2018 NFL Free Agency Preview and Predictions (From a Fantasy Football POV)
The start of the new league year also signifies the beginning of the 2018 NFL Free Agency signing period. Until that time, the NFL Twitterverse and media outlets alike will be buzzing with news, notes, rumors and predictions referencing team needs, the salary cap and potential landing spots for some of the league’s brightest stars, aging veterans and everyone in between. However, with that being said, we’re going to go in a different direction. Today, we’re going to take a look at a few of the top impending free agents at each fantasy-relevant position and discuss their potential landing spots from a fantasy football point of view.
A player like Kirk Cousins could join just about any team around the league and make them better. Afterall, he is amongst the back-end of the top 10 QBs in the NFL — top six from a fantasy football perspective. However, while there are roughly five teams with a need for a starting quarterback (and who can afford to pay one like Cousins), it only appears to be a four-team race in the Cousins sweepstakes — the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings.
While rumors are suggesting that Cousins wants to sign with the Vikings, he also wants to win now. However, I’m not sure it will be that cut and dry. I’m not buying into Adam Schefter’s report about four teams being in the mix to land Cousins. In fact, I can cut that list down to two. The Vikings and Jets. While my pipe-dream was for Cousins to sign with the Browns so they can go ahead and draft Saquon Barkley at No. 1 overall — their offense would be a juggernaut adding those pieces to Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and David Njoku — that notion appears to be lost since Cleveland traded for Tyrod Taylor on Friday.
Browns strike again.
This time, Cleveland agrees to trade a mid-round draft pick to Buffalo for QB Tyrod Taylor, source tells ESPN.
Taylor now will throw to new Browns’ WR Jarvis Landry.
And Buffalo back in QB market.
More on SportsCenter now.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2018
Although the Jets are reportedly going to offer Cousins the most money — up to $60 million in his first year to be exact — they are not built to win now, which as I said before is a prerequisite for Cousins. However, of the before -mentioned teams in the Cousins sweepstakes, there is only one that is legitimately built for a Super Bowl run in 2018.
The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2017 season atop the NFC North with a 13-3 record, the No. 11 offense and the No.1 defense. However, following a majestic run, the Vikings fell to the eventual Super Bowl-Champion Eagles in the NFC Championship game.
Although Case Keenum did one hell of a job last season, its crystal clear that head coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t believe that he can lead them to the promised land. And since Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are all impending free agents, the Vikings won’t have a quarterback under contract once the clock strikes 4 pm on Wednesday and the new NFL year begins.
The Vikings are not only going to court Cousins and lure him in with their arsenal of weapons that include Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs — not to mention their stingy defense –, but they can also afford him. The Vikings have the ninth most cap space as of this writing ($74.362 million).
Adding Cousins to the Vikings will make a QB who has finished as fantasy football’s QB8, QB5 and QB6 sequentially since the 2015 season — he accomplished that feat with injury-stricken players around him with the Redskins — even more deadly. Unless Minnesota goes backward this offseason, their anticipated 2018 roster would without a doubt possess the most talent that Cousins has ever had around him in his career, ultimately bumping him into the top five quarterback conversation in the upcoming fantasy football campaign.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Vikings
- Other Teams in the Mix: Broncos, Cardinals, Jets
- Wishful Thinking: Browns
The @FFFaceoff’s Way too Early QB Rankings
Case Keenum is coming off of his break out season as a pro. Like I said before, he had an outstanding year both statistically and in the win column, but in the end fell short in the NFC Championship game. Completing 325-of-481 passes (67.6 percent) for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions with 98.3 percent QBR — he added another 160 yards and a TD as a rusher — Keenum finished 2017 as the QB14 with 237.9 fantasy points.
Although there is a lot of ambiguity around the NFL this time of year, I do know one thing for sure. Keenum will get his chance to test the open market — the Vikings didn’t place the franchise tag on him before last Tuesday’s deadline. As a result, not only do I believe that Kirk Cousins is on his way in, but it nearly locks in the sentiment that Keenum is most certainly on his way out.
Where Will He Sign?
Due to Keenum’s success last season, he’ll at least receive the opportunity to sign with a club and compete for a starting job — I believe Keenum is a top 32 QB in the game today and is most certainly an NFL starter. However, Keenum did have some rough years in the past with the Texans and Rams. Therefore, there could be many QB-needy teams that will look elsewhere, narrowing down Keenum’s choices. As we stand, the Bills, Cardinals, Jets, and Broncos are in need of a starting signal caller — still assuming Cousins lands in Minnesota. But there are also a handful of teams that include the Browns and Dolphins who can very well bring in a QB to compete with their current personnel (Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Tannehill).
While Keenum has options, there is one wild card club I want to throw out there. The New York Giants. Why? Three reasons:
- Giants head coach Pat Shurmur — he was Keenum’s offensive coordinator with the Vikings.
- The uncertainty regarding Eli Manning’s future — he’s 37 and could elect to retire any time now. Thus, the Giants must address the long-term equity of the position right now.
- The Giants have reliable weapons on the outside — despite Odell Beckham’s recent off the field issues, the Giants still employ Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. And if they address the running back position in an RB-heavy offseason and add a serviceable offensive lineman or two, New York’s offense will be right back in the swing of things.
From a fantasy football perspective, if Keenum lands with the Giants, he’s a droppable asset in redraft formats since Manning never misses a game — shout out to Ben McAdoo. However, in dynasty, he’d be worth targeting since he’d be the favorite to emerge as Manning’s successor in the future. But if Keenum wants to play right now, and I’m assuming he does, his best landing spot would be with the Broncos who are the lesser of all evils in this situation.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Broncos will sign a quarterback in free agency, especially since they’ve been so terrible at the position in the wake of Peyton Manning’s 2015 retirement. And with Cousins on the fast track to Minnesota, reports are suggesting that Keenum is John Elway’s “plan B.” Despite what Denver fans may think, he’s the best available behind Cousins whose name is not Drew Brees — I fully expect Brees to re-sign with the Saints.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were once considered two of the league’s top wideouts. However, that is in the past. While they are both coming off of underwhelming seasons which could be attributed to their poor quarterback play, they’re both 30-years-old as well and are entering the tail-end of their career. Though reports are suggesting that they both will be retained, Elway still hasn’t addressed the wideouts on the mid-to-back end of the depth chart in a promising fashion. Plus, they have a gaping hole at tight end since Julius Thomas’ departure a few years back and beat writer Mike Klis said he’d be “surprised” if the Broncos held on to C.J. Anderson.
Denver’s offense is in shambles. While I think Keenum could succeed as he did last year with the Vikings elsewhere, his new club must have a superior supporting cast around him to give him a chance to win. Some QBs make the rest of the team better, and some QBs need the rest of the team to make them better. Keenum very much falls on the latter side of that equation. Unless a miracle happens and he re-signs with the Vikings, I believe Keenum’s fantasy value will plummet in 2018. Of his two best landing spots, one has a sub-par supporting cast and the other has a future Hall of Fame quarterback ready to add to his resume at least for one more year.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Vikings
- Other Teams in the Mix: Broncos
- Wishful Thinking: Giants
Dion Lewis went off last season. He finished as the RB12 with 165 standard fantasy points off 896 yards and six touchdowns as a rusher while hauling in 32-of-36 targets for 214 yards and three scores as a receiver in 16 games. However, I believe Lewis’ outstanding year was a product of the Patriots’ system more so than his talent.
Not only was 2017 the first year that Lewis has appeared in all 16 games in his seven-year career, but in that time span, he’s missed two full seasons — 2013 and 2014 — and has played in more than nine games in a season only once.
As mentioned above, I think Lewis is a system guy. Pile that on top of his injury woes, and Lewis could be one of this year’s free agent class’s biggest busts if he signs with anyone else but the Patriots. While there are ample teams in need of a quality running back that include the Giants, Broncos, Jets, and Lions, it is a strong year for the position on the open market and in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Similar to how LeGarrette Blount’s stint in free agency fell-out in the last offseason — he lingered on the open market because he wasn’t satisfied with the Patriots’ offer and ultimately signed with the Eagles in May — I believe Lewis will linger out there as well. However, I think he will eventually re-sign in New England where he could once again flourish if his health remains intact. But if he signs anywhere else, especially to be a featured back, I’m not touching him in fantasy.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Patriots
- Other Teams in the Mix: Giants, Lions
- Wishful Thinking: N/A
According to Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin, “it feels evident” that Jerick McKinnon will move on from the Vikings in free agency. He told the press that he wants to be a No. 1 running back. Entering his fifth NFL season in 2018, Mckinnon will attempt to build off of his most productive year as a pro in 2017. Accumulating 991 total yards (421 rushing) on 201 touches 51 receptions) and five touchdowns in 16 games, he finished as the RB24 with 127.1 standard fantasy points.
However, his numbers could have been better. He opened the year playing second fiddle to Dalvin Cook before the rookie suffered season-ending ACL injury in Week 4. It wasn’t until that time in which he saw greater than six touches in a single game — from Weeks 1-to-4 he received 18 touches, but in the first game without Cook in Week 5, McKinnon drew 22 touches. While splitting time with Latavius Murray following the Cook injury, McKinnon amassed the bulk of his 2017 production, accumulating 925 of his 991 total yards and all of his TDs.
There is only one landing spot that comes to mind for McKinnon in free agency, and that is with the Giants. Like Case Keenum, I believe Mckinnon will thrive if he follows Pat Shurmur to New York. And quality running back is a dire need for the Giants. In the past three seasons, New York finished as the 19th, 26th and 29th ranked rushing offense sequentially. And I know it’s not all on the actual rusher — the Giants’ offensive line has been amongst the league’s worst in that time span — but talent matters and New York’s backfield has been anything but since Rashard Jennings was let go.
Since the Giants aren’t in the best of situations with their salary cap — they rank 27th in cap space with roughly $13.9 million — they cant make a huge splash in free agency which is why McKinnon will make a lot of sense here. They won’t have to break the bank to get him. I also think McKinnon’s skill set is a fit as well. Eli Manning likes to utilize the receiver out of the backfield, which is a strength of McKinnon’s. If McKinnon signs with the Giants and new general manager Dave Gettleman address the o-line like I believe he will, I think he could be in store for a break out season in 2018. I can see McKinnon returning mid-range RB2 value in New York.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Giants
- Other Teams in the Mix: Seahawks, Lions
- Wishful Thinking: 49ers
I was utterly shocked when the Jacksonville Jaguars did not place the franchise tag on impending free-agent WR Allen Robinson earlier in the week. Instead, he will hit the open market on Wednesday. And perhaps the most significant head-scratcher of the situation is that they can afford it. They have the 10th most cap space at roughly $35.5 million. Though I believe the Jaguars will valiantly attempt to re-sign Robinson once he tests the waters, I think they will fail. As a result, they’ll re-sign Marqise Lee, their other notable free agent wideout, who could be had at a lesser rate than what Robinson will command.
Of this year’s class of free agent wide receivers, Robinson is the headliner, especially now that Jarvis Landry signed his franchise tag and then was immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for draft compensation.
Browns trading two draft picks to Dolphins for WR Jarvis Landry, sources tell ESPN.
However, although the rumor mill has been relatively quiet for a player of Robinson’s namesake — he’s only really been linked to the Redskins so far — experts around the league have him pegged to wide receiver-starved teams that include the Bears and Panthers as well the 49ers, who are building to win right now.
While the 49ers are pretty solid at the wide receiver position with players that include the returning Pierre Garcon, the newly re-signed Marquise Goodwin, a young Trent Taylor and a pair of solid tight ends George Kittle and Garrett Celek, none of them are true No. 1 pass-catchers. Though Goodwin is making a strong case for himself.
Although they do have the cap space — they have the fifth most at roughly $70.5 million — the 49ers have other holes to fill:
- Running back with Carlos Hyde likely moving on
- At Linebacker with Rueben Foster’s off the field issues
- Offensive line upgrades with Joe Staley entering his age 34 season
Since 49ers fans like my good friend and co-host on the FFfaceoff Mike Hauff are lobbying for Robinson’s services, I’ll maintain my stance that they really should target Taylor Gabriel despite the fact that he and Marquise Goodwin have similar skill-sets.
Why Tayor Gabriel makes sense for the 49ers?
- Gabriel had his two most productive seasons under Kyle Shanahan — in 2014 with the Browns and in 2016 with the Falcons
- He’s followed his offensive coordinator from Cleveland to Atlanta — and I think he’ll follow him again this time around
Perhaps the biggest reason why it makes sense for the 49ers to sign Gabriel is the fact that he will come cheap in comparison to Robinson, allowing the 49ers to spread their excess cap space to better-upgrade their before-mentioned positions of need.
What about Robinson?.
Removing the 49ers from the mix, the next best option for Robinson is the Chicago Bears. The Bears have a young nucleus of players at their offensive skill positions.
- QB Mitch Trubisky
- RB Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
- TE Adam Shaheen
- WR Cameron Meredith
While most teams have two or three reliable wideouts, the Bears barely have one — Meredith is coming off an injury is remains an unknown and is Kevin White still in the league at this point? Adding a soon-to-be 25-year-old Allen Robinson to that mix of offensive firepower could be the missing link for new Bears head coach and Andy Reid disciple Matt Nagy, who also happens to be an offensive guru. If Robinson lands with Chicago, he could reemerge in the WR1 conversation from a fantasy football point of view for the 2018 season.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Bears
- Other Teams in the Mix: Jaguars, Ravens, 49ers, Panthers
- Wishful Thinking: Titans
I believe Sammy Watkins will be one of, if not the most overpaid free agent this offseason (aside from anyone at the quarterback position). While Watkins has flashed in the past, his career has been set back by injuries. He’s missed 12 games in his past four seasons.
Although he appeared in 15 games with the Rams in 2017, his anticipated upside never came to fruition. Watkins only produced a 39-593-8 stat line on 70 targets, finishing last season as the WR34 with 107.3 fantasy points in standard scoring formats.
It’s apparent that I’m not a Watkins guy, Mike Williams either — Clemson wideouts and Bama RBs are all the same to me — but he will find a new suitor sooner rather than later when the free agent signing period opens on Wednesday. And despite all the WR-needy teams around the league, the Washington Redskins could be the best fit for the under-achieving Watkins.
I believe the Redskins are a team that will look significantly different in 2018, especially on the offensive side of the football. In fact, in the past two offseasons, they have moved on from veteran WRs DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon as well as franchise QB Kirk Cousins. And I don’t get it, but hey, they are the Dan-Snyder-era Redskins. Front office blunders have become the tradition for them.
Although they agreed to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs last month to fill the void at quarterback, there remains the glaring need at receiver — they’ve missed on their wide receiver additions as well in the past two offseasons (see Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor). And how about at the tight end position? Jordan Reed can’t stay healthy, and Vernon Davis is 34 and not getting any younger. While he has a lasting rapport with Alex Smith from their days together in San Francisco, he’s nothing more than a TE2 at this point in his career.
From a salary cap perspective, the Redskins lie in the middle of the pack — they have the 15th most cap space as of this writing at $31.4 million — and despite all of their team needs across the board, I think they will throw an offer at Watkins that he may not see anywhere else. Why? They need to save face after the Cousins debacle, and what better way to do so than by signing a big name receiver with boom or bust upside.
Speaking of boom or bust upside, that is precisely how I view Watkins in fantasy. Add on his injury issues, and he’s a player I’m avoiding at his anticipated ADP, which I fully expect to rise by the time fantasy draft seasons begins. In Dynasty formats, I’m a little bit more forgiving, but not by much. I’m treading lightly with Watkins no matter where he ends up.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Redskins
- Other Teams in the Mix: Ravens, Panthers, Dolphins
- Wishful Thinking: Seahawks
Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the Seattle Seahawks and Jimmy Graham are likely parting ways in free agency, which doesn’t surprise me very much. Graham, 31, is coming off of his worst statistical season since his injury-shortened 2015 campaign. In fact, while Graham caught 57-of-95 targets for 520 yards and ten touchdowns in 16 games last season, he put up a 48-605-2 line in 11 games in 2015. While his touchdown production was up, he’s regressed in the other main statistical categories. Why? Likely because he is on the back end of his career. He did not look like the same player last season. He looks like he lost a step in his game.
However, his touchdown production says one thing — he remains one of the most reliable red zone threats in the NFL with his 6’7″, 265-pound frame. And since players like Antonio Gates (37), Delanie Walker (33) and Jason Witten (35) are still uber-productive compared to their age, Graham isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — except with a new team.
Although his days are likely over in Seattle, Graham will be highly-sought after in free agency. And although teams that include the Saints, Jaguars, and Texans all need help at tight end, there is one team that doesn’t have an immediate need at the position but could ultimately be the favorite to land him.
While the New England Patriots employ Rob Gronkowski, who is regarded as the top tight end in the NFL, his future in the league remains uncertain. The MMQB’s Peter King is reporting that Gronkowski has yet to make a decision on whether or not he’ll retire. However, those close to the situation expect him to return. Still, even with Gronkowski on their roster, there is no guarantee he’ll be on the field.
Gronkowski hasn’t played in a full 16 game season since 2011 and has missed 26 games in that six-year time span. And while he is still only 28-years-old, he plays hurt and has ample wear and tear on his body. For insurance purposes alone, the Patriots should be heavily targeting the tight end position this offseason.
And if you remember back to the last offseason, New England tried to sure up the depth behind Gronkowski by trading for Colts TE Dwayne Allen, which was a complete disaster. Amongst reports that he couldn’t grasp the system, Allen only posted a 10-86-1 stat line while appearing in all 16 games. He was so inefficient that the Patriots claimed Martellus Bennett off waivers from the Packers in the middle of the year.
Speaking of Bennett, the Patriots just released him last week to clear $6.2 million in cap space. Therefore, there is a hole at the TE2 — I don’t expect Allen to return, and if he does, he’d likely be slated as the low-man on the totem pole until he proves otherwise. From the outside, England’s tight end position may appear to be tied up, but it most certainly is not.
At this juncture in his career, Graham is likely at the point where he wants to win a championship more than he wants to break the bank on what could be his final free agent contract of note. As a result, I think the Patriots make a run at Graham and ultimately sign him at a discount. In that scenario, I believe Graham will bounce back in his lagging statistical categories now that the opposing defense will have more pieces to gameplan against — aside from Doug Baldwin, Graham was the Seahawks passing game.
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Patriots
- Other Teams in the Mix: Dolphins, Texans, Saints
- Wishful Thinking: Jaguars
Trey Burton is one of my favorite free agents in this year’s class. Why? Because he is one of Philadelphia’s best-kept secrets. Slated behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles depth chart, I can’t remember a time Burton failed to impress when given the opportunity. In fact, Burton has accumulated 60 receptions for 572 yards and six touchdowns in the past two seasons — and let’s not forget that he threw the touchdown pass in the”Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII — with the bulk of his production occurring in games in which Ertz either left early or was inactive due to injury.
And while the Eagles want to re-sign Burton, they likely can’t. Reports are suggesting that the Eagles offered Burton a new deal shortly following the Super Bowl that he turned down because he didn’t consider it a “serious” one. However, they didn’t low-ball Burton because of his talent, they did it because they have no cap space — the Eagles salary cap room have the least amount of salary cap space in the league with minus $9.9 million.
Burton should have his pick of suitors lined up to scoop him up and offer him a starting job. And why not? He’s 26-years-old with an athletic skill set (for a big man) along with a proven track record while playing in a reserve role. While I believe he could go to any of the tight end-needy teams that include the Jaguars, Ravens or Seahawks and succeed, I think his best fit would be in Houston.
The Texans have a glaring need at the tight end position. Although C.J. Fiedorowicz said he will attend offseason workouts, he is coming off an injury-shortened season. Fiedorowicz was placed on the injured reserve list following a concussion he sustained in Week 13. But since it was his fourth concussion since December of 2014, the 26-year-old tight end is considering retirement.
Houston has the sixth most salary cap space in the NFL with roughly $65.7 million. So from a money standpoint, signing no Burton is a no-brainer. However, it makes even more sense from a fantasy perspective. The Texans have a young and up-and-coming team, especially on offense. Led by Deshaun Watson, Burton would fit in great amongst the impending second-year signal caller’s arsenal of pass-catchers that include DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside as well as Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman out of the backfield.
Since Hopkins would be the main attraction, the opposing defense would focus on containing him. Thus, leaving Burton wide open in the middle of the filed to exploit the mismatch, especially if the Hopkins draws safety help. I’m buying all the Burton stock I can get my hands on right now. I suggest you do it too!
- Best Potential Landing Spot: Texans
- Other Teams in the Mix: Dolphins, Packers, Ravens
- Wishful Thinking: Jaguars
Thank you for reading my 2018 Fantasy Football Forgottens! I hope you enjoyed it! Want more of my content? Follow me on Twitter @therealnflguru and check out my @GridironExperts archive here. And before I forget, Mike Hauff and I debate fantasy football as well as other NFL news notes and nuggets on our show @Faceoff. You can follow us on Twitter, hear us on the Gridiron Experts Podcast Network, or watch us on Youtube.