numbers have been up-and-down throughout his career, and we’ll have to see how he adjusts to new coordinator Bill Sheridan’s defense, but he should remain relevant for IDP purposes.
Asante Samuel (CB, Acquired by Atl from Phi) – The Falcons nab Samuel from the Eagles for a 7th-round pick, restructuring his deal to be worth $18.5 million over three seasons.
- Fantasy Analysis: Because of his tackling woes (a high of 39 solos in his four years with Philly), Samuel isn’t going to give IDP players much unless he’s picking off tons of passes, which he didn’t do in the Eagles’ new scheme last year. That said, Samuel still had 23 INT in four seasons with the Eagles, including two returned for TDs, and he’s a consistent enough big-play threat for the Falcons to take a risk on him. While Brent Grimes has been emerging as a legitimate top CB, Dunta Robinson has been a disappointment, and the Falcons view defending the high-flying offenses of the NFC South as a priority, as they should. Added: 4/26
Tracy Porter (signed by Den from NO) – Porter changes teams for the first time in his career, landing with the Broncos a one-year, $4 million deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Porter gives the Broncos the upgrade they were looking for to play opposite Champ Bailey and probably ends the search for a starting-caliber CB through free agency. Porter’s been known for his playmaking ability and is skilled in man coverage. While Bailey is 34, Porter will be 26 when the season begins and injects some youth into an aging secondary. Porter has started 39 of his 43 appearances in his four-year career missing most of his rookie year with a wrist injury and more time in 2010 with a knee problem that eventually need microfracture surgery. He wasn’t much of an IDP option last season with 51 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PDs, and just 4.9 FPG, which tied him for 83rd among DBs.
Richard Marshall (Signed by Mia from Ari) – Marshall will receive a three-year deal from the Dolphins worth up to $16 million, with $6 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Despite being a rotational player with the Cardinals last year, Marshall still managed to put together a decent IDP season for those in tackle-heavy leagues, recording 62 solos, 2 sacks, and 3 INTs, and since entering the league in 2012 he’s never had fewer than 51 solo tackles. Marshall is still only 27, and while he took a step back in Arizona from the very solid and reliable corner he was in Carolina, he should be a very effective #3 CB in Miami. In today’s NFL, it’s highly possible that Marshall spends more time on the field than not, so while you don’t exactly love a #3 CB for fantasy, don’t be shocked if this sound tackler is a decent IDP depth option at some point, especially if #2 CB Sean Smith struggles.
William Gay (CB, Signed by Ari from Pit) – The Cardinals replace the departed Richard Marshall with Gay on a two-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Overall, Gay is probably a downgrade in coverage from Marshall, but he is a versatile player who can play inside, outside, and even at safety if need be. And the one advantage he does have on Marshall is his run defense, which is music to most IDP players’ ears. He played under DC Ray Horton’s system in Pittsburgh, and under Horton he posted 67 solos and 1.5 sacks with the Steelers in 2009 (he had 49 solos last season). Gay might not start opposite Patrick Peterson (he’ll have competition from A.J. Jefferson and Greg Toler) but he should see the field enough to be a competitive IDP in tackle-heavy leagues. And if he does manage to play well enough to secure a full-time role, he could be a very underrated player.
Jacob Lacey (CB, Signed by Det from Ind) – Lacey agreed to a one-year deal with the Lions, according to the team’s official site.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Lions have a vacancy at one CB spot after Eric Wright signed with the Bucs, so Lacey, who started 10 games in Indianapolis last year, should compete for the spot opposite Chris Houston. Lacey has managed only 1 INT in each of the last two seasons, and he finished with 47 solo tackles and an average of 5.3 FPG in 2011. Signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Lacey is only 24 years old.
Steve Gregory (S, Signed by NE from SD) – Gregory signed a three-year deal with the Patriots worth just over $8.5 million with $3.4 million guaranteed, according to the Boston Globe.
- Fantasy Analysis: Gregory made a name for himself filling in for Bob Sanders with the Chargers last year, and occasionally, he was a very useful IDP – maddeningly inconsistent, but useful (54 solos). We wouldn’t expect that to change with the Patriots. Gregory’s best position is FS, which means the Pats could pair him with SS Patrick Chung, but he’s developed a reputation for versatility, which includes playing slot corner in passing downs. If the Patriots find a way to maximize his IDP potential, he might be someone to watch.
Mark Anderson (DE, Signed by Buf from NE) – Anderson signed a four-year deal with the Bills worth $27.5 million, including $8 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: While Anderson’s fantasy value comes in sack-heavy leagues, he’s yet another big pickup for the Bills, who suddenly boast one of the best defensive lines in the league. Anderson, who had 9.5 sacks last year, joins Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus up front on what should become a dominant line. The pass rush was a huge issue last year, as the Bills finished 27th in the league in sacks, despite racking up 10 sacks in one game against the Redskins. The Bills had a total of 19 sacks in their other 15 games, so clearly they needed all the help they could get. Williams is certainly the big prize, but Anderson is in a great situation now, especially with opposing offenses focusing on the other studs up front.
Chris Chamberlain (LB, signed by NO from Stl) – The Saints and Chamberlain agreed to a three-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Chamberlain follows former Ram HC and new Saint DC Steve Spagnuolo to New Orleans after spending the first four seasons of his career in St. Louis. While not as big of a splash as the team’s signing LB Curtis Lofton, Chamberlain could provide some competition for Scott Shanle at on the weak side or allow the Saints to move Shale to the strong side plus he’s considered a good special teams player. Chamberlain, 26, is coming off his best season in 2011, starting 13 of 16 games with 82 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 INT, which tied him for 61st among LBs at 5.4 FPG.
Broderick Bunkley (DT, signed by NO from Den) – According to ESPN, the Saints and Bunkley agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal including $9 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Bunkley fell out of favor with the Eagles after spending his first five years in Philadelphia and moved on to the Broncos last season. He rejuvenated his career with the Broncos last season, starting 13 of 16 games with 43 tackles in what was probably the best year he’s ever had. While Bunkley is considered a great run-stopper, he wasn’t much of an IDP option in 2011, averaging just 2.7 FPG, and he’s not much of a pass rusher. The 28-year-old should be a good fit in a Saint defense in transition with new DC Steve Spagnuolo taking over for a team trying to gather themselves after finding out HC Sean Payton will be suspended for the 2012 season due to his involvement with the team’s bounty situation. The Saints were the 12th-best team against the run last season, but Bunkley could make them even better in 2012.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar (LB, Signed by Stl from NO) – Dunbar signed a two-year deal worth $3 million with the Rams.
- Fantasy Analysis: Dunbar follows defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from the Saints to the Rams… kind of (obviously, Williams is suspended indefinitely). Dunbar is an undersized but athletic player, and he should be able to compete for playing time on a Ram LB corps that doesn’t have much outside of MIKE James Laurinaitis. In a situational role last year, Dunbar recorded 54 solos, a sack, and 2 forced fumbles. He should get a chance to start in 2012. Added: 4/5
Philip Wheeler (LB, Signed by Oak from Ind) – The Raiders added the veteran Wheeler on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: It won’t be much for IDP, but the Raiders will try to replace SLB Kamerion Wimbley on the cheap with their signing of Wheeler, who is probably the early favorite for that spot. Wheeler played 61 games in his four years with Indianapolis but only started 24 of them. Wheeler has never totaled more than 47 solos or one sack in any of his four seasons, so like most SLBs, he’s not much for fantasy. Added: 4/5
Barrett Ruud (LB, Signed by Sea from Ten) – Seattle adds Ruud on a one-year deal in an attempt to add depth to its LB corps.
- Fantasy Analysis: Ruud is more of a run stopper who struggles a little in pass coverage, and he’ll have to compete for a starting job, where he could replace David Hawthorne at MIKE. If Ruud wins the job, it will allow the team to keep youngster K.J. Wright outside at his more natural position. However, note that Ruud’s play has dropped off majorly over the last few years, and he did lose has job in Tennessee last year to a much younger Colin McCarthy. Added: 4/10.
Frostee Rucker (DE, Signed by Cle from Cin) – The veteran got a five-year deal to go across Ohio, worth up to $21 million with $8 million guaranteed, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
- Fantasy Analysis: Rucker should become an immediate upgrade to the Browns’ defensive line, but he probably isn’t someone IDP owners should add to their watch lists. This big DE is capable of providing support in the run game (his 32 solos last year were a career-high), but for most of his career he’s been much more of a space-filler than a legit contributor. He set career-highs in solos (32) and sacks (4.0) last year, but his 3.2 FPG meant he still wasn’t a legitimate IDP option.
Cory Redding (DE, signed by Ind from Bal) – The Colts signed Redding to a three-year deal for $10.5 million, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Redding is immediately reunited with Chuck Pagano, the new Colt HC and Redding’s DC in Baltimore last season. The 31-year-old is versed in the 3-4 scheme, and it looks like the 3-4 or a hybrid version of sorts will be installed by Pagano and new DC Greg Manusky for the Colts. Redding, considered to primarily be a run-stopper at this point in his career, didn’t make much of an impact as an IDP last season, finishing 55th among DLs with 3.7 FPG thanks to 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Redding will enter his 10th season in 2012 with the Colts being his fourth team and third since 2009. His addition could push DE Dwight Freeney further out the door, which wouldn’t be surprising with the regime change and re-signing of DE Robert Mathis.
Jason Jones (DL, Signed by Sea from Ten) – Jones signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Seahawks, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: Jones has started 28 games in the last two seasons for the Titans, and now he’ll help give the Seahawks a deeper line. His fantasy value has not been great, though, as he’s recorded 15.5 sacks over four seasons, with just 3 sacks and an average of 2.9 FPG last season. Jones is only 276 pounds, but he may actually slide back inside to DT with the Seahawks. He joins a talented line that also includes Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, and Alan Branch, and Clemons is the top fantasy guy here. Jones will play an important role, but in this deep rotation, don’t expect him to be a great IDP.
Jonathan Fanene (DE, Signed by NE from Cin) – Fanene gets a three-year deal from the Patriots, according to Scout.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Patriots look to address their most glaring need in agreeing to a deal with Fanene, who has been an effective situational pass-rusher throughout his career. Pushing 300 pounds, Fanene is a handful for offensive linemen, and he posted a career-high 6.5 sacks to go along with 17 solos. But obviously, unless his role changes in a new situation, he’s only useful in sack-heavy IDP formats because he doesn’t produce enough against the run. However, he’s a much-needed addition to a defense that might have lost the Super Bowl because it failed to get to the QB enough.
Jarret Johnson (LB, Signed by SD from Bal) – The Chargers announced they have agreed to terms with the former Raven on a four-year contract.
- Fantasy Analysis: Perhaps a benefit from saving money by allowing Vincent Jackson to leave town, the Chargers look to upgrade their defense by adding Johnson, a big and physical run defender who has spent his entire nine-year career with the Ravens. Johnson can play on the DL and in most spots at the LB position, and he does possess the speed to get to the QB, but his biggest asset is his strength in the run game. With Baltimore, that never translated to fantasy success, however, as he has topped out at 45 solos in his career and had 40 last year. His best chance to contribute as an IDP would be to get after the QB more (his career-high in sacks came in 2009, with 6.0). He might be a guy to watch for positional flexibility, but if he’s only usable as an LB, he’s not really someone to consider.
Dan Connor (LB, Signed by Dal from Car) – Connor agreed to a deal to join the Cowboys, according to ESPN.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Connor has been in and out of the Carolina starting lineup in the first four years of his career, starting 19 games, including 11 last season. Last year, he recorded 52 solos and averaged 4.3 FPG. Connor has issues in pass coverage, so he may not play every down – he’ll rotate with Bruce Carter – but he can be a good situational player against the run and is also familiar with top Cowboy ILB Sean Lee, his teammate at Penn State. He probably won’t have a lot of fantasy value next to Lee, though, especially because he didn’t have any sacks, PDs, or INTs last year.
Keith Rivers (LB, Acquired by NYG from Cin) – The Giants bolstered their LB corps with the addition of Rivers, acquiring him for a fifth-round pick in April’s draft.
- Fantasy Analysis: Rivers has spent most of his career at SAM linebacker, which means he hasn’t been much for fantasy – he’s never made more than 51 solos in a season, and he’s never played more than 13 games. Additionally, he missed all of last season with a wrist injury. If he’s healthy, he’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job, and his biggest impact as a fantasy contributor might be in forcing LB Michael Boley to move inside. But there are a lot of questions that remain about Rivers’ viability. Added: 4/16
Ron Bartell (CB, signed by Oak from Stl) – Bartell signed a one-year deal worth $3 million to join the Raiders.
- Fantasy Analysis: Bartell was one of the Rams’ top CBs in his seven seasons with the team, but missed just about all of the 2011 season after suffering multiple neck fractures in the season opener last year. However, Bartell said he is completely recovered from his injuries and ready for the upcoming season. Bartell became a starter in St. Louis back in 2007 and missed just two games from 2007-2010. Just days after being cut by the Rams, Bartell was able to reach a deal with the Raiders, who will need to fill the spots left open by the cuts of CBs Stanford Routt and Chris X. Johnson. Looking back at Bartell’s last full season, 2010, he ranked 103rd among DBs with 4.7 FPG on 61 tackles, 10 PDs, and 0 INTs. With little experience on the current roster, the 30-year-old Bartell looks like a solid bet to start in 2012.
Terence Newman (signed by Cin from Dal) – Newman joins the Bengals on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Newman spent the first nine years of his career in Dallas, but was cut by the team due to shaky play and a high cap number in 2012. Newman’s started in every game he’s played in the league except for two, but missed a pair of games last season with a groin injury among other nagging issues. He became a liability for the Cowboys, but will hopefully be able to rejuvenate his career in Cincinnati, where he’ll be reunited with DC Mike Zimmer, who coached Newman in his first four seasons. In addition to being familiar with Zimmer’s scheme, Newman should provide some depth and insurance for a Bengal secondary that hopes to get top CB Leon Hall back at full strength from the Achilles injury he suffered last November. Last season, Newman had 54 tackles, 4 INTs, 5 PDs, and was tied for 61st among DBs with 5.4 FPG. He turns 30 just days before the 2012 season begins. Added: 4/12
Tanard Jackson (S, Signed by Was from TB) – Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Redskins after failing a physical with the Bucs.
- Fantasy Analysis: Jackson’s had his fair share of problems, both on and off the field, but he’s a pretty productive player when he’s on the field. He’s started all 56 games he’s appeared in during his five-year career, and he finished as high as 12th among IDP DBs, during the 2009 season. But he’s had injury problems, most notably to his hamstring and shoulder. And he was suspended for the last 14 games of the 2010 season and the first six games of the 2011 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He’ll have a chance to compete for a job with Madieu Williams and DeJon Gomes if he manages to stay on the field. Added: 4/16
Cedric Griffin (CB, Signed by Was from Min) – The Redskins added some depth in the secondary by grabbing the veteran Griffin on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, according to Scout.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: In Griffin, the Redskins are hoping for a rebound year, much like they’re hoping from S Brandon Meriwether. Last season, Griffin played in 15 games and recorded 55 solo tackles, but he managed just 1 INT and overall struggled mightily as he attempted to play through knee problems that have plagued him for a few years now. Griffin has suffered two ACL tears in his career, and the Redskins’ hope is that a full off-season can help him through that. He’s still only 29, and he’s been a useful IDP in the past, so it might be a worthy gamble for the club, especially since he looks like a depth option only.
Juqua Parker (DE, Signed by Cle from Phi) – The veteran DE signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million, according to several reports.
- Fantasy Analysis: Parker was signed as insurance on starting LDE Jabaal Sheard, and he may be given a shot to earn playing time at RDE, but that position is very crowded after the recent signing of Frostee Rucker. The good news, however, is that Parker is used to a rotational role, and he’s the type of player who can move inside to play DT in pass-rushing situations. In an injury-plagued 2011, Parker had only 9 solos and 1.5 sacks, but he had 6.0 sacks as recently as 2010, so he could have some value in a deep sack-heavy league.
Brandon Meriweather (S, Signed by Was from Chi) – The veteran safety signs a deal worth up to $6 million over two years, according to the Washington Post.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Redskins had an opening in their defensive backfield after releasing O.J. Atogwe and presumably losing LaRon Landry, and they opted to take a risk on the gifted Meriweather, who has had ups and (mostly) downs throughout his career. Meriweather has played both safety spots throughout his career, but has spent most of his time at strong safety. Never making more than 57 solos in a season, Meriweather has had inconsistent fantasy value in most IDP formats, and he didn’t make an INT at all last season. His biggest challenge will be staying focused and motivated, as lack of both of those things led to the Patriots cutting him last year.
Kendall Langford (DT, Signed by Stl from Mia) – Langford will bolster the interior of the Rams’ 4-3 defense on a four-year deal worth up to $24 million, with $12 million guaranteed, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Fantasy Analysis: Langford spent last year as a DE in the Dolphins’ 3-4 scheme, and most of the time his job was to suck up blockers, making just 15 solo tackles all year. As a DT in the Rams’ 4-3, Langford should have more opportunities to rack up stats, but we wouldn’t expect anything more than a fringe IDP performance even if he posts better numbers. Langford’s strength is playing the run, so while he might top 30 solos, as he did in 2009 and 2010, he won’t do much as a pass rusher (career-high 3.0 sacks in 2010). As such, his best bet for IDP success is racking up some hard-earned solos.
Zack Bowman (CB, Signed by Min from Chi) – Bowman stays in the NFC North, signing a one-year deal with the Vikings.
- Fantasy Analysis: Injuries robbed the Vikings of secondary depth last year, so they added the veteran Bowman on a one-year deal. And because he’s spent his four-year career with the Bears, he’s a devil-you-know sort for Minnesota. However, after starting in 2009 and recording 55 solos, Bowman has been relegated to a reserve role the last two seasons, in which he’s recorded 34 solos combined. He’s probably not going to make much of a fantasy impact, unless he surprisingly lands a starting job.
Mike Adams (S, Signed by Den from Cle) – The veteran safety agreed to a two-year deal with the Broncos, for which financial terms are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: Adams could land in the starting lineup with a good training camp, where he will compete with youngsters David Bruton and Rahim Moore for the FS spot (if the Broncos bring back Brian Dawkins, he’ll be the SS). Since 2006, Adams’ solo totals have been up and down, including only 41 a season ago. Adams has topped 50 solos only once in the last five seasons, so like most free safeties, he’s a big gamble for IDP, especially since there’s no guarantee he’ll start.
Brodney Pool (S, Signed by Dal from NYJ) – According to head coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have added the veteran safety. Terms of the deal are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: Pool loves playing for those Ryans, eh? In 2009, he played under Cowboy DC Rob Ryan in Cleveland before moving on to Rex Ryan and the Jets in 2010. Now, Pool reunites with Rob in Dallas, a year after the two sides wanted to make a deal happen but couldn’t because of Dallas’ cap situation. For the Cowboys, Pool should compete for a starting safety job opposite Gerald Sensabaugh, and he does offer the versatility of playing both safety positions. However, if his seven years of experience are any indication, he won’t offer much as an IDP. Last year, Pool made just 25 solos and 1 INT in a rotational role. He’s a fast, aggressive playmaker who loves to blitz. But he’s had problems securing interceptions in the past, and his tackling technique against the run is subpar given his 215-pound frame. He’ll probably nail down a job here, but likely won’t be relevant for IDP.
Jason Allen (CB, Signed by Cin from Hou) – Allen signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: Allen, who can play cornerback and safety at 6-1, 204 pounds, will continue to be a rotational player in Cincinnati, likely at CB. He started four games and shared time with Kareem Jackson at CB for the Texans last season, recording 33 solos and 4 INTs with an average of 3.5 FPG. His best fantasy season came back in 2007 with the Dolphins, when he averaged 6.2 FPG, so his value as an IDP hasn’t been great. The Bengals re-signed Reggie Nelson to start at FS, meaning Allen will likely be the 3rd CB behind Leon Hall and Nate Clements.
Shawntae Spencer (CB, Signed by Oak from SF) – The Raiders signed Spencer to a one-year deal following his release by the 49ers a week ago, according to the Contra Costa Times.
- Fantasy Analysis: With the departure of Stanford Routt, the Raiders are looking for a starting CB, and they’ve added two gifted players coming off injury-plagued seasons – Spencer is expected to compete for playing time with Ronald Bartell. Last year with the 49ers, Spencer played in only eight games, starting none, as he battled quad problems. At his best, he was a good press cover corner, which fits the Raiders’ M.O., and remember that he played in 16 games in both 2009 and 2010, so the Raiders are hoping 2011 was an aberration. As a man corner who isn’t the best tackler, Spencer isn’t worth much for IDP, and he hasn’t topped 50 solos since 2006. Given that he’s competing for a job, he isn’t someone you should be targeting in your IDP drafts just yet.
Will D. Allen (CB, Signed by NE from Mia) – The Patriots signed the veteran to a one-year deal to compete for a roster spot.
- Fantasy Analysis: Although Allen will be 34 in August, it has to be noted that he was a very effective slot CB for the Dolphins last year, making 39 solo tackles and denying a lot of opportunities for inside receivers. It was a very nice comeback for Allen, who missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with a knee injury. He might not have much left in the tank (and he won’t be much for IDP), but remember that this is a Patriot team that had to give snaps to WR Julian Edelman at CB. He’ll fill a big need for a veteran body.
Tom Zbikowski (S, Signed by Ind from Bal) – The veteran safety joins former Raven DC Chuck Pagano in Indy on a three-year deal, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Fantasy Analysis: Zbikowski has started just 14 games in his four-year career and has made only 43 solo tackles, as he’s had major injury problems, but he should be given the opportunity to win a job with the rebuilding Colts. For IDP purposes, remember that he should contribute on special teams, and the Colt hometown scorers are very generous with their tackle numbers. It could make him a Waiver-Wire sleeper at some point.
Anthony Hargrove (DL, Signed by GB from Sea) – Hargrove confirmed in a phone interview with ESPN that he had agreed to a deal with the Packers. Terms are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Packers aren’t known for attacking the free-agent market, but their defense was a major problem last year, and they hope the versatile Hargrove can help fill the hole that was evident without Cullen Jenkins in uniform last year. In the Packers’ 3-4, we see Hargrove playing predominantly DE in a rotational role, so we wouldn’t expect a whole lot of IDP production – with the Seahawks last year, he made just 12 solos and 3.0 sacks, and he really hasn’t been noteworthy for IDP purposes since his 43-solo, 6.5-sack season in 2005 with the Rams. And at 272 pounds, he’s almost certainly too small to handle even the occasional snap at nose tackle. He’s the type of player whom the Packers hope will have a larger impact helping others fill up the stat sheet, as opposed to doing it himself.
Trevor Scott (DE/OLB, Signed by NE from Oak) – Scott signed a one-year deal with the Patriots, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Patriots’ biggest weakness last year was their pass rush, and they’re trying to find upgrades anywhere they can. Scott has been plagued by knee injuries, and over the last two years, he’s made only 18 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks, with no sacks a season ago. At his best, in 2009, he made 33 solo tackles and 7.0 sacks, but he’s a reclamation project now. The Patriots are hoping he can get back the quick initial burst that made him an effective rotational player in the first place, and his one-year deal is probably a worthwhile risk.
Atari Bigby (S, signed by SD from Sea) – The Chargers signed Bigby to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: After just one season in Seattle, Bigby joins a Charger team short on talent in their secondary outside of FS Eric Weddle. They cut starting SS Steve Gregory recently, but Bigby isn’t expected to fill the starting role, at least not right away as he could compete with Darrell Stuckey for the job. Bigby appeared in 15 games for the Seahawks in 2011, but started just twice, racking up 12 tackles and 2 PDs. Bigby is considered more of a special teams player, as he enters his eighth year in the league and will turn 31 soon after the 2012 season gets underway.
Players re-signed by 2011 teams:
Note: Listing of players is based on overall fantasy impact.
Alex Smith (SF) – Smith agreed to a three-year deal to stay with the 49ers, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: After showing some frustration and visiting with the Dolphins thanks to the 49ers’ pursuit of Peyton Manning, Smith ended up back in San Francisco, as everyone thought. In his first year under new HC Jim Harbaugh, Smith enjoyed the best season of his career, managing games well and throwing 17 TDs and just 5 INTs. However, he didn’t do much for fantasy, as he threw for 3150 yards and averaged only 16 FPG to rank 28th among QBs. The 49ers put Smith in a position to succeed, as they managed him well and relied on Frank Gore and the run game. Things could open up a little this year with an improved receiving corps thanks to the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, who join Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis. However, Smith is still limited in terms of arm strength, and he’s best when he gets the ball out quickly with short and intermediate passes. The lack of downfield passing led to Smith throwing for more than 250 yards only three times, and he never hit 300 yards. So, it’s probably safe to assume Smith isn’t going to suddenly become a fantasy starter any time soon. Still, the receiving corps is better, the run game is effective, and the offensive line has improved, so he has a chance. He’s very comfortable in Harbaugh’s offense, and with improved receivers, he could at least step up and become a solid fantasy backup this season. The 49ers clearly aren’t ready to hand the job off to Colin Kaepernick, as evidenced by the signing of backup Josh Johnson, so this is Smith’s show for now. Updated: 4/5
Rex Grossman (Was) – Grossman agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Redskins, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Had the Redskins not pulled off a trade to presumably get Robert Griffin III with the 2nd pick in the draft, this move would be questionable. But given that the Redskins are bringing in a rookie QB to likely start right away, re-signing the experienced Grossman on a one-year deal makes sense. Yes, Grossman is extremely erratic and lapses into poor decision-making, but he’s also good enough to get by, as he threw for 3148 yards last season and will occasionally put up big numbers. He also threw 16 TDS and 20 INTs and has way too many problems with mechanics and accuracy, so he should not be a starter. But he knows the offense, having spent three seasons with Kyle Shanahan, and if there is some sort of problem with Griffin, Grossman starting a few games wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. He’s certainly a better option than John Beck, so he’s a good fit to return, especially with someone like Kyle Orton off the market.
Shaun Hill (Det) – Hill signed a two-year deal with the Lions, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Fantasy Analysis: Hill flirted with leaving the Motor City, as he visited the Rams, but he decided to return to Detroit, where he is entrenched as Matthew Stafford’s backup, especially after Drew Stanton left for the Jets. It’s a smart move for Hill, who did a nice job in 10 starts in the absence of Stafford in 2010, although he barely played in 2011 as Stafford emerged as one of the league’s best QBs. Hill is 32 years old, and he’s essentially a perfect backup QB because of his experience, mobility, and intermediate accuracy. The Lion offense takes a big hit when it goes from Stafford’s big arm to Hill’s more limited game, but he’s capable of managing games to give the Lions a chance if he’s forced into action, so this is a good move for both parties.
Kellen Clemens (re-signed by Stl) – The Rams brought back Clemens on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Clemens began the 2011 season trying to win a backup job with the Redskins, but was cut shortly before Week One. He caught on with the Texans when Matt Schaub went down, but was eventually released last than two weeks after signing. He’d immediately get picked up by the Rams, and with both Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley injured, Clemens started just 11 days after joining the team, going 25/36 for 229 yards and a TD in Week Fifteen. He went on to start the final two games of the season, finishing 48/91 for 546 yards with 2 TDs and an INT. The six-year veteran turns 29 in June and while he probably fits better as a third-stringer, he looks like the #2 option as of now behind Bradford since the only other option is Tom Brandstater. Added: 4/18.
Chris Redman (Atl) – Redman agreed to a one-year deal to stay with the Falcons, according to FOXSports.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: The 34-year-old Redman appears content with the status quo, as he’ll remain in Atlanta as Matt Ryan’s backup. John Parker Wilson is also in the mix there, but Redman gives the Falcons a stable, veteran presence behind Ryan as they move to new OC Dirk Koetter from Mike Mularkey. Redman has appeared in seven games in the last two seasons, attempting just 34 passes, and he hasn’t started a game since 2009. Ryan has remained fairly durable, and while there’s an OC change here, the situation should look pretty similar. Re-signing Redman makes a lot of sense for Atlanta.
David Carr (NYG) – The veteran QB announced on his Twitter account that he’ll be “back to defend” the Super Bowl title. Terms of his deal were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Jokes aside, Carr should continue to be a serviceable backup for the Giants. He didn’t make a single mistake in 2011, because he didn’t get the opportunity. He didn’t appear in a game as the primary backup to Eli Manning, but has talked about understanding his role as a veteran with a lot of starting experience who will be ready for anything yet knows he’ll only see action if the entrenched starter goes down. There is a familiarity with Carr for the Giants, and, because he is aware of his role, he’s back.
Byron Leftwich (re-signed by Pit) – Leftwich returns to the Steelers on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Leftwich missed all of the 2011 season with a broken arm and had a nagging ankle issue taken care of while on IR. He hasn’t taken a snap since the last game of the 2010 season and hasn’t started since Week Three of the 2009 season, when he was a member of the Buccaneers. The 32-year-old enters his 10th season in 2012. In terms of size and arm strength, Leftwich is an NFL QB. He can throw it well when he has time, but the problem is that he’s always done things too slowly. He knows what to do and can make most of the throws on the field, but he does them very methodically, almost robotically. His long windup is a killer because if he’s forced to move and reset it takes an eternity, which is why he usually takes a beating when he’s under center. Even worse, while he does have a hose for an arm, he misses some throws. Both Leftwich and fellow backup Charlie Batch have re-signed with Pittsburgh, but Leftwich should retain his role as the #2 behind Ben Roethlisberger. Added: 5/7
Josh McCown (Chi) – McCown has re-signed with the Bears on a one-year deal the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Bears contacted McCown in late November when Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury. McCown would end up overtaking a struggling Caleb Hanie and started the final two games of the season, finishing with 414 yards, 2 TD, and 4 INTs on 35/55 passing. McCown, who entered the league in 2002 with the Cardinals, will be 33 when the 2012 season begins, but looks like he’ll be in a battle with Nathan Enderle for the #3 job after the team signed Jason Campbell to back up Cutler.
Derek Anderson (Car) – Anderson told the AP that he’ll return to the Panthers on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Last season the Panthers signed Anderson to have a veteran on the roster to go along with Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Anderson had a chance to win the job in the preseason, but Newton ended up beating him out and we all know how well that went. Anderson served as the backup to Newton, but never saw anything more than mop-up duty in 2011. He’s expected to back up Newton as he enters his seventh season and may not get any real competition, especially if Clausen is cap casualty. Anderson’s erratic play and terrible accuracy have amounted to a forgettable career outside of a decent run with the Browns all the way back in 2007. Outside of his big arm, Anderson doesn’t have much going for him except experience. It is worth pointing out that he had that dream 2007 season for the Browns under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who runs Carolina’s offense, and Anderson’s knowledge of the offense is a big reason they’ll keep him around.
Kevin Smith (Det) – Smith returns to the Lions on a one-year deal with no further terms disclosed, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Smith was out of football after three injury-plagued seasons with the Lions, but his arrival in Week Ten of last year gave the Lions the extra juice they needed to push towards the postseason, with both Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure on IR. In only seven games of action, Smith ran for 72/356/4 (easily a career-high 4.9 YPC), and he added 22/179/3 as a receiver. His 13.6 FPG ranked him 11th at the RB position on the whole year. Honestly, his performance overall was surprising. We wonder if the time off gave him some new life, because even as a rookie he was a grinder with limited lateral agility. In 2011, Smith looked more fluid than ever and actually had a little juice to him to go along with his underrated receiving game. Ideally, the Lions will have a healthy Best and Leshoure in 2012, but as 2011 proved, having a viable insurance policy is really important, and even though Smith is a bit of an injury risk himself, he’s only 25 and can provide the team some much needed depth in the backfield. His re-signing seems even more important after it has come to the surface that Leshoure could be facing a suspension from the league from violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Smith, in theory, can be a backup for both Leshoure and also Best. Updated: 4/5
Tashard Choice (Buf) – Choice has agreed to return to Buffalo to compete for the #3 RB job, the team announced. Terms of his deal were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Choice had a rough 2011 season, bouncing around from Dallas, to Washington, and then finally to Buffalo, where he was a frustrating player for fantasy purposes because he inexplicably stole red-zone touches from C.J. Spiller despite being completely ineffective. Overall, Choice posted 57/152/2 rushing and 19/124/0 receiving in 13 games of action on the season, meaning his rushing production has now declined in each of his four NFL seasons. Choice is versatile, but he’s had problems with ball security, knowledge of the playbook, and pass protection in the past, and he must improve on them if he wants to take the #3 job from Johnny White. However, coach Chan Gailey did give those late-season touches to Choice, so he must have seen something, and it’s reasonable to believe he could be a solid insurance option behind Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Steve Slaton (Mia) – Slaton agreed to a one-year deal to remain with the Dolphins, according to our Adam Caplan.
- Fantasy Analysis: Amazingly, Slaton has fallen off the map, as he went from rushing for 1282 yards as a rookie in 2008 to just 84 yards in 2011, declining each year. Slaton played three games with the Texans before they waived him last September, and after joining the Dolphins, he was active for only three games with them, finishing with 24/84/1 rushing and 3/3/0 receiving. Slaton is only 26 years old, so, theoretically, he should still have something left in the tank, and he’s performed at a high level before. But it’s been a long time since he did anything of note, and he’s buried on the Dolphin depth chart behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas.
Jacob Hester (FB, SD) – Hester agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Chargers, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego.
- Fantasy Analysis: While the Chargers lost versatile RB Mike Tolbert, they signed another FB in Le’Ron McClain, so Hester’s role on offense may be minimal. He was a special teams captain last year, and that’s probably where he’ll contribute most again. In four seasons, Hester has scored a total of 4 TDs, and he’s also never topped 100 yards rushing in a season. He’s a solid blocker who can contribute in short-yardage situations, but he doesn’t have much fantasy value, especially with McClain in the mix now alongside starting RB Ryan Mathews. Added: 4/16
Michael Robinson (FB, Sea) – Robinson announced on his Twitter account that he had agreed to a deal to return to the Seahawks.
- Fantasy Analysis: Robinson’s return to Seattle makes a lot of sense, as he earned his first Pro Bowl nod last season and played a big role in Marshawn Lynch’s resurgence. A college quarterback, the versatile Robinson has made a name for himself as a hardworking, dedicated lead blocker and special teams captain, making him a valuable role player for the Seahawks. He has no fantasy value, as he touched the ball only 13 times last year, but he had 10 tackles, a forced fumble, and a blocked punt return for a TD last year, and his presence offense is certainly good for Lynch.
Marques Colston (NO) – Colston signed a 5-year deal to return to the Saints. According to ESPN, the deal is worth $40 million with $19 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: While there were a lot of whispers that the Saints might not be able to afford to bring Colston back as they continue to work on a contract with Drew Brees, the two sides ultimately got the deal done with a few hours to spare before Colston hit the open market. It’s a no-brainer for both parties, as Colston has flourished as a reliable #1 WR who can be moved around the formation in the diverse Saint attack. Colston lacks elite speed, but he is an effective sustaining receiver who has a tremendous rapport with Brees. HC Sean Payton is one of the best play callers in the league, and he effectively uses Colston as movable chess piece, capable of making catches on the outside and in the slot. With Colston, TE Jimmy Graham, and RB Darren Sproles, the Saints have a trio of big-time talents who can do different things and line up anywhere. Colston has been a consistent player in his six-year career, catching at least 70 balls in five of six years. Last year, even with the emergence of Graham and Sproles, Colston put up 80/1143/8 on 107 targets, good for an impressive 74.7% catch rate. He finished 8th among WRs with an average of 11.6 FPG, and he should continue to be a low-end #1/high-end #2 WR for fantasy. It may be difficult for him to duplicate that catch rate, and he isn’t quite as important to this offense with Graham and Sproles so heavily involved, but he’s a big part of what they do and there’s no better home for him in the NFL. In fact, Graham’s presence helps take attention away from him, giving him easier matchups, and the Saints and Payton know how to get the most out of his talent. This offense is obviously fantastic for fantasy, and Colston is consistently good for 5-7 catches each
DeSean Jackson (Phi) – After previously receiving the franchise tag, Jackson and the Eagles agreed to a five-year extension worth up to $51 million, according to ESPN. ProFootballTalk.com reports that the deal includes $15 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Contract issues have lingered for Jackson, but the issue can finally be settled now that he came to an agreement on a long-term deal after initially receiving the franchise tag. Consistency has always been a problem for him as an explosive big-play receiver, especially with Michael Vick at QB, and he averaged only 8.3 FPG in 2011, putting up 58/961/4 on 101 targets (57.4%). He actually had 9 more catches than 2010, but he averaged nearly 6 fewer yards per catch after posting an absurd 22.6 YPC in Vick’s first year as the Eagles’ starter. Jeremy Maclin was the more productive Eagle WR, but still, the Eagles are clearly the best home for Jackson. He’s arguably the most explosive receiver in the league, and few players have the arm strength to match Vick’s. This offense will continue to rely on big plays, and Vick and Jackson form perhaps the most dangerous duo in the game. Of course, there will be lapses in production, as we saw last year, but the Eagles have a lot of talent on offense with Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy all active in the passing game as well. Jackson belongs in Philly, and now the contract situation will no longer be a distraction.
Reggie Wayne (Ind) – Wayne re-signed with the Colts on a three-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: With Pierre Garcon gone to Washington, the Colts desperately needed bodies at WR to help, presumably, rookie QB Andrew Luck. But, instead of continuing their recent pattern of cleaning house, they decided to bring Wayne back on a three-year deal, ending speculation that Wayne might follow Peyton Manning to a new destination. Wayne’s return is certainly surprising, as he’s 33 years old and not the receiver he once was, and the Colts have already moved on from several veterans, including TE Dallas Clark. While Wayne can’t really stretch the field anymore, he remains an effective route runner who can make plays as an intermediate target. He had three 100-yard games without Manning on the field last season, and he finished 39th among WRs with an average of 7.5 FPG, posting 75/960/4 on 131 targets (just 57.3%). Wayne is on the downside of his career, but he did put up 111 catches in 2010, so it’s not like he’s worthless out there. The problem is that he’ll never come close to matching the chemistry he had with Manning, and he can’t get the separation he used to get because he’s not as fast. The team did add veteran Donnie Avery, who could be a speedy vertical option opposite Wayne, who’ll then be an active possession guy. If nothing else, Wayne brings some continuity to the offense and could be a valuable asset for Luck because of his experience. His days as a big-time fantasy producer are probably over, but he did almost have 1000 yards last year, so he’s still worth keeping around and definitely has value. Updated: 4/5
Early Doucet (re-signed by Ari) – Doucet will return to the Cardinals on a two-year deal, the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: After three forgettable seasons, Doucet became more relevant for fantasy, as he replaced Steve Breaston as the team’s slot receiver and put up 54/685/5 on 97 targets (55.7%) for a mediocre average of 6.2 FPG. Doucet isn’t an elite talent, but he’s fairly reliable and had decent PPR league numbers, especially considering a shaky QB situation that featured erratic performances from Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. The Cardinals desperately need stability at QB, and they desperately need a WR to take pressure off star Larry Fitzgerald, but since they’ve been quiet in free agency thus far, it looks like they’ll stick with what they already have or look to draft a WR in April. Doucet got off to a hot start, catching 5 or more passes in five of his first 10 games, but he didn’t catch more than 3 passes in any of his last six games. He’s a solid complementary player at WR, which is why the Cardinals are bringing him back to play the #3/slot role. He has pretty good size, and he was the team’s second most productive receiver – behind Fitzgerald and ahead of Andre Roberts. Whether it’s Kolb or Skelton, we hope the Cardinals get better QB play in 2012, and getting Doucet more involved would certainly help.
Deion Branch (re-signed by NE) – Branch will return to the Patriots on a one-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: For the most part, Branch became an afterthought in 2011, as he was 4th in the Patriots’ passing game behind WR Wes Welker and star TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The biggest positive for Branch is that he saw a lot of single coverage because of how much attention defenses needed to pay to the other guys, but that still didn’t result in great production. He averaged 7.2 FPG, putting up 51/702/5 on 89 targets (57.3%), and while he has always had good chemistry with Tom Brady, he simply didn’t get the ball enough. He got off to a strong start with 15 catches in the first two games, and later in the year he had 125 yards against the Eagles, but he was unreliable for fantasy and had a lot of mediocre outings. Now that Welker’s been hit with the franchise tag and the team signed Brandon Lloyd, it could push Branch into an even smaller role. After finishing 41st among WRs with 7.2 FPG in 2011, look for Branch’s value to take a hit in 2012. But having him back is certainly good news for Tom Brady. Updated: 4/5
Harry Douglas (Atl) – Douglas agreed to a four-year deal to stay with the Falcons, according to FOXSports.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Douglas is the Falcons’ clear #3/slot receiver, but his role hasn’t been very big. The offense has revolved around the running game with Roddy White, Julio Jones, and TE Tony Gonzalez understandably acting as the primary targets in the passing game. Even with the change of OCs from Mike Mularkey to Dirk Koetter, don’t expect the offense to look much different. Koetter comes from Jacksonville, where the Jaguar offense had plenty of similarities to the Falcons, only with overall inferior personnel. Last season, Douglas managed 39/498/1 on 61 targets with an average of 4 FPG, giving him the best season of his four-year career (one of which he spent on the sidelines because of a torn ACL in 2009). He’s a solid slot receiver who can make plays when given a chance – he did have 8/133 against the Saints in Week Ten – but if White and Jones stay healthy, he’s not going to have a lot of fantasy relevance, especially with Gonzalez returning as a short-area/intermediate target in 2012. It’s possible Douglas’ role will increase as Gonzalez slows down, but he probably won’t improve enough to warrant serious fantasy consideration.
Devin Aromashodu (re-signed by Min) – Aromashodu will be back with the Vikings after signing a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: With the Viking short on experience in their receiving corps, they decided to bring back Aromashodu, who is coming off his best statistical season in 2011. He played in all 16 games (6 starts) and finished with 26/468/1 on 83 targets, which tied him for 97th among WRs with 3.5 FPG. While not really considered anything more than a #4 WR, Aromashodu’s value comes as a downfield threat, as evidenced by his 18 YPC last season. Aromashodu turns 28 in May and will be entering his seventh season in the league and second with the Vikings. Considering the Vikings don’t have much outside Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins at WR, Aromashodu is expected to play a similar role in 2012 – although you’d hope they will add a WR early in the draft to compete hard with him. Updated: 4/5
Jerricho Cotchery (re-signed with Pit) – Cotchery will stay with the Steelers after signing a new two-year deal worth $3 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: After asking for his release from the Jets, Cotchery signed a one-year deal with the Steelers last August, but didn’t make his 2012 debut until Week Four. Cotchery ended up playing in 13 games, finishing with 16/237/2 on just 30 targets (3 FPG). However, the Steelers shook up their depth chart towards the end of the season with Cotchery playing more of the Hines Ward role when Ward was demoted. The 2012 season will be Cotchery’s ninth in the league and he turns 30 in June, but he should provide solid veteran depth behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and hopefully Mike Wallace, although Wallace’s status is up in the air after he it was reported he doesn’t plan on signing his RFA tender. Cotchery hasn’t been a starter in years, but he can be a solid option out of the slot. Added: 4/12
Ted Ginn (SF) – The 49ers announced that Ginn agreed to return on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: After some flirtations with teams like Minnesota, Ginn returns to San Francisco, where his role on offense won’t be big. It was already minimal because he’s never proved himself as a receiver – he caught only 19 passes for 220 yards last year – and now the 49ers have improved their receiving corps by signing Mario Manningham and Randy Moss to go along with Michael Crabtree. Ginn has value only in return leagues, and we saw how much the Niners missed him as a return in the NFC title game debacle. Ginn is a straight-line receiver who could occasionally make a big play, but he’s just not on the fantasy radar on offense. Ideally, he’ll stay healthy and continue to be a factor on special teams, as he averaged 27.4 yards per KR and 12.1 yards per PR last season.
Kevin Ogletree (Dal) – Ogletree re-signed with the Cowboys on a one-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Thanks to injuries to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, it looked like Ogletree would get a chance to step up and produce as the team’s #3 WR, but instead Laurent Robinson emerged as a big-time threat. Meanwhile, Ogletree played in 14 games and started one but caught only 15 passes for 164 yards. He’s totaled 25 catches in three seasons, so obviously he doesn’t have much value, but he has a good chance to win the #3 WR job. Again, though, that doesn’t mean much for fantasy. Bryant, Austin, and TE Jason Witten are the top targets, and the Cowboys operated a lot of two-back sets, also utilizing DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones as receivers. Ogletree will likely compete with guys like Dwayne Harris and Andre Harris for the 3rd WR spot.
Derek Hagan (Buf) – Hagan re-signed with the Bills, the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: It appears that the Bills are comfortable with the receivers they have, as they re-signed Steve Johnson and are bringing Hagan back for depth. The 6-2, 215-pound Hagan has good size but has rarely gotten a big change to play. He drifted from the Giants to the Raiders to the Bills last year, and late in the season for the Bills he did catch a TD in Week Fifteen and put up 7/89 in Week Seventeen. Hagan probably won’t have fantasy value, though, as Donald Jones will return the lineup, and a handful of others are competing for roster spots.
Matthew Slater (NE) – Slater is back with the Patriots on a three-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Slater is actually a pretty valuable player for the Patriots to re-sign, but not really as a wide receiver. Even if he’s listed there, his value is as a special teams ace and utility man. He was the team’s special teams captain in 2011, and he also was used as a fill-in body at safety on defense. The versatility is admirable, but given that he has only one career catch in four years – a 46-yarder against the Dolphins to open this past season – he’s far away from the fantasy radar, even in this Patriot passing offense.
Kellen Davis (Chi) – Davis and the Bears agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal with a $2.7 million signing bonus, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: OC Mike Martz is gone, so maybe Davis has more of a chance to get involved under Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates. Under Martz, the Bears barely used the TE position in the passing game, and while Davis replaced Greg Olsen as the team’s main receiving TE last year, he managed only 18/206/5 on 33 targets with 15 starts. Tice is expected to use the TE more in the offense, and at 26 years old and 6-7, 262 pounds, Davis is an intriguing target. There’s no reason to place a lot of fantasy value on him yet, as he’s caught only 28 passes in four years since coming into the league as a 5th-round pick in 2008, but he should get more chances in 2012, especially with new WR Brandon Marshall helping to spread out defenses on the outside.
Randy McMichael (SD) – McMichael re-signed with the Chargers on a two-year deal, according to Scout.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Chargers appear comfortable with the 32-year-old McMichael as the top backup to the talented but fragile Antonio Gates. There’s nothing particularly exciting about McMichael, who’s just a guy with nowhere near the athleticism of Gates, but he’s a solid veteran who finished 2011 with 30/271/0 and actually technically started 14 games. Gates’ foot problems are always lingering, so it’s possible McMichael will see a larger role at any moment. The Chargers have a lot of bodies at WR now, even with the loss of Vincent Jackson, but McMichael still isn’t a bad long shot for fantasy if Gates is ever sidelined.
E. Alex Smith (Cle) – Smith agreed to a one-year deal with the Browns, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
- Fantasy Analysis: The lesser known of the NFL’s Alex Smiths, this Smith had a small role for the Browns as the #3 TE behind Ben Watson and Evan Moore. A 2005 3rd-round pick, he’s not a bad player and he has good size, but his fantasy relevance has been minimal. After totaling 4 catches his previous two seasons, Smith had 14/131/1 on 25 targets this past season. While Watson has dealt with concussions, Smith still doesn’t have much fantasy relevance. The team also drafted the athletic Jordan Cameron last year.
Donald Lee (Cin) – Lee re-signed with the Bengals, the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Packers cut Lee after he won a Super Bowl with them during the 2010 season. He signed with the Eagles, but was cut before the season began. Lee landed with the Bengals, initially as a backup, and he ended up starting in four of his nine appearances with starter Jermaine Gresham banged up. Lee didn’t do much, but he was efficient with 11/115 on 13 targets on the season. Lee turns 32 in August and is probably winding down in a career that will go into its 10th year in 2012, and he’ll have to compete with Colin Cochart for the backup job behind Gresham. He’s never lit it up, with his best season coming in 2007 when he had 48/575/6 with the Packers, but he can still provide solid veteran depth for a young offense. Added: 4/16/12
John Kasay (K, NO) – The 42-year old veteran re-signed with New Orleans as insurance for Garrett Hartley on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Kasay was solid in Hartley’s stead last year, converting 28/34 kicks and finishing second among all kickers with 9.2 FPG after signing with the club late. Hartley missed the 2011 season with a hip injury, and while he’s fully healed, the point remains that he’s never kicked a full season, and an injury-prone kicker isn’t exactly the most reliable thing in the world. Added: 4/26
Nick Folk (NYJ) – Folk agreed to a deal to return to the Jets, the team announced. Terms were not immediately available.
- Fantasy Analysis: Folk appears to be permanently in a kicker battle, as while the Jets brought him back, the New York Daily News says that the Jets are still expected to bring in competition. Last year, Nick Novak provided competition but ultimately ended up in San Diego. Folk had a mediocre season, finishing 24th among PKs with an average of 6.3 FPG, and he made 19 of 25 FGs and all 44 of his XP attempts. As a run-first offense with a shaky QB, the Jets are capable of stalling frequently, which is what happened in 2010 when Folk attempted 39 FGs, making 30.
Jay Feely (Ari) – Feely will remain in Arizona after signing a two-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: The 2011 season was particularly good for Feely in reality or fantasy. He made 19 of 24 FG attempts, which tied him for 24th at 79.2%. The 24 attempts were the lowest amount by any PK to play in at least 14 games. He was also one of the worst fantasy PKs, finishing 32nd at 5.6 FPG. While 2011 may have been one of Feely’s worst years, he didn’t get much help from a Cardinal offense that went through three different QBs throughout the season. Feely, who turns 36 in May, enters his 12th season this year and will look to bounce back from a forgettable 2011 season.
Notable Non-Skill Players:
Evan Mathis (G, Phi) – Mathis and the Eagles agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal, according to our Adam Caplan. The deal includes $7 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: A 3rd-round pick in 2005, Mathis finally enjoyed a breakout season last year in his first year with the Eagles under OL coach Howard Mudd. Mathis started all 15 games he played, and he’ll stick at left guard with Philly after picking the Eagles over the Ravens. He helped pave the way for a huge season from Eagle RB LeSean McCoy, and his return means the Eagles will return their entire offensive line from last season. It’s a good thing he’s back, too, since the Bird have lost star LT Jason Peters, presumably for the season. Updated: 4/5
Jared Gaither (OT, SD) – Gaither agreed to a four-year deal to return to the Chargers, the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: The in-season acquisition of Gaither in 2011 was huge for the Chargers, as he helped turn the Charger line around while protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side. Gaither started the final five games at left tackle, replacing Marcus McNeill, who went down with a neck injury and was released earlier this week. Gaither has a history of his own injuries, but he appears to have turned things around after his career fizzled in Baltimore – where he missed the entire 2010 season with back issues – and Kansas City. With Gaither in the starting lineup, the Chargers allowed just three sacks in five games, which was the fewest in the league over that span. The 6-9, 340-pound Gaither is still only 26 years old and has 33 career starts, but there is certainly risk involved given is uneven career.
Chris Myers (C, re-signed by Hou) – The Texans will bring back Myers on a four-year, $25 million deal, including $14 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: After cutting RT Eric Winston and letting RG Mike Brisiel leave for Oakland, the Texans were able to keep Myers despite offers from other teams. Since being acquired by the Texans in 2008, Myers, who turns 31 just after the 2012 season begins, has started every game over the last four seasons and is considered the anchor of what was one of the best OLs in 2011. With Winston and Brisiel gone, the Texans are expected to fill those spots with RG Antoine Caldwell and RT Rashad Butler to join Myers and the returning left side of G Wade Smith and OT Duane Brown. Myers was part of a group that gave up just 33 sacks (12th fewest) and helped the team rush for the second-most rushing yards (2448) in 2011.
Jeff Backus (OT, Det) – Backus signed a two-year, $10 million deal to stay with the Lions, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: To say Backus provides continuity would be an understatement. The 34-year-old left tackle has started all 176 games for the Lions since they selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2001 draft. However, Backus is starting to wear down, as he struggled in pass protection at times last season, and he had had surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle. Backus will likely continue to start for now, but, given his age, the Lions may look to find an eventual replacement in April’s draft.
Nick Hardwick (C, SD) – Hardwick re-signed with the Chargers on a three-year deal shortly before free agency opened.
- Fantasy Analysis: Hardwick gives the Chargers continuity on the offensive line, where changes could be made. He’s occasionally had problems staying healthy – he started only three games in 2009 – but he’s played in all 16 games in each of the last two seasons. A 2004 3rd-round pick and 2006 Pro Bowl selection, he’s been in the starting lineup for all 103 regular season games he’s played in eight years with the Chargers. They actually allowed the 8th-fewest sacks in the league last year.
Matt Birk (C, re-signed by Ravens) – The Ravens and Birk agree to a new three-year deal, the team announced.
- Fantasy Analysis: Although Birk had considered retirement, the 14-year veteran expressed a desire to return to Baltimore during the Combine in February and the team showed mutual feelings. Since joining the Ravens in 2009, Birk has started every game at C and has been one of the most consistent producers for an OL that’s gone through changes over the last few seasons. He hasn't missed a game since the 2005 season, which he sat out due to a hip injury. Birk, who turns 36 in July, remains the only experienced C on the team’s roster and according to his agent, Joe Linta, Birk will assess his future on a year-by-year basis. The Ravens could be looking for Birk’s eventual replacement in this year’s draft, but for the time being with Birk still playing at a high level, he’ll remain one of the cornerstones of the team’s line.
Geoff Hangartner (C, Car) – Hangartner agreed to re-sign with the Panthers on a three-year deal, according to NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: After a couple years in Buffalo, the 29-year-old Hangartner returned to Carolina last season and started all 16 games. A 2005 5th-round pick, Hangartner spent four years with the Panthers and two with the Bills before rejoining the Panthers. He’s started 71 regular season games in his career, and while he’s not a stud, he’s part of a pretty good line that paved the way for a run game headlined by Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart that led the NFL with an average of 5.4 yards per carry last season.
Levi Brown (OT, Ari) – Brown had been cut to clear cap space, but he agreed to re-sign with the Cardinals on a more cap-friendly five-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The 5th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Brown has started 75 games, including every game the last four years. He began his career at right tackle but moved to the left side the last two seasons, and he’s been criticized for his pass blocking there. The Cardinals gave up the 2nd-most sacks in the league last season, and while a lot of that can also be put on Kevin Kolb’s issues with pressure, the protection certainly didn’t help. According to the Arizona Republic, it’s possible Brown will be moved back to the right side, depending on any other moves they might make. The paper also points out that Brown showed significant improvement in the second half of the 2011 season.
Dan Connolly (C/G, NE) – Connolly has agreed to a new deal with the Patriots, according to The Boston Globe, although terms were not disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Connolly has been with the Patriots since 2007, when he was a member of their practice squad. He’s started in 24 of 27 appearances since 2010, although after playing primarily OG, he took over at C for starter Dan Koppen, who broke his ankle in the 2011 season opener. A groin injury did cause him to miss three games last season, but he was able to return and play in the postseason. With Koppen not expected to return, Connolly, who will be 30 when the season begins, appears to be in line to start at C in 2012. Of course, in addition to playing multiple positions on the OL, we’ve seen Connolly contribute on special teams, as well.
Notable IDP Players:
London Fletcher (LB, Was) – The veteran LB will remain with the Redskins, signing a five-year deal (which voids to two years) worth $10.75 million, with $5.25 million guaranteed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Fletcher will turn 37 in May, but his age hasn’t slowed him down. His durability is legendary: since entering the league in 1998, Fletcher hasn’t missed a single game. And his IDP production hasn’t slowed down either – Fletcher’s 9.7 FPG in 2011 was his best season for fantasy since we started keeping IDP stats in 2002, and he finished 2nd among all LBs in our standard scoring system on the site. He’ll continue to start on the inside, and while his age will one day catch up with him, he’s still one of the most consistently productive IDPs in football. Added: 4/16
Stephen Tulloch (LB, re-signed with Det) – According to ProFootballTalk.com, Tulloch returns to the Lions on a five-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: After spending the first five years of his career as a Titan, Tulloch signed a one-year deal with the Lions last year and was one of the team’s priorities to re-sign this off-season. He fit well into the Lions’ Wide-Nine defense last season as a physical, between-the-tackles run-defender with great instincts. The 27-year-old started every game for the Lions last season and hasn’t missed a game in his entire career. He was one of the better IDP players in 2011, racking up 111 total tackles (84 solos), 3 sacks, 2 INTs, and 8 PDs, which put him in a tie for 17th among LBs with 7.6 FPG.
Carlos Rogers (CB, SF) – The 49ers re-signed their top CB to a four-year deal worth up to $31 million, according to NFL.com.
- Fantasy Analysis: Rogers was the last piece for the Niners to lock up – his re-signing means they have all 11 starters back from the best defense in football last year. It doesn’t mean much for IDP purposes, however. Although Rogers picked off 6 passes last year, he made only 41 solo tackles, and he averaged just 4.7 FPG. Over the course of his seven-year career, Rogers has typically floated between 3.5 and 5.5 FPG, meaning he’s either been completely useless or, at best, mediocre for IDP purposes. His combination of size and athleticism came together in 2011 like never before, and he should continue to draw the opposition’s top assignment with regularity, but he probably won’t become a guy to add to your IDP radar, especially since you have to take the under on his chances at 6 INTs again.
Tim Jennings (CB, Chi) – Jennings, who started this past year for Chicago, agreed to terms on a two-year contract.
- Fantasy Analysis: For IDP players, Jennings had the best year of his career in 2011. He made 69 solo tackles, picked off 2 passes, and forced a fumble, while not allowing a single TD pass. For the first time in his career, he appeared in all 16 games, making at least 3 solo tackles in 14 of the 16 games. The Bears are reliant on their CBs in run support in their Tampa-2 system, so assuming Jennings maintains a hold on his starting job (and there’s no reason to think he won’t), he should be a slightly less famous and productive version of his teammate, Charles Tillman. His 6.1 FPG ranked him tied for 27th among all DBs, so if he keeps pace he’ll be worth a roster spot in deeper IDP leagues yet again.
Terrell Thomas (CB, NYG) – The Giants opted to bring back the veteran CB who missed the entire 2011 season after an ACL tear. The Star-Ledger reports that Thomas’ deal is four years for up to $28 million
- Fantasy Analysis: It’s easy to overlook the signing of Thomas because he tore his ACL last preseason and didn’t take a snap in 2011, but remember that IDP players returning from injury can still make an impact at perhaps a bargain price (see D’Qwell Jackson). In 2010, Thomas made 81 solo tackles, recorded 5 INTs, and forced 4 fumbles, and he finished as the top overall scorer at the DB position in many formats. This signing should not be cast aside just because he missed last year. Thomas just turned 27, so he’s still got his prime ahead of him, and remember that the Giants were starved for DB play for most of last year. He should have a chance to win a job.
Ronde Barber (CB, TB) – Although he was contemplating retirement, Barber informed the Bucs he’ll return for a 16thseason on a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: If our guesses are correct, Barber’s return won’t mean much for fantasy. The Bucs just signed CB Eric Wright to start opposite Aqib Talib, so Barber will spend almost all of his time playing inside in nickel packages, which will include covering TEs. IDP players have long loved Barber, who’s recorded fewer than 60 solos only once in the last 10 seasons (47 in 2007), but with the signing of Wright, he’s going to lose snaps. That doesn’t mean he won’t have some outside value in deep IDP leagues, because he’s still a great run defender, and he can rack up solos especially if the Bucs play a lot of nickel in today’s changing NFL. Don’t expect the 66 solos he had last year, but Barber’s back because he sees something special in this year’s Bucs team. He’ll be an important veteran leader on the club.
Aaron Ross (CB, Signed by Jac from NYG) – The Jaguars gave Ross up to $15.3 million over three years, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Jags have had struggles in the secondary of late, especially when it comes to injuries, which is why signing Ross is a risky move that has upside potential. Last year marked the first year Ross played all 16 games in five NFL seasons, and his totals of 46-14-0 with four INTs and 12 PDs were his best fantasy statistics since coming into the league in 2007. As long as he is healthy, Ross should be a starter for the Jaguars in 2012, which is exactly what they’re hoping for.
John Abraham (DE, Atl) – Abraham returns to the Falcons on a three-year deal, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Because the much-ballyhooed Ray Edwards signing of last off-season looks like a bust thus far, the Falcons couldn’t afford to let go Abraham, who has been one of the greatest pass rushers in franchise history. But like most DEs whose statistical support in the run game is flimsy, at best (Abraham hasn’t topped 40 solo tackles since 2005), Abraham’s IDP value rests solely on his sacks. And in that department, he’s been productive but inconsistent. Over the last five seasons, Abraham has posted 55 sacks, with as many as 16.5 (2008) and as few as 6.0 (2009). When he gets a blocker willing to take him on headstrong, he can struggle, but once given a window, he’s a dangerous matchup. IDP players know him well, and he’ll continue to be an asset in sack-heavy leagues, but he’ll throw up some goose eggs on occasion.
Jeremy Mincey (DE, Jac) – The Jags locked up one of their top off-season priorities on Tuesday night, re-signing Mincey to a four-year deal worth up to $27.2 million with $9 million guaranteed, according to the AP.
- Fantasy Analysis: IDP players should be smiling with this deal. Mincey is one of the most underrated players at his position in the NFL, and he’s staying put in a familiar scheme under DC Mel Tucker in Jacksonville. Last year, his first as a truly full-time player, Mincey recorded 40 solo tackles, 8 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles, and he ranked 9th among all DLs with 5.8 FPG. While he’s an adequate pass rusher with good burst, his best asset for fantasy is his instincts in reading the back and making plays in the run game. He might be underrated for IDP purposes once again, but he should produce, and that suits us just fine.
Israel Idonije (DE, Chi) – The Bears have re-signed the veteran defensive end to a one-year deal, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Fantasy Analysis: Idonije is 31, but he’s an important player to this Bear defense – he actually played more snaps than Julius Peppers last season. And with Mario Williams signing with Buffalo, the Bears had to work to bring Idonije back. In 2011, although Idonije fell from 8.0 to 5.0 sacks, he set a career-high with 41 solo tackles, so he was occasionally a useful IDP fill-in. He won’t be a stud, but if he continues to play a lot of snaps, he could be a solid bench guy in a tackle-heavy league
Reggie Nelson (S, Cin) – The Bengals took care of an off-season priority by keeping Nelson on a four-year deal, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
- Fantasy Analysis: Despite drawing interest from the Jets and other clubs, Nelson opted to stay put in Cincy. That could be good news for IDP players. In 2011, his second year with the Bengals, Nelson had the best fantasy season of his career, posting 57 solos, 2.0 sacks, 4 INTs, and 11 PDs. As a free safety, Nelson’s fantasy production will always reflect how many “big plays” he makes, as solos are harder to come by from that spot, but his aggressive nature also means he could have a huge individual game. He’s not someone to rely on, but he finished as a low-end #3 DB in most formats last season, and he could improve upon that.
Jameel McClain (LB, Bal) – The Ravens kept McClain in town on a three-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: McClain plays both SAM and ILB within the Ravens’ hybrid defense, and while he’s one of the most underrated players at his position in the entire NFL, he doesn’t make enough solo tackles to make a real fantasy impact – he had just 45 in 2010 and 47 in 2011. As with many strongside players, McClain is often sucked up by blockers and/or comes off the field in passing situations, so his upside is limited. That said, he’s a really physical and aggressive player, who will contribute the occasional sack.
Wesley Woodyard (LB, Den) – The Broncos kept together their MLB rotation, which includes Joe Mays, by signing Woodyard to a two-year deal, according to the Denver Post.
- Fantasy Analysis: While Mays is one of the hardest-hitting MLBs in football, he isn’t much of a cover guy, and that’s why Woodyard is so important to the club. A versatile player who can run with RBs and TEs in coverage, Woodyard has had some strong IDP value against heavy passing teams. Last year, Woodyard recorded 60 solos, although he had stretches of low production against teams that didn’t spread the ball out. While we think he’s an underrated player, he’s probably going to end up frustrating for fantasy purposes if he continues to rotate with Mays. The one thing he does have on Mays, however, is the ability to play multiple LB positions, and teams might well be playing from behind the Broncos with Peyton Manning under center for Denver.
Jordan Babineaux (S, Ten) – Babineaux, who will be 30 in August, agreed to a new two-year deal worth up to $5.2 million, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Each of the Titans’ top three safeties this year, Babineaux, Michael Griffin, and Chris Hope, was scheduled to become a free agent. Griffin was slapped with the franchise tag, and now Babineaux, who did a good job filling in for the oft-injured Hope, has been brought back. In 15 games in 2011, Babineaux posted 68 solo tackles, 1 INT, and 1 forced fumble. If Babineaux wins a starting job in 2012, he should continue to have value in tackle-heavy leagues, although it wouldn’t be wise to expect many big plays – he hasn’t picked off more than 2 passes since the 2005 season with the Seahawks.
Dwight Lowery (S, Jac) – The Jaguars re-signed the veteran safety to a four-year contract. Financial terms have not yet been disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Lowery will be a useful signing for the Jaguars – he has good instincts and he’s willing to deliver a big hit when need be – but that hasn’t translated to IDP success. In 12 games last year, Lowery posted only 28 solos, 1 sack, and 2 INTs, averaged just 4.0 FPG, and he hasn’t been anywhere close to useful for IDP purposes since his rookie year with the Jets in 2008. As a free safety, Lowery typically will have to make plays on the ball to be a useful IDP guy, but he has just 9 INTs in his four-year career, and he hasn’t forced a fumble since 2008.
Bryan Scott (S, Buf) – The Bills announced that Scott agreed to a deal to return to the Bills.
- Fantasy Analysis: Scott has an interesting role in the Buffalo defense as a hybrid safety/linebacker who frequently is responsible for covering opposing TEs. Even with a new DC in Dave Wannstedt, Scott’s role probably won’t change much. He started only seven games last season, but the Bills used five DBs a lot, often using three safeties, with Scott playing that versatile role. He ended up with 2 INTs for only the second time in his career, with 46 solos and an average of 4.1 FPG. After entering the league as a 2nd-round pick of the Falcons in 2003, Scott has spent the last five seasons in Buffalo. He’s certainly not an elite player, but he’s a good fit because of his versatility at 219 pounds.
Erin Henderson (LB, Min) – Henderson will stick around with the Vikings on a one-year deal worth about $2 million.
- Fantasy Analysis: Perhaps the dwindling LB market affected Henderson negatively, as he couldn’t get the big money he was searching for, either from another club or his own Vikings. That will suit the Vikings just well – Henderson started 11 games for the Vikings last year, most on the weak side. Unfortunately, with just 38 solo tackles, he was useless for IDP, unlike most weakside LBs. He’s a big guy, but he’s not extremely athletic, so he doesn’t fly to the ball the way you’d like to see from a typical IDP stud.
Dimitri Patterson (CB, Cle) – The Browns re-signed their nickel CB to a three-year deal worth up to $16 million, with $6 million guaranteed, according to Pro Football Talk.
- Fantasy Analysis: Patterson was the Browns’ primary nickel CB last year behind top CB Joe Haden and veteran Sheldon Brown, and he wasn’t much of anything for IDP purposes, making just 22 solo tackles with no sacks or interceptions. But remember the Brown is getting up there in age and could possibly move to safety, so if the Browns don’t add another hotshot prospect through the draft, there’s a chance Patterson has a starting job at some point in 2012. He flashed as a member of the Eagles in 2010 with an especially noteworthy effort against Reggie Wayne, and at his best Patterson is a scrappy corner who wants to disrupt routes at the line of scrimmage, and he’s a willing run defender.
Adam Jones (CB, Cin) – The veteran corner played well last year, and both he and the Bengals realized it was good a fit. Terms of his new agreement have not been disclosed.
- Fantasy Analysis: Pacman wasn’t much for IDP last year, making only 26 solos in eight games of action, which included seven starts as a nickel CB. But he also allowed fewer than 20 receptions from that position, and overall, he played really well, making this a worthwhile risk for the Bengals. With a full season of work, he could push 50 solos, but remember that even at his statistical best (2006) he wasn’t a big IDP option. His best chance of contributing as an IDP would be if he were to nail down a return role.
Joe Mays (LB, Den) – Mays signed a three-year deal worth up to $12 million, according to the Denver Post.
- Fantasy Analysis: Mays is an undersized MIKE who plays a lot bigger than his size when defending the run. He’s one of the most violent hitters at his position in the NFL, but because of his size (5’11”), he’s a liability in coverage and plays more of a rotational role. In 16 games a season ago, he recorded 63 solo tackles, and if he continues to rotate at the position, he won’t be much more than a depth IDP option.
Manny Lawson (LB, Cin) – Lawson drew some interest in the open market, but chose to stick with his 2011 team, according to team owner Mike Brown. Terms of his deal are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: There’s nothing to see here. Unless Lawson magically has DE eligibility in your IDP league, he isn’t likely to give you too many positive stats. Last year, as the Bengals’ SAM LB, Lawson recorded only 30 solos and 1.5 sacks, and his career highs were 49 solos and 6.5 sacks with the 49ers in 2009, but outside of that season he’s never had more than 3.0 sacks in a year. If we’re being overly optimistic, we’d say he might have some bench value in a sack-heavy scoring system, but that seems like it’d be stretching the truth. Like most true SAMs, Lawson’s stats are suppressed.
Antonio Garay (DT, SD) – Garay will stick with the Chargers on a two-year deal, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego.
- Fantasy Analysis: Garay plays the “nose tackle” spot in the Chargers’ 3-4 alignment, but he’s athletic enough to play both one and two-gap assignments, which is why his IDP stats are typically higher than one would expect from a NT. In 2011, he posted 37 solos and 2.5 sacks, following up a strong 2010 in which he posted 38 solos and 6.0 sacks. Garay isn’t what you’d call fast or rangy, but he’s instinctive, and while he certainly has the size at 320 pounds to suck up blockers, his vision at the point of attack allows him to register tackles of his own. In deeper IDP leagues, especially those that require owners to start a DT-eligible player, Garay could have some value once again.
Paul Soliai (Mia) – The Dolphins might have surprised some people by bringing back their veteran NT, considered one of the best available DLs on the market. Terms of the deal are not yet known.
- Fantasy Analysis: Nothing to see here. Soliai weighs over 350 pounds, and as such he’s one of the most effective space-fillers in the NFL. However, because his main job as a two-gap NT is to suck up blockers, his fantasy impact is minimal. He’s never made more than 33 solos or 2 sacks, and he had just 19 and 0 last year, respectively. This is much more an “NFL” signing than a fantasy one. The Dolphins seemed primed to lose him, but new coach Joe Philbin will gladly welcome him back. New DC Kevin Coyle has not been around a 3-4 defense since the 1980s but has yet to commit to any scheme for 2012. The signing of Soliai seems to indicate the Dolphins will indeed use at least some 3-4 concepts.
Red Bryant (DE, Sea) – The huge and versatile defensive lineman re-signed with the Seahawks on a five-year deal worth up to $35 million, according to ESPN.
- Fantasy Analysis: Bryant had the best season of his career in 2011, becoming a major force along the Seahawks’ defensive line, where he’s big enough to eat up space as a DT but athletic enough to play outside at end, and he’s skilled at knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage. However, Bryant’s production didn’t translate to fantasy success, as he recorded just 20 solo tackles and a single sack. This was an important signing for the Seahawks, but not one IDP owners should be freaking out over, aside from the fact that he frees up his LBs to make tackles.
Adam Carriker (DL, Was) – Carriker re-signed with Washington on a four-year deal worth up to $20 million, according NFL Network.
- Fantasy Analysis: Carriker has much more value to the Redskins as a rotational space-filler than he will to fantasy teams. Last year, he made just 18 solo tackles, including a career-high 4.5 sacks, and he’s never had more than 22 solos in his four-year career. He’s worth next to nothing in almost all IDP formats.
Pat Sims (DT, Cin) – Sims agreed to terms with the Bengals to return in 2012.
- Fantasy Analysis: Sims started just one of his 11 appearances last season before landing on the IR in December with torn ligaments in his ankle. Sims wasn’t much of a fantasy producer in 2011, finishing tied for 215th among DLs at 1.7 FPG with 19 tackles and 1 sack. In his first four seasons, all with Cincinnati, the 26-year-old has appeared in 52 games with 23 starts as part of the team’s DL rotation. As one of the better run-stoppers, Sims will continue to play a key role as a rotational player, as the Bengals have made a strong effort to build up their depth in free agency this year.
Matt Giordano (S, Oak) – The Raiders re-signed Giordano to a one-year deal.
- Fantasy Analysis: Giordano had never been relevant for fantasy before, but an injury to FS Michael Huff last year meant Giordano had to start nine games. He filled in admirably, becoming a fan favorite in the process – on the year, he made 52 solos, 1 sack, and 5 INTs, and he averaged 5.3 FPG. Giordano’s an average athlete, and ideally, he won’t start in 2012, but his presence is important to the Raiders, who constantly have to worry about Huff’s health. Added: 4/18
Chase Blackburn (LB, NYG) – Blackburn signed a one-year, $825,000 deal to stay with the Giants, according to the New York Daily News.
- Fantasy Analysis: Blackburn started last season on his couch, but injuries forced the Giants to re-sign him midway through the year, and he was a key contributor throughout the playoffs, including an interception in the Super Bowl. He’s never made more than 27 solos in a season, so he’s not much for IDP, but Giant GM Jerry Reese did say he’ll have a shot to compete for playing time. If not, he’s a valuable insurance policy. Added: 4/16