It can be nearly impossible to predict what an early-offseason NFL move means with so many possible player moves and the rookie draft still to happen. It is even more difficult this year with the dark clouds of the NFL labor fiasco and the expiring collective-bargaining agreement hanging over everything.
However, overshadowed by the news of a CBA stay of execution in the form of a deadline change, there have been a few player moves that have sparked my interest looking ahead to a season we all hope will happen.
A few of note include:
Pierre Thomas, NO: I drank the Thomas Kool-Aid when I put out my 2010 running back rankings. I was rewarded with an injury-laden season that was more of a lost cause than anything else.
Thomas’ future with the organization was really in doubt moving forward, until Thursday’s announcement that he signed a four-year deal with the team. While the details are not yet available, the move suggests the Saints have decided that Thomas has more gas in the tank. It also means that they weren’t ready to rest solely on young-and-surprisingly-talented-but-also-injury-susceptible Chris Ivory.
In that offense, if he can stay healthy, Pierre could make a very solid RB2. The health concerns will keep his draft stock low in fantasy circles. Other recent news on Pierre states that the back’s ankle surgery could very well keep him out of all offseason activities.
That isn’t a good sign on the surface to fantasy football people looking for a ray of injury-free sunshine. However, the Saints felt good enough about Pierre to give him the four-year deal.
Jeremy Shockey, CAR: The Saints also cut ties with Jeremy Shockey, and the ripple effects of that move could prove interesting.
For one, it didn’t take long for Shockey to find a new address. The Panthers jumped in quickly on Shockey, as they look for cheap ways to turn around arguably the worst season in franchise history.
Shockey’s fantasy value with Carolina in 2011 won’t be stellar. While he’s very talented, he’s also aging and injury prone. The Panthers struggled to form any sort of offense in 2011, and they need more than an aging tight end to change that momentum.
The move does greatly affect the value of Jimmy Graham, the young tight end who seemed to form solid chemistry with elite-QB Drew Brees. While Brees is known for spreading the love in the Saints passing offense, he did seem to favor the security-blanket option in Graham down the stretch, relying on Graham in important situations as New Orleans attempted to defend its Super Bowl title.
In all fantasy leagues, especially keeper or dynasty, Graham’s stock has definitely improved significantly.
Mike Sims-Walker, FA: There have been three things that have kept the very talented Sims-Walker from taking the leap into consistent fantasy stardom.
1. His work ethic.
2. His injury track record.
3. The inconsistent system he was in with Jacksonville.
Now, at least one of those factors could change. Sims-Walker was released by the Jaguars. Where he winds up next could swing his value greatly in one direction or another. If he winds up in Cleveland or Cincinnati, for example, I’m not going to touch him with a 10-foot pole on draft day. If he finds himself as the No. 2 receiver in perhaps Houston or Atlanta, however, he could finally become a regular fantasy producer.
In the wake of the Sims-Walker dump, both Mike Thomas and Jason Hill stand to see some value increase. Of course, we don’t know if Jacksonville will bring in another receiver. If not, Thomas proved last season he can be a solid PPR option as a possession receiver.
Hill, on the other hand, is more of a potential diamond in the rough. The Jaguars just signed him to a contract extension after he produced a solid seven catches for 145 yards late last season while Sims-Walker was nursing an ankle sprain.
Kevin Smith, FA: Injuries derailed what could have been a decent career for Smith in Detroit. The Lions brass still seemed to like the back in a complimentary role to Jahvid Best, so the dropping of Smith came as sort of a surprise.
Smith won’t likely turn up as a starter anywhere in the league. He could be a handcuff somewhere.
The move also opens a hole for an RB2 for a young-and-improving Lions squad—likely a bigger back who would be the thunder to Best’s lightning. This could be filled through the NFL Draft, or may lead to another veteran move…perhaps a back like Tashard Choice.
Marion Barber, DAL: Speaking of the Cowboys backfield, Barber is allegedly a dead man walking for Dallas. Some expected him to be cut around this time. However, a $500,000 roster bonus isn’t due to him until June.
Expect the Cowboys to hold onto Barber through the uncertainty of the CBA and draft, then likely cutting bait before needing to cough up half a million on him this summer.
Joe Webb, MIN: With Tarvaris Jackson officially cut and Brett Favre officially retired, Webb is the de facto QB to watch at the moment in Minnesota. Most expect the Vikings to draft their next QB of choice next month. Or, for them to sign a veteran signal caller such as Donovan McNabb or Vince Young or even, perhaps, Carson Palmer.
In the meantime, Webb has a small window to make a case for himself, and he seems to be doing a decent job. New coordinator Bill Musgrave recently commented how impressed he has been with Webb’s composure and poise during the young QB’s limited snaps late in the season.
There is a chance he could still factor into the Vikings QB slot, so stash him away if you can in dynasty formats.
Marcedes Lewis, JAX: A former first-round pick, Lewis actually performed like one last year for the Jaguars, both on the receiving and blocking fronts. His 700-plus yardage totals were OK, his double-digit TDs were even nicer. He was, basically, the Visanthe Shiancoe of the 2010 season.
Lewis recently signed a one-year $7.285 million contract with the Jaguars, and with Mike Sims-Walker no longer in town, Lewis basically is the passing game’s heart and soul (at least at the moment) for the 2011 season.
Expecting him to repeat his top-four TE fantasy numbers again in 2011 is definitely foolish since it is hard to bank on TD production from year to year and the TE is likely to regress some. However, at the right price, he could still be a nice option in drafts this summer.
John Kuhn, GB: One of the reasons the Packers were able to weather some major offensive injuries this past year, especially the one to Ryan Grant, was thanks to this Shippensburg University product.
One would expect the Packers to keep the fullback on as tribute to the grittiness he displayed in becoming a goal-line type of back.
However, recent news suggests that Kuhn could be facing the open market and that the Packers will only consider re-signing him if they could get him at a discounted price. Not that he made all that much anyway in 2010.
Perhaps Kuhn finds a different address this offseason on a team in need of a bruising goal-line-hungry fullback.
In the meantime, don’t miss our growing 2011 fantasy football offseason page, including our top five dynasty quarterbacks, running backs and receivers for 2011 and beyond, the top team needs from a fantasy standpoint for each division and numerous advice columns dealing with fantasy football strategy.