Usually a dull point in the sports calendar, the month of July got a turbo-boost of excitement this week when the NFL lockout finally came to an end, initiating a wave of free agent signings and trades that just-so-happened to coincide with the week leading to MLB's trade deadline. My brother and I, unabashed athlete-transaction addicts, nicknamed the hectic period as "Sports Overload."
Creative nicknames withstanding, all this NFL wheeling and dealing has turned months of speculation into a week of scrutinizing analysis and team grading, while several other signings and trades are still on the table. For the sake of this list, I will review the biggest moves so far from a fantasy football perspective and how the transactions shake out the current landscape of the imaginary game.
Before I get to the top 10, here's some bullets on transactions that didn't make the cut, which I have dubbed "bubble moves."
-WR Mike Sims-Walker signs with Rams for one year. Sims-Walkers has serious sleeper potential following this trade. He's joining the friendly confines of the NFC West, pairing up with the NFL's emerging second year QB in Sam Bradford. Sims-Walker doesn't have the greatest rep in the league, and despite only missing three games over the last two years, is a bit of an injury risk. Nonetheless, he possesses great athletic ability and is getting a career restart in a very favorable fantasy climate. Mark Clayton is likely out in St. Louis, while Mike Thomas gets a value bump in Jacksonville.
- WR Roy Williams signs with Bears for one year. This is a great scenario for Williams and his fantasy value. He enters a very pass-happy system in Chicago where he will have every chance to start and rejoins Mike Martz, who he had his best seasons with in Detroit. Draft Williams for WR3 value with WR2 upside, especially if he becomes Cutler's top red-zone target.
- WR Steve Breaston signs with Chiefs for five years. Breaston's value could take a hit with this move, as he leaves what intends to be a pass-happy system in Arizona for one of the run-heaviest teams in the league in Kansas City. Still, his success was far from guaranteed with the Cardinals, and it's not like Matt Cassel didn't throw 27 touchdowns last year (he did). Bust candidate Dwayne Bowe could benefit from having a legit receiver lining up across the field, but overall, the Chiefs offense is a tough one to predict right now.
- TE Greg Olsen traded to Panthers. I'm skeptical on calling Olsen a borderline TE1 despite all the good vibes surrounding this move. Yes, he joins a team that was "seeking" a pass catching TE, and yes, Carolina's offensive coordinator is a former TE at the U, like Olsen. Still, we're talking about a player who's put up way too many goose eggs (or close to) over the past few years, and Carolina's passing game isn't very inspiring. He's an intriguing pick, but not a player worth reaching for, and should be paired with another TE if you draft him.
- RB Willis McGahee signs with Broncons for three years. As for McGahee's fantasy value, he is only draftable in TD-based scoring leagues, which suck and should be abolished. The move does have serious implications for Knowshon Moreno and Tim Tebow, as McGahee was brought in to be a short-yardage back, ie: someone who may vulture touchdowns from his more fantasy-relevant teammates. I still like Knowshon for his ability to rack up yards, but Tebow's QB2 buzz can take a serious hit if McGahee steals a mere five TD's from him inside the 5.
- RB Marion Barber signs with the Bears for two years. The Bears get their replacement for Chester Taylor, who failed miserably as Chicago's backup last year. Barber will get opportunities, simply because Forte isn't looked at as an every-down back. Still, the "former" Barbarian is coming off a season where he averaged a putrid 3.3 YPC. He's appeared to have lost all burst and isn't joining a better situation at all when you consider Chicago's shotty offensive line and the tough atmosphere of the NFC North. Barber may be worth your last pick in the draft, but expectations have to be really low at this point.
RB Joseph Addai resigns with Colts (terms of deal not disclosed).
Shake out: The move solidifies Addai's role as the starting RB for the prolifically passing Colts. Underachieving third-year RB Donald Brown and rookie RB Delone Carter will battle it out for the backup role, but will likely both spell Addai on a regular basis. Addai has always been Indy's preferred third down and goal-line back.
Analysis: The picture above tells the story of Addai's 2010 season, as he missed eight straight games with a neck injury from Week 8 to 15. He was pretty effective when healthy, posting a respectable 4.3 YPC and scoring four touchdowns. Peyton Manning took less money so the Colts could resign Addai, which illustrates the team's faith in the veteran back, but the fact remains that Addai's fantasy upside is limited. He has a lot of wear at age 28 and lacks the ability to make big plays. He also has Carter breathing down his neck, and combined with Addai's injury history, a midseason changing of the guard is always possible.
But as it stands, Addai is the starter and worthy of RB3 status on draft day, in part due to his strong supporting cast and plethora of scoring opportunities.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha signs with Eagles for five years.
Shake out: The move, coupled with CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie coming via the Kevin Kolb trade, gives Philadelphia two new Pro Bowl cornerbacks. Asante Samuel will likely get traded, since a move to nickelback seems implausible.
Analysis: The Eagles also made waves by signing DT Kullen Jenkins, adding a lot of talent to what was a top five fantasy defense last year. Defense doesn’t usually win fantasy championships (apparent, as this is the only defensive move on the list), but when you add that Philly’s offense will have many teams playing catch-up this year, the odds of the Eagles racking up turnovers is high. The team was third in the league in picks last year and should increase their sacks with more pressure created by Kullen, as well as the overall improvement of their secondary.
I’m a huge proponent of using the last two rounds of my draft on defense and a kicker, but Philly may be a D worth reaching for, considering their potential in turnovers and points allowed. DeSean Jackson is always a threat returning punts for leagues that draft defense/special teams.
WR Sidney Rice signs with Seahawks for five years.
QB Tarvaris Jackson signs with Seahawks for two years.
Shake out: The two former Vikings immediately assume starting roles in Seattle and will be playing under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who also made the move from Minnesota. BMW (Big Mike Williams) will take the reigns opposite Rice at flanker to go along with a starting offensive unit also consisting of RB Marshawn Lynch and TE John Carlson.
Analysis: Several analysts are downplaying the Minny to Seattle personnel shift, but I, for one, see some sneaky fantasy value here. Rice is definitely an injury uncertainty of sorts, as we still haven’t seen him return to his 2009 Pro Bowl form. If Rice’s hip injury isn’t a chronic (or worse, arthritic) problem, his talent level shouldn’t be overlooked.
While not the fastest or most physical downfield receiver, Rice has that innate ability to “go up and get it,” similar to Roddy White, which can make up for Jackson’s flawed accuracy, albeit impressive arm strength. When you add that both guys are leaving the harsh conditions of the NFC North for the friendly confines of the NFC West, the tandem can easily post some solid fantasy numbers, no matter how Seattle does in 2011. Keep an eye on Rice in the preseason and draft accordingly if the early returns are positive.
QB Matt Hasselbeck signs with Titans for three years.
Shake out: The Titans get their veteran QB, while Jake Locker will likely wait one year for his crack at the starting gig. The availability of Hasselbeck’s top WR Kenny Britt is a tad uncertain due to the current scrutiny over disciplining a player that was arrested during the lockout. Nate Washington and Justin Gage are next in the WR pecking order.
Analysis: Hasselbeck knows all about the benefits of playing with an all-world RB from his days with Shaun Alexander. Seattle has had one of the worst rushing attacks for almost five years now, so teaming with Chris Johnson can only do wonders for Hasselbeck’s game. The market was pretty high for a guy who’s been pretty lousy statistically for three years now (a 34:44 TD:INT ratio; yikes), but Hasselbeck still led the Hawks on an improbable playoff run last year, and some GMs clearly have faith in his ability and health. Britt likely won’t miss more than two games, giving Hasselbeck talent at every skill position, including underrated TE Jared Cook.
The move benefits Johnson the most, who will finally get some stability at QB, and can really shine this season if Hasselbeck busts out a vintage year.
RB Reggie Bush traded to Dolphins.
RB Darren Sproles signs with Saints for four years.
Shake out: Both moves serve to shake up the backfields in Miami and New Orleans; how things ultimately shake out is still the question. Sproles will definitely assume a third down specialist role in NOLA, so it's up to coach Sean Payton on who gets the bulk of early-down work between injury prone rookie Mark Ingram, injury prone vet Pierre Thomas and injury prone sophomore Chris Ivory. It is uncertain if Reggie Bush will simply spell rookie Daniel Thomas in Miami or if the two will battle it out in camp for the number one spot on the RB depth chart.
Analysis: There is a lot to consider for both of these landscapes, as this mix of veterans, specialists and rookies can still produce two very useful fantasy RBs once the season kicks off.
In New Orleans, Mark Ingram seems to be the favorite since his physical running style serves as a perfect compliment to Sproles’ speed game. Ivory auditioned well in that role last year, but didn’t make it out in one piece, and it’s obvious the team views its new, first round pick higher. Thomas was given the first shot to succeed last season and couldn’t stay healthy. His role on the team seems pretty uncertain at this point, giving Ingram every chance to win this position battle and gain bona fide RB2 status. Sproles is merely a flex as a 3DB.
In Miami, a report from coach Tony Sparano that Bush can be an early-down back hangs a dark cloud on Thomas’ sleeper buzz. Bush has never thrived in this role, so one can make the assumption that Sparano is just trying to appease his new acquisition and will let the two battle it out in training camp. It’s a situation to monitor, but if things shake out with Thomas getting the better of Bush during preseason action, the rookie, like Ingram, makes for an intriguing RB2 option in what should still be a run-first attack behind an emerging offensive line.
QB Donovan McNabb traded to Vikings.
Shake out: McNabb gets another shot at a starting gig in Minnesota, with rookie Christian Ponder assuming a back-up role. The Vikings were in the market for a WR after Rice bolted, and clearly “settled” on Falcons veteran Michael Jenkins. Another move isn’t expected, meaning Jenkins and Bernard Berrian will likely battle for the starting flanker spot opposite starting split-end Percy Harvin. In Washington, the QB situation is now arguably the worst in the league, consisting of John Beck and Kellen Clemens. Santana Moss is probably a WR3 now, even coming off a great 93 catch, 1,115 yard season.
Analysis: It’s pretty amusing that it took only two sixth round picks for Minnesota to net a six-time Pro Bowler in McNabb, while fellow, former Eagles QB Kevin Kolb was dealt for a kings ransom (Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick) to Arizona. McNabb was close to miserable last year, but it’s obvious that Washington was a bad fit for him, playing under a controlling coach in Mike Shanahan. McNabb should experience more freedom in leading Minny’s offense, as well as vast improvements at RB and WR with Adrian Peterson and Harvin, respectively.
The book is still out on whether McNabb is a borderline QB1, despite the improved playing situation. McNabb has to prove he still has some athleticism to make up for what is now an undependable Vikings O-line. The presence of Peterson should bail McNabb out in spots, and the TE friendly vet will also benefit from having Visanthe Shiancoe in the mix.
WR Chad Ochocinco traded to Patriots.
Shake out: The move sends WR Deion Branch to the bench, establishing Ocho and Wes Welker as Brady’s starters in two WR sets. The team still plans to feature its two sophomore tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, in the passing game, and even retained both its receiving RBs in Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk. The Pats will continue to employ a spread offense attack. In Cincinnati, both Jerome Simpson and rookie A.J. Green have sleeper value as starting WRs, but are plagued by one of the league's worst QB situations.
Analysis: Ocho has always had an affinity for coach Bill Belichick (evident to anyone who watched them on HBO’s Hard Knocks, “Bill! Beeel!”), and the feeling appears to be mutual after this trade. New England has been a career fountain of youth for offensive vets over the years (Corey Dillion, Randy Moss), and there is no doubt that Ocho is a perfect fit in New England’s spread attack, consisting of short to intermediate passes and the occasional downfield shot.
Ocho isn’t seen as a great home run hitter anymore, but the fact is, he has the chance to assume that role in New England, when Brady runs play action. Welker is clearly not that type of runner, and all of the commotion New England causes in the short game should give Ocho plenty of freedom to go deep. I wouldn’t call him a sleeper going into training camp, but the former consensus top five pass catcher is a great value at WR2 this season.
WR Santonio Holmes re-signs with Jets for five years.
WR Plaxico Burress signs with Jets for one year.
Shake out: The Jets retain their top receiver from a year ago in Holmes, and early reports have Burress starting at split-end, keeping Jericho Cotchery in a bench/slot receiver role. WR Braylon Edwards is no longer an option to return and is now being rumored to sign with Arizona, an ideal landing spot indeed.
Analysis: The Jets may have lost out in the Osomugha sweepstakes, but solidified their receiving game by re-signing Holmes, their best playmaker in 2010, while taking a shot on 34-year-old Burress, who is two years removed from the game. Starting with Burress, it’s clearly a wait-and-see approach for a guy that’s been imprisoned for the past two seasons, but the Jets have to think his size and red-zone skills could be the perfect compliment to Holmes, who runs all the routes and has great after-the-catch ability. When linked with a great possession/hands guy like Cotchery, the Jets employ three different types of receivers, allowing third-year QB Mark Sanchez to pick his poison in three WR sets.
Holmes still isn’t looked at as a WR1 in fantasy, but has a lot of upside as a WR2, being the No. 1 option for a QB that made great strides in his second year. Sanchez and Holmes hooked up for six scores in only 12 games in 2010, and an 80 catch, 1,000 yard, 10 TD season is clearly attainable for No. 10 in 2011.
QB Kevin Kolb traded to Cardinals, signs five year extension.
Shake out: Arizona gets their man, and potentially more if Edwards indeed signs with the Cardinals. The team also added veteran TE Todd Heap (cut by the Ravens) and are clearly making efforts to give their new starting QB all the weapons he needs to succeed. If Edwards doesn’t strike a deal with Arizona, look for sophomore WR Andre Roberts to start opposite Larry Fitzgerald while four-year veteran Early Doucet assumes a bench/slot receiver role.
Analysis: As stated earlier in the McNabb shake out, Arizona paid a steep price for a fairly unproven QB in Kolb. For all his alleged skills as a signal-caller, Kolb still sports a 73.2 QB rating and an 11:14 TD/INT ratio in 20 career games. He’s an improvement over the likes of Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson, but that’s not saying much. I like his potential in the NFC West over the NFC North, but Kolb is merely a QB2 right now, and a borderline QB1 if he shines in the preseason. The biggest value bump goes to Fitz, who had a great year in 2010 considering the mess at QB (90 catches, 1,113 yards, 6 TD), and is once again a top five, possibly top three, WR on draft day. Edwards would be a solid WR3, while Roberts would be worth a late round flyer if he gets a starting gig. I’m not too hot on Heap from a fantasy perspective.
(THIS JUST IN! RB Tim Hightower has been traded to Washington, leaving just Beanie Wells and rookie Ryan Williams to vie for carries in Arizona. Wells should get the first crack at early-down work, while Williams will give Kolb another weapon out of the backfield on third down.)
RB DeAngelo Williams re-signs with the Panthers for five years.
Shake out: A situation that could have yielded two starting fantasy RBs (Williams in Denver/Miami, teammate Jonathan Stewart in Carolina) remains the same with this somewhat shocker of a deal, considering the years and guaranteed money for a 28-year-old RB coming of an injury marred season. Still, Williams was clearly coveted by Carolina and will assume the starting RB role, leaving Stewart’s role up in the air. RB Mike Goodson, who was mostly useful last season, will be delegated to third-string duty. The signing is great news for anyone invested in Moreno, who remains relevant as a starting RB in Denver.
Analysis: This move is puzzling, considering how much cheaper it would have been for Carolina to waive bye-bye to Williams and give the very capable Stewart a chance to finally take over, with a very capable backup in Goodson. As a result, in my humble opinion, the Carolina backfield is one to avoid in fantasy this season. One could say that the big signing points to Williams getting a bulk of the work (neither him or Stewart thrive on third down), but the speculation is that Ron Rivera wants to use both guys in two-back sets a lot this year, and it’s anyone’s guess what that means for fantasy purposes.
Add to the equation that Carolina still poses a big question mark at QB with rookie Cam Newton, and despite what should be an improved/healthier offensive line, it’s hard to place a value on both Williams and Stewart. They were both looked at as strong RB2s a year ago, and we all know how that turned out. I'm not totally ruling out a bounce back year for the Carolina backfield; there's just several other (featured) RBs worth taking ahead of this duo on draft day.