If you like the excitement of free agency and players changing clubs, we have some good news for you. This year’s frenzy, which kicked off at 4 p.m. ET on March 13, continues to be wild.
There are a few reasons for this. First of all, under the new CBA, players who have accrued four years of service time are designated as unrestricted free agents – you might remember that only players with six years of service time could be UFAs once the last CBA expired and the league played without a salary cap. In other words, there are more free agents. Second, many players signed one-year deals in last season’s abbreviated free agency period and are hitting the open market again.
There’s also the possibility that unhappy players placed under the franchise tag (which we will cover here as well) could request trades or threaten holdouts, meaning higher drama.
Below, we have an extensive list and analysis of skill-position players who are still on the market in 2012. Some of these guys will make an impact next year, and many will not. We have you covered either way.
To start, a primer on the 2012 free agency process:
Free Agency Glossary
These are terms you’ll hear a lot in this article and over the next few weeks. These brief descriptions should have you adequately prepared for the whole process.
Unrestricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued four or more years of service time and has an expired contract. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team in whatever situation for whatever contract he deems most beneficial, with no penalty to the acquiring team.
Restricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued three years of service time and has an expired contract. Restricted free agents are free to negotiate on the open market. Once a player is given an offer sheet, his previous team has a seven-day “right of first refusal” period to match the offer.
If the controlling team declines, the acquiring team could be forced to pay a draft-pick penalty for signing that player to a contract, the cost of which is depending on the RFA tender offered to the player by his previous club. On the flip side, if a player is not offered an RFA tender by his club, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Teams can also work out trades with interested parties, adjusting the terms any draft-pick compensation the player’s RFA tender would require (the Dolphins and Patriots did this in 2007 with Wes Welker).
Exclusive rights free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued two or fewer years of service time and has an expired contract. The term “free agent” is a misnomer, in that the player has no contract, but his rights are controlled by his team unless that team willingly decides to release him. If an exclusive rights free agent is tendered a contract (at the veteran minimum), he must sign it if he wishes to play, because he has no negotiating power.
Franchise tag: Any player who will become an unrestricted or restricted free agent can be designated as his club’s franchise player. If a player is designated as a franchise player, he is tendered a one-year, guaranteed contract. To make a complicated scenario simple (and trust us, it’s complicated), the franchise tag under the new CBA signed last August is calculated as a percentage of the salary cap using the salaries of highly paid players at the tagged player’s position, which reduces the overall value of the tag (this was a “win” for the owners in the CBA negotiations). Every dollar of the franchise tag is guaranteed.
If a player is designated a franchise player, he can sign the one-year deal immediately, and he can continue to negotiate a long-term deal with his club. However, once a deadline in mid-July passes, the franchise player is no longer free to negotiate a long-term deal and must either sign the franchise tag or hold out (teams can also work out trades). Moreover, if a franchise player holds out past a certain date late in the NFL season, he is no longer free to sign the tag and will go without pay for the entire 2012 season (Vincent Jackson came dangerously close to this date during the 2010 season).
A player can be either an “exclusive” or “non-exclusive” franchise player. A “non-exclusive” franchise player is free to negotiate with other teams, like a restricted free agent, and like in an RFA scenario his previous club is given right of first refusal. If the club declines to match an offer sheet, the player’s previous club is awarded two 1st-round picks as compensation. Because of this, we won’t often see a “non-exclusive” franchise player sign with another club.
Transition tag: Like the franchise tag, the transition tag is a way for teams to retain their unrestricted or restricted free agents under a one-year guaranteed deal. However, there are some differences, explaining why it is not as prevalent as the franchise tag. First, and most notably, the transition tag is “cheaper” to the offering team, as it takes into account the salaries of 10 players instead of five, like in the franchise tag.
However, transitioned players are always free to negotiate with other clubs, like restricted free agents, and their controlling clubs are given right of first refusal. But there is no draft-pick compensation for being unable to match an offer sheet, unlike the two 1st-round pick compensation on a franchised player.
This has led to very interesting scenarios in the past, in which teams included “poison pill” clauses in their offer sheets to transitioned players, making it essentially impossible for a player’s old club to match the offer (Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson were signed with “poison pill” deals). The risk was minimal for offering teams – they didn’t have to pay any compensation, like they would have to under an RFA tender or a franchise tender.
That’s why the tag is little-used. While there is less financial commitment, there is a greater risk to the club offering the tag.
In previous years, teams could use both the franchise tag and a transition tag. Under the new CBA, teams can choose only one of the two tags.
Note: Players are essentially listed in order of their fantasy relevance.
Received Franchise Tag
Drew Brees (NO) – We expected to see Brees and the Saints to come to an agreement on a new, long-term deal by now, but with a recent Yahoo! report stating they were as much as $5 million/year apart, we’ve seen the worst case scenario, which is them giving Brees the franchise tag to at least guarantee he’ll be with the team in 2012 while they continue to hammer out contract details. Outside of Peyton Manningpossibly hitting the open market, Brees would have been the biggest name out there, although he continues to say he’s “very optimistic” about a deal being done, which he should be after being named the Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. However, the belief is that GM Mickey Loomis thinks Brees is a “very good” QB and not a “great” one, according to Yahoo! It’s hard to believe Loomis would try to downplay what Brees has done for the team and city of New Orleans since 2006. Last season, Brees set records in yardage (5476), completions (468), and completion percentage (71.2) in leading the team to the playoffs and a victory over the Lions before losing a shootout to the 49ers in the Divisional Round. At 33, Brees has shown no real signs of slowing down and will hopefully have Marques Colston back, although his status as a free agent is more precarious now that they’ve used the franchise tag on Brees. We hope to see Colston join Brees and outstanding TE Jimmy Graham back in New Orleans for many years to come, as they make up one of the best passing attacks in the league.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Vince Young (Phi) – Young was signed to back up Michael Vick in Philadelphia, but he immediately made waves when he called Eagles “The Dream Team.” Obviously, things didn’t turn out so well for the Eagles in what was a forgettable season for Young as well. He struggled to pick up the offense and dealt with a hamstring injury early in the season, which made Mike Kafka the #2. With Vick missing time, as expected, Young appeared in five games and made three starts from Weeks 11-13. He finished the season with 866 yards, 4 TDs, and 9 INTs on 66/114 passing (57.9%). His athletic ability allows him to be somewhat of a lowercase Vick at times, but his erratic play and poor decision-making make him too tough to trust as a weekly starter. The Eagles have apparently moved on from Young after they signed Trent Edwards in February. Young turns 29 in May and will enter his seventh year in 2012 with no signs of progression. While it’s easy to get caught up in his athletic ability, Young probably won’t be handed a starting job and will need to prove himself wherever he ends up.
Donovan McNabb (Min) – McNabb lasted just six games as the starter in Minnesota before giving way to rookie Christian Ponder. That led to McNabb’s release in early December, but despite teams like the Bears and Texans losing their starters to injury, McNabb went unsigned. In his six games, McNabb completed 94/156 passes (60.3%) for 1026 yards, with 4 TDs and 2 INTs. The biggest problem with McNabb was his accuracy, as it has been since the end of his time with the Eagles. Most of his completions were short passes, and even on some of his completions he made inaccurate throws, preventing runs after the catch. The 2012 season would be the 13th season for the 35-year-old QB, and while he called competing for a starting job his top priority, he’s probably better off as a backup after losing his job three times in the last three seasons. Actually, he’s probably better off retiring because he’s just about done.
Luke McCown (Jac) – The Jaguars decided to cut David Garrard shortly before the 2011 season and named McCown the starter. McCown’s tenure as a starter didn’t last very long, as he was pulled in just the second game of the season in favor of rookie Blaine Gabbert. McCown made two more appearances during the season and finished with 296 yards, 0 TDs, and 4 INTs on 30/56 passing. With a new regime in Jacksonville, the team is expected to find a veteran backup Gabbert can learn from and possibly play behind in 2012, and we doubt McCown and his nine starts in eight seasons fits that mold. He’s nothing more than a backup heading into this season and will join a large group of players looking to catch on somewhere in that role.
A.J. Feeley (Stl) – Feeley’s time in St. Louis hasn’t exactly gone to plan. After signing with the Rams in 2010 to play ahead of then-rookieSam Bradford, Feeley was injured in the preseason and saw Bradford take the starting job. He began the 2011 season as the clear-cut backup behind Bradford, but ended up starting a pair of games in the middle of the season and then again in Week Thirteen, as Bradford battled a high ankle sprain. A thumb injury sidelined Feeley down the stretch, limiting him to five appearances (three starts) on the season and saw him finish 53/97 for 548 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. The 11-year veteran is healthy and will be trying to find his next backup job in 2012, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to St. Louis behind Bradford once again.
Kyle Boller (Oak) – Boller spent the last two seasons as a backup in Oakland, but he appeared in just two games in 2011. He relieved the injured Jason Campbell in Week Six and started Week Seven, only to be replaced by Carson Palmer, just a short time after he was acquired from the Bengals. Boller doesn’t have much of an arm anymore and still reacts poorly to pressure, so we have to wonder if his days as a #2 QB are up. At this point, he’s nothing more than a veteran to have on the roster and not someone we’d feel comfortable with as a primary backup. The Raiders are expected to move on from Boller, so he’ll need to find work elsewhere.
Dennis Dixon (Pit) – The Steelers drafted Dixon in 2008, but he hasn’t gotten much action in his four years with the team, including no appearances in 2011 despite the team losing Byron Leftwich for the season and Ben Roethlisberger missing some time with an ankle injury. When the Steelers needed a spot start late in the season, they passed over Dixon, instead turning to veteran Charlie Batch. The Steelers have shown interest in bringing back Leftwich and Batch behind Roethlisberger, and GM Kevin Colbert has said Dixon will look for a #2 job elsewhere. The 27-year-old has been banged up and has been limited to just four appearances and three starts in his career, going 35/59 for 402 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. In the little we’ve seen of Dixon, he’s shown to be a little uncomfortable in the pocket, especially when pressured, and his quick delivery tends to push the ball instead of throwing it, which isn’t good. His athleticism may draw him some extra interest, as he could be worked into Wildcat-like formations.
Mark Brunell (NYJ) – Brunell has served as the backup to Mark Sanchez for the last two seasons, but has appeared in just three games, throwing a total of 13 passes. Outside of a start in a meaningless game for the Saints at the end of the 2009 season, Brunell has been relegated to backup duty since 2006. The Jets have made it known they will look for another #2 option in 2012, but Brunell, who has 19 years of experience, said he’d like to play in 2012 and will look for another opportunity if the Jets don’t want him. Obviously, the 41-year-old will do no better than a #2 role where ever he lands.
Received Franchise Tag
Ray Rice (Bal) – If you want to make a long story short, you can almost certainly assume that Rice is going to be back in a Ravens’ uniform in 2012. Yes, the Ravens also have to pay eventually for QB Joe Flacco, who has done enough in his four years with the Ravens to prevent them from rebuilding under center, but there’s no doubt that Rice is the guy who makes this offense go. Even when he didn’t get the ball a lot as a runner, he still made up for it with production in the passing game. He finished 3rd in the league with 290 carries, and he finished 2nd among RBs with 76 catches, and only Maurice Jones-Drew had more than his 366 touches. Rice ended up with 1362 rushing yards (4.7 YPC) and 12 TDs, along with 76 catches for 704 yards and 3 TDs on 104 targets to rank him 3rdat RB in standard scoring. His 2062 yards from scrimmage led the NFL. So it should be no surprise that owner Steve Bisciotti said after the Ravens’ loss in the AFC Championship Game that the Ravens want the durable Rice back at all costs. For now, that means the franchise tag. While Rice might not be in the market for the seven-year, $100 million monster extension Adrian Peterson signed with Minnesota, his remarkable consistency might mean he’s due for more than the four years, $53.5 million Chris Johnson signed with the Titans this past summer, which probably represents the low end of what Rice will ask for. He’ll be a Raven next year, and Baltimore will have to pony up for him, but now it’s just a matter of coming together on a long-term deal.
Matt Forte (Chi) – It seems as if Forte has been lobbying for a new contract for a while, and honestly, it’s kind of hard to blame the guy. With the inconsistency of the Bears’ offense under Mike Martz, with or without Jay Cutler at QB, it was easy to identify Forte as the team’s best player. As bad as the Bears were when Cutler was out with a thumb injury, when Forte went down late in the season with a knee sprain, the Bears completely collapsed. Through 12 games, Forte was on pace for career-highs in rushing yards, receptions, and receiving yards. He posted 203/997/3 on the ground with a career-high 4.9 YPC, and 52/490/1 through the air, with 9.4 YPC in that department (second only to last season’s 10.7). He averaged 14.4 FPG, which ranked him 9th among all RBs and was his best number since his fantastic rookie season in 2008, when he averaged 15.2 FPG. Also recall that he scored just 1.2 FP in his final game before getting injured. Through 11 games, he was 6th with 15.6 FPG, which was better than his rookie total. In eight of the 11 games before he was injured, he touched the ball at least 20 times, and in the other three, he had at least 16. In other words, he’s the indispensable part of the offense. Not surprisingly, the Bears placed the franchise tag on Forte, so now the attention turns to a possible long-term deal. It’s possible Forte could get a deal similar to Chris Johnson (four years, $50 million), but for now, he’s stuck with the tag. If nothing else, the team appears to be making a good-faith effort to keep Forte happy, opening contract talks with him at the combine in Indianapolis, and coach Lovie Smith told NFL Network that he feels an extension “will happen eventually.” Regardless, expect to see Forte in a Bear uniform in 2012.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Cedric Benson (Cin) – Because he isn’t flashy, plays in a small market, or both, it might be hard to realize just how important Benson has been to the Bengals since signing there as a reclamation project in 2008. In 2011, Benson capped off his Bengals’ tenure with his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign, although he was less valuable for fantasy than we might have hoped. Benson carried 273 times for 1,067 yards (3.9 YPC) and 6 TDs and had 15/82 as a receiver, placing him a mediocre 27th among RBs with an average of 10.1 FPG. While he took a liking to OC Jay Gruden’s system, Benson seemed to struggle on occasion behind the Bengals’ offensive line, especially in short yardage. And because he lacks explosiveness or versatility, his fantasy value was hurt. So we can look at Benson’s impending free agency in a couple of ways. First and foremost, should he move on, the Bengals will need to add a sustaining runner in their backfield, because Bernard Scott just isn’t going to cut it. In fact, the Bengals might benefit from keeping Benson in town and adding a versatile swingman behind him, whether through the draft or free agency. And if Benson moves on, will he be looking for a job that can net him 250 or more carries, or will he be willing to embrace a smaller role to extend his career and maximize his effectiveness? For instance, he might be a good fit in a place like Pittsburgh, where Rashard Mendenhall’s availability for the start of the 2012 season is in serious question. Benson will be an interesting guy to follow this off-season, because even though he showed he can still produce and sustain offense, at 29 years old, it might be time for him to become more of a 150-175 carry type of player. As of now, it looks like Benson is done in Cincy. He took to the radio to criticize Gruden, and he said he has not yet been contacted by the Bengals, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. He’ll clearly be one of the best RBs to hit the open market this off-season.
Ryan Grant (GB) – The Packers probably would have preferred to transition away from Grant in 2011, but because James Starks battled injuries for a good part of the year, Grant still had a pretty significant role in this offense (“significant” a relative term, considering how the Packers treat their run game). In 15 games, Grant ran for 134/559/2 and 19/268/1 as a receiver, averaging a 45th-most 6.7 FPG, just 0.1 FPG ahead of Starks’ production (which the 2 extra TDs pretty much accounted for alone). Grant was more inconsistent than Starks, but his highs were higher than Starks’ highs. The problem, of course, is that Grant’s burst is almost totally gone, and he was never a burner in the first place. The foot injury that ended his 2010 season during Week One might have sapped what juice he had left, and now he enters the free-agent market as a 29-year-old RB who looks just about finished. That said, there is a chance the Packers still make an offer to Grant, as they have injury concerns with all three of their young RBs still under contract (Starks, Brandon Saine, and Alex Green), and Grant isn’t likely to draw a whole lot of interest on the open market. In fact, a lack of interest might be the only way the Packers opt to bring Grant back, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. To that effect, let’s just say that we don’t see many clubs knocking down his door. The good news for Grant is that he finished pretty strong in 2011, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 42 carries.
Tim Hightower (Was) – The Redskins acquired Hightower in a preseason trade with the Cardinals, and he opened the season as Washington’s starting RB, as expected. But an ACL tear midway through the 2011 campaign puts his future with the club in doubt, as he’s now a free agent and the Redskins have two young RBs who were productive in Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Hightower is a powerful one-cut runner who fits really well in Shanahan’s scheme, and until Week Seven, he carried 84 times for 321 yards and a TD, adding 10/78/1 receiving and averaging 10.4 FPG. But he did this in only five games, missing two before his ACL injury with a shoulder ailment, so Hightower hits the open market as damaged goods. That said, he could turn out to be a pretty good bargain for a team looking for a rotational back if he proves to be healthy. Hightower is a good receiver, he gains positive yardage on the ground, and is a fantastic pass-protector, which most clubs look for in their third-down back. He isn’t explosive, and there’s a concern that an ACL injury could sap him of what little he had in that department, but he’ll have about eight months of rehab behind him when training camp comes around, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him contribute somewhere in 2012, whether it be in Washington (which is interested in re-signing him) or elsewhere. Our best guess is that he’s back in Washington, since Shanahan is high on him, so he and the head coach could continue to torment us in 2012.
Justin Forsett (Sea) – We like Forsett a lot, but he clearly fell out of favor with the coaches in Seattle, and there are significant doubts about his future in a Seahawk uniform. In 16 games, Forsett had only 46/145/1 rushing and 23/128/0 receiving, as he had to split the team’s third-down role behind Marshawn Lynch with Leon Washington. The Seahawks’ focus this off-season has certainly been on re-signing Lynch, which is a done deal, so Forsett may have to go elsewhere to maximize his potential. Remember, Forsett doesn’t have long speed, but he’s really quick, and there’s a burst to him that stands out, making him ideal for catching quick passes out of the backfield. This is a guy who had nearly 800 yards from scrimmage in 2010 and nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage in 2009, and he’s still only 26. He might not have a future in Seattle, but he could land with a team that needs some explosiveness out of the backfield in a rotational role.
Jackie Battle (KC) – When Jamaal Charles went down early in the 2011 season with an ACL tear, the Chiefs scrambled to replace their best offensive player, and that meant Battle, player who had been with the squad for a few years but had never made a significant impact, was given his first real opportunity to carry a load. And with it, he actually led the Chiefs in rushing, though in unspectacular fashion. Battle had 149/597/2 with averages of 4.0 YPC and 5.2 FPG, so while he wasn’t exactly reliable for fantasy, he provided more juice than veteran Thomas Jones. Battle is a big and physical back, but unfortunately he’s not much more than a straight-line runner and has poor lateral quickness. He can wear down a weak defense in a closer role, but he’s rarely going to have a lot of success against a strong front seven. Keep in mind that Battle will turn 29 early in the 2012 season, so although he doesn’t have a lot of miles on his tires, he’s still approaching the end of the line for most NFL RBs. The Chiefs could use a power back behind a recovering Charles and Dexter McCluster in 2012, but did Battle show them – or any other team – enough to get a decent deal this off-season?
Thomas Jones (KC) – Jones has had a remarkable career, and as he’s now over 10,000 career rushing yards, it might be time to consider him one of the more underrated players to ever play his position. But it appears that Jones might be approaching the end of the road, and his 2011 season isn’t going to do much to convince us otherwise. The Chiefs really needed someone to step up in the absence of Jamaal Charles, but Jones just wasn’t capable of it. Jones had 153/478/0 with averages of 3.1 YPC and just 3.3 FPG, meaning he was just about worthless. Jones was held to an average of under 3.0 YPC in 10 of 16 games, and he failed to reach the endzone with 5 attempts inside the 5-yard line all season. If Jones were to find a job this off-season – a big if – he’ll enter the 2012 season as a 34-year-old back, and the track record for guys of that age finding success is not very long. Jones keeps himself in great shape, and a club might be enticed to give a strong veteran power back with some experience a shot as a #3 guy, but it’s hard to imagine him landing a higher-profile gig than that.
LaDainian Tomlinson (NYJ) – This could be it for LT. Tomlinson played perhaps his final season and was rather quiet, putting up just 75/280/1 (3.7 YPC) rushing with 42/449/2 receiving for an average of 6.5 FPG. He had double-digit carries only once all season, and while he had a few successful games as a receiver, especially early in the season, he wasn’t dependable for fantasy. Obviously, he still has something to offer a team, especially as a third-down type of player, but he’s going to be 33 in June, and we have to consider the possibility that LT is ready to hang ‘em up for good, as ESPN New York speculates. This is a guy who has been an impact player as recently as 2010, but his production has plummeted over the last three years, and it’s always hard to see one of the greatest fantasy players of all time fizzle out like this. The Jets absolutely need some juice in the backfield to complement Shonn Greene, but it was clear LT was not capable of giving them that any more. If he’s back, expect him to latch on with a contender as a pass-catcher and veteran presence, but little more, and certainly not much of a fantasy option.
Ryan Torain (FA) – There might be no player better suited to sum up “Shanahanigans” than Torain, who had one of the most interesting seasons for an NFL running back this year. Torain suited up in eight games for Washington this past year, totaling 59/200/1 rushing. But his standout performance came in Week Four, when he relieved an injured Tim Hightower to post 19/135/1 off the bench. That’s right. Outside of his huge Week Four, when he didn’t even start, Torain carried a whopping 40 times for 65 yards before getting cut late in the year. Torain’s disappearing act screwed a lot of players, as did Mike Shanahan’s unwillingness to commit to rookie Roy Helu until the second half of the year. Torain ended the year as a street free agent, and he’ll be looking for work from that spot. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t seem too hot. Torain passed through waivers unclaimed late in the year, and there’s probably no better fit for a one-cut, downhill runner than in a Shanahan zone scheme. Torain will be only 26 come Week One, but he’s been an injury risk in the past, and his ineffective 2011 season isn’t going to help him find work. Unfortunately for Torain, backs like him are a dime a dozen in today’s NFL, plus he’s always been an injury risk.
Earnest Graham (TB) – This isn’t the ideal time for Graham to be entering free agency. He’ll be 32 when the 2012 season kicks off, and he missed most of the 2011 season to injury. Graham was lost after only seven games due to a torn Achilles, and he finished with 206 yards on 37 carries (5.6 YPC) and 26/163 on 31 targets, which put him at 5.3 FPG. He’s a versatile player, having played both fullback and tailback the last few seasons, and he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his tires (only 477 carries in eight seasons), but he’s still up there in age coming off a major injury. Graham told the Tampa Bay Times that he expects to be healed by May, and his versatility alone should get him some interest in the free agent market. But he’s going to have to prove his worth in workouts, and he doesn’t have much of a shot to get anything more than a one-year deal.
Maurice Morris (Det) – With both Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles) suffering season-ending injuries, the Lions needed to scramble for production from their backfield, and they tried to get it from Morris, who proved that he’s really no longer suited for more than a change-of-pace role. In 14 games of action, Morris posted 80/316/1 rushing and 26/230/1 receiving, averaging 4.8 FPG. Eventually, he was out-produced by Kevin Smith, a prodigal son the Lions plucked off waivers in the middle of the season. Morris was absolutely fine as a fill-in, but both the Lions and fantasy owners wanted a little more from him, given his perceived increased role. Now Morris, 32, will hit free agency, and his best hope is to convince a team looking for a third back that he still has something left in the tank. His best asset is his versatility, and it’s worth noting that he’s never had more than 161 carries in a season, so it’s not like he’ll break down from overwork. But he’s approaching an age at which few RBs produce, so it might be tough for him to find work this off-season, at least on anything more than a flier deal.
Mewelde Moore (Pit) – The veteran Moore has been a valuable swing man for the Steelers over the last few years, but he hasn’t been relevant for fantasy purposes since 2008. Now that he’s entering his age 30 season, it’s hard to imagine him starting a new trend. In 12 games before succumbing to knee and hamstring ailments, Moore rushed for 157 yards and added 11/104/1 as a receiver, but he was unavailable for the playoffs when he was needed most with Rashard Mendenhall out. Moore hasn’t had more than 200 yards rushing since 2008, and he’s only topped that mark once in the last six seasons anyway. His value comes from his receiving, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review believes the Steelers might want to bring a familiar veteran back on a one-year deal considering Mendenhall’s availability for the start of the 2012 season is in doubt following his late-season ACL tear.
Cadillac Williams (Stl) – The Rams have needed a reliable backup to Steven Jackson for the longest time, so we were indeed surprised when they decided last year that guy was Cadillac, a veteran pushing 30 who has had significant injury problems throughout his career. While he was actually solid in his role, Williams had very little fantasy value, carrying 88 times for 368 yards and a TD with only 13 catches for 86 yards on 22 targets (59.1%). Under new coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the Rams to move on from Williams, and it appears likely that the Rams will try to move to a younger, more reliable backup for Jackson, especially because Fisher loves running the ball. Williams wasn’t terrible, but he had leg problems once again, and he probably can’t count on getting much more than a camp invite for 2012.
Ronnie Brown (Phi) – Eagle fans have been shouting for years that the club needs to add a power back, and they tried with Brown. Of course, the veteran wasn’t a very good fit, and the club tried to trade him to Detroit midseason, an attempted move that might have saved the life of Jerome Harrison when a brain tumor was discovered. Because of the voided trade, the Eagles had to keep Brown, and he ended up with just 42/136/1 rushing on the season, and he didn’t catch a single pass. He now enters his age 30 season with a bunch of injuries behind him, and he proved in 2011 that he isn’t much of a fit for a spread attack. His options will be limited, but remember the Lions did try to deal for him, so he might still have a place as a veteran backup somewhere. That place just won’t be Philadelphia.
Jerome Harrison (Det) – Harrison was brought in as an insurance policy after Mike Leshoure was lost in the preseason to an Achilles injury, but he wasn’t particularly effective, carrying the ball just 14 times for 41 yards. His ineffectiveness actually led to the Lions discussing a swap of ineffective backs with the Eagles – Harrison for Ronnie Brown. But the trade was voided when a brain tumor was discovered during Harrison’s physical, a test that might have saved his life. Harrison’s prognosis looks good, but he’s 29 and is coming off obviously major surgery. He’s a fairly gifted player, and he’s lucky to be in good health, so he might get a camp invite, but there are obviously big questions here about his viability.
Derrick Ward (Hou) – Ward will be entering his age 32 season in 2012, and he’s coming off a year in which he was little more than an insurance policy (an insurance policy that got hurt himself). Ward played in 11 games and had 45 carries for 154 yards and 2 TDs, but between injuries and being way behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate on the depth charts, he didn’t play as much of a role as he did in 2010. To the club, he was a valuable veteran presence, but little more. The Houston Chronicle noted that Ward’s declining skills means they don’t want to trust him in a role where he’d be required to play very much – they want him back as a “running back mentor.” It’s likely a player of Ward’s age won’t find a better situation than that, so we could see him returning as a #3 RB on a minimum deal.
Kevin Faulk (NE) – After suffering an ACL tear last season, Faulk wasn’t active this season until Week Eight, when he surprisingly played 39 snaps, gaining 52 yards on 11 total touches. Of course, that was just Bill Belichick trolling the fantasy community, because Faulk played 49 snaps total over the rest of the season, and he finished with 91 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches. He was also inactive for the Super Bowl, which was a shame for Faulk. He’s had a fantastic career as a third-down option, but he’ll be entering his age 36 season in 2012, and if the Patriots don’t want him back, we’d expect Faulk to hang ‘em up.
Chester Taylor (Ari) – Taylor was a disaster signing for the Bears prior to the 2010 season, leading to Chicago’s cutting him before the 2011 campaign kicked off. The Cardinals were willing to take a shot on the versatile veteran with rookie Ryan Williams out for the year with a knee injury, but it simply appears as if Taylor has absolutely nothing left. Even with starter Beanie Wells’ injury struggles, Taylor didn’t contribute much, with 20/77/1 rushing and 10/91/0 receiving on the season. At his best, Taylor has been a versatile RB capable of contributing as both a runner and a receiver, but he hasn’t topped 4.0 YPC since 2007, and the Arizona Republic reports it’s highly unlikely the Cardinals will bring him back in 2012. Will any team show interest?
Jerious Norwood (Stl) – The Rams, looking for a dynamic back to fit into the lineup behind Steven Jackson, decided to take a one-year risk on Norwood, who had spent the first five (often injury-plagued) seasons of his career in a Falcons uniform. Norwood actually managed to stay healthy for the most part in 2011, but he didn’t show it on the field and was stuck behind Jackson and Cadillac Williams, carrying just 24 times for 61 yards, and he didn’t catch a pass. At his best, Norwood was a versatile player capable of putting up decent flex numbers, but he hasn’t been relevant for fantasy since 2008. No matter where he lands, we’d be pretty surprised if that changed now.
Sammy Morris (Dal) – Morris started the 2011 season with the Patriots but didn’t see any action before getting waived – he was picked up by the Cowboys late in the season after DeMarco Murray’s injury. Morris saw action in the final three games of the season, posting 28/98/0 rushing and 5/13/0 as a receiver. A versatile veteran, Morris turns 35 in March, and he admitted to reporters after the season that he has very little, if anything, left in the tank. It might be time for Morris to call it quits.
Restricted Free Agents
Kahlil Bell (Chi) – Bell was a nice surprise down the stretch in 2011, becoming a true Waiver Wire superstar for the fantasy postseason. Bell played in 11 games, running for 79/337/0 and adding 19/133/1 as a receiver, but over the last three weeks, when he saw his biggest workload starting for an injured Matt Forte, he ranked 12th at the RB position with 13.6 FPG. Because Marion Barber is old and was generally ineffective, it’s no surprise that the Bears would love to bring Bell back as Forte insurance, especially since Forte plans to enter the off-season in his own contract battle. He’s not a superstar and he put the ball on the ground too often, but he’s a versatile player who can clearly fill in admirably for Forte in a pinch. His skills will make him attractive to other clubs, perhaps enough to even pay an RFA draft-pick tender, but he might not have more value to anyone than he will to the Bears.
LaRod Stephens-Howling (Ari) – We like the man they call “Hyphen,” and he made a few spectacular plays in 2011, but his total stat line doesn’t really suggest significant fantasy value. Stephens-Howling didn’t get many touches, with 43/167/0 rushing and 13/234/2 receiving, but he has the kind of ability to carve out a nice role in the future, especially in a backfield that features two injury concerns in Beanie Wells andRyan Williams. As we’ve seen with Darren Sproles, a smaller scatback can indeed carve out a major role, but Stephens-Howling just hasn’t been able to put it all together in his three NFL seasons so far. That said, he is valuable as a change-of-pace player and he’s a gifted return man, so the Cardinals are expected to place a 2nd-round RFA tender on him, according to the team’s official website. We’d be surprised if he drew interest from another club with that tender.
Lorenzo Booker (Min) – The Vikings could have used a viable third-down back in each of the last two seasons since Chester Taylordeparted, but it’s clear Booker is not that guy. In 2011, Booker gained just 52 yards on 13 carries and 82 yards on 8 receptions, and he couldn’t even see the field when Adrian Peterson went down with an injury late in the year (Percy Harvin was essentially the third-down RB behind Toby Gerhart). Booker will be 28 this season, and he might latch on to some team as a #4 RB and kick returner, but we wouldn’t be shocked if his time in Minnesota was up because the team picked up former Charger Jordan Todman late in the 2011 season and we’ve been told they are pretty high on Todman.
Received Franchise Tag
Wes Welker (NE) – Welker’s season ended on a really rough note after his rare, crucial drop in the Super Bowl (it wasn’t a gimme catch), but his return to the Patriots remains a no-brainer. Welker has been a PPR machine for the Patriots, and that continued in 2011 despite his production somehow getting overshadowed by the TE tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Welker caught a league-high 122 passes for a career-high 1569 yards on 173 targets (70.5%) with 9 TDs and an average of 13.4 FPG in standard scoring. He had eight games with at least 100 receiving yards, and for all the attention given to the other guys, Welker was as good as ever, statistically, and was obviously a key component in a Patriot offense that saw QB Tom Brady crack the 5,000-yard mark. The Patriots simply can’t afford to lose Welker, who has a tremendous rapport with Brady and provides a consistent sustaining element to the offense through the passing game. The Patriots will likely also target a deep threat – Brandon Lloyd, perhaps – but that will almost certainly be in addition to locking up Welker. Defenses rarely can adequately defend Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez, so bringing back Welker was a no-brainer for the Patriots. The team waited until the last minute to franchise him, which could be a sign that a new long-term deal is close.
Dwayne Bowe (KC) – No one could have expected Bowe to duplicate his 15-TD 2010 season, and while he didn’t, he still had a pretty impressive 2011, given the circumstances. For much of the way, his QB play really went downhill, as Matt Cassel didn’t play well before an injury gave the job, temporarily, to the overmatched Tyler Palko. Still, Bowe generally put up numbers with Cassel, Palko, and Kyle Orton, as he finished with 81/1159/5 on 136 targets (59.6%) for an average of 9.2 FPG. The only real difference from the previous season was the sharp decline in TDs. New Chief HC Romeo Crennel has made it clear that bringing back Bowe was a top priority, and with free agent CB Stanford Routt signed, the team didn’t have to use the franchise tag on CB Brandon Carr. While the QB situation isn’t ideal, Bowe has a pretty good rapport with Cassel, so using the franchise tag on him made a lot of sense. Ideally, the Chiefs will get a lot of improvement out of Jonathan Baldwin, who had a disappointing rookie season, and they will also get TE Tony Moeaki back. But Bowe remains crucial to this offense as it switches from Todd Haley to new OC Brian Daboll. Daboll did a nice job with Matt Moore in Miami, and hopefully the same can happen with Cassel, who is the early favorite to start, in 2012. But if Cassel is to succeed again, having Bowe back on the outside is a big key. Now, they just have to work on a long-term deal to keep him in Kansas City.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Plaxico Burress (NYJ) – After three years away from football because of a stint in prison, Burress found a home in New York and actually had an okay year, given the circumstances. He isn’t the player he once was and certainly wasn’t a dynamic playmaker at WR, but he was still a nice red zone threat, which is what gave him his low-end fantasy value. The Jets had no downfield passing game with QB Mark Sanchez, and Burress couldn’t get separation anyway, but he used his big frame well and hauled in 8 TDs, finishing the season with 45/612/8 on 95 targets (just 47.4%) with an average of 6.8 FPG. For fantasy, he was always hit or miss, as he was a risky low-end option who typically needed to score to come through for you. He received 22 targets in the red zone – 7th in the league – but he had more than 50 yards only six times. At this point in his career, Burress probably shouldn’t be starting as a #2 WR, as he did with the Jets, but he can still provide value to a team as a threat in the red zone. The Eagles pursued Burress before he signed with the Jets last year, and they appear to be another potential landing spot when Burress hits the market again.
Braylon Edwards (FA) – Edwards hit free agency after the 2010 season with the Jets, but there wasn’t a lot of demand for him. The Jets let him walk, re-signing Santonio Holmes and signing Plaxico Burress, and Edwards ended up only getting a one-year deal from the 49ers. However, his stint in San Francisco didn’t work out as he would have hoped. He struggled to stay on the field, posting only 15/181 on 33 targets in nine games with nagging knee and shoulder problems limiting him. The 49ers ultimately had enough despite their lack of depth at WR, as he was cut after Week Sixteen. No one claimed him on waivers, and now he’ll try to find his third team in three years at age 29. Given that there was limited demand for Edwards last off-season – his deal was for one year and only $1 million – it’s tough to see him commanding much this off-season after he struggled to contribute for the Niners. Jet HC Rex Ryan recently complimented Edwards, mentioning how good of a blocker he was, according to the New York Daily News, so the Jets can’t be ruled out as a team that could sign him cheap for depth. He’ll get a shot somewhere, but he has to prove himself again. He’s had only one truly big season in his seven-year career (2007 with the Browns).
Terrell Owens (FA) – Last time Owens was on an NFL field, he actually had a pretty good season. In 13 games with the Bengals in 2010, T.O. finished 11th among WRs with an average of 11.7 FPG, despite the fact that he’s not as explosive as he once was. But then he tore his ACL, and now he’s become unwanted. Agent Drew Rosenhaus can talk all he wants, but literally zero NFL teams showed up at a workout Owens held in October to try to prove that he had recovered from the knee injury. Owens has managed to stay in the news, though, and he’s actually playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League, a team that he now partly owns, according to ESPN.com. He scored 3 TDs in a game a couple of weeks ago, too! Owens insisted that he has not retired from the NFL, and he wants to “play a couple more years.” Of course, whether he’s able to depends on a team actually stepping up and signing him. Yes, he produced not too long ago, but teams are always wary of potential chemistry issues, and it doesn’t help that he’s now 38 years old and coming off a torn ACL. Perhaps a team will finally give him a shot, but no one is going to invest anything in him at this stage in his career.
Roy Williams (Chi) – Mike Martz is gone from Chicago, so the Bear fans can probably say goodbye to Williams as well. He was inexplicably plugged right into the starting lineup in the preseason after having success under Martz in Detroit way back in 2007, but he’s just not a reliable target anymore. In 15 games, he had 37/507/2 on 62 targets (59.7%) for an average of 4.2 FPG, ranking him 80th among WRs. The Bears wanted Williams because they needed size in their receiving corps, but he just didn’t fit in adequately. He actually had a couple solid games to end the season – without Jay Cutler at QB – but he rarely had big games and had only 2 TDs all season. Plus, he had some total duds, as he was held without a catch or had only 1 catch six times. He’s 30 years old, so it’s not like his career is over, but he struggles with drops and has caught between 36-38 passes in each of the last four seasons. You know what you’re going to get from him, and it’s not much. Someone else will give him a chance, but it’s hard to imagine him returning to Chicago.
Mike Sims-Walker (FA) – It seems like decades ago that Sims-Walker was relevant for fantasy. People bought into his handful of big games in 2009, he mostly flopped in 2010, and he was a total bust in a new home in St. Louis in 2010. Sims-Walker averaged 8.6 FPG in 2009, but that number dropped to 7 FPG the next season. There was hope that he’d be a solid fit for the Rams’ offense under OC Josh McDaniels, but he managed only 12 catches before the Rams traded for Brandon Lloyd and cut Sims-Walker in October. He ended up back in Jacksonville, where he was waived with an injury settlement because of a knee injury in November. Ankle injuries held him back in 2010, and now the unsuccessful 2011 campaign combined with the knee injury surely make him a risky. If healthy, his past success – however brief – will surely get him a look, but no one is going to commit to him.
Mark Clayton (Stl) – At the beginning of the 2010 season, it looked like big things were about to happen for Clayton. After joining the Rams from the Ravens, Clayton and new QB Sam Bradford displayed a great rapport, as he had 22/300/2 in his first four games in St. Louis. However, then he tore his ACL, and upon finally returning to action in Weeks 10-11 of 2011, Clayton was placed on IR and ultimately underwent knee surgery again in December. So, we’ve seen Clayton make only a brief appearance since the early part of the 2010 season, and he’s obviously a huge injury risk. Someone will likely give him a shot if he’s cleared medically, but he’s not going to get a long-term deal anywhere.
Bernard Berrian (FA) – The Viking receiving corps had horrendous depth last year, but that didn’t stop them from jettisoning our old friend Berrian in the middle of the season. According to 1500ESPN.com, Berrian missed meetings and struggled on the field and didn’t appear to care. He finished the season with a whopping 7/91 in five games and was unable to find a home the rest of the year. In his last full year, he managed only 28/252 with the Vikings in 2010. His 900+ yard seasons in 2007-08 are far into the past and forgotten now, and it’s tough to imagine the 31-year-old Berrian ever having fantasy relevance again.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Oak) – From 2004-09, Houshmandzadeh had at least 900 receiving yards every season, but, at 34 years old, he’s clearly well past his prime. He managed only 11/146/1 for the Raiders this season after catching just 30 passes for the Ravens in 2010, so not much can be expected from him. The Raiders have young talent at WR, and with Hue Jackson gone, it’s hard to imagine Houshmandzadeh returning to Oakland, despite his history with QB Carson Palmer. He’s rarely been relevant over the last couple years, and while he may get a shot in a training camp, his days of producing for fantasy appear to be over.
Patrick Crayton (SD) – Crayton has been an important piece for San Diego in terms of depth, at times, over the last two years, but his numbers fell in 2011 despite playing in six more games than the previous year. After averaging 18.4 YPC in 2010, Crayton put up 23/248/1 on 33 targets, giving him an average of just 10.8 YPC this past season. He was irrelevant for fantasy all season, as the Chargers got a full season from Vincent Jackson and eventually gave more playing time to Vincent Brown when Malcom Floyd was hurt. With the promising Brown in the mix, the Chargers will likely move on from Crayton. Their priority at WR is Jackson, and Crayton really wasn’t in the mix much with only a few targets most weeks. He can still provide depth somewhere, but he’s 33 years old and didn’t make many big plays in 2011. The only chance he has to return is if Jackson leaves for another team, but that is very possible.
Greg Camarillo (Min) – After a couple solid 50+ catch seasons in Miami, Camarillo has been very quiet in two years with the Vikings. He fell off the map this past year, as he was a depth receiver for a team that rarely spread things out and used a lot of two-TE formations. Even withBernard Berrian shipped out of town and Michael Jenkins hurt, Camarillo finished the season with only 9/121 on 24 targets. Camarillo was a pretty solid possession receiver in Miami, but he doesn’t appear to have any value in a Viking uniform.
David Anderson (Was) – Anderson bounced around but failed to do anything memorable in 2011. After getting cut by the Texans, the team re-signed him in September – only to get rid of him again in October. He eventually ended up in Washington, where he had a handful of catches and actually scored a TD against the Patriots in Week Fourteen. He was pushed into the mix in Washington by default because of the plethora of injuries they experienced out wide. An undersized player, Anderson is a rotational slot receiver, at best. He has 88 total catches in six years.
Bryant Johnson (Hou) – While he was a bust as a 1st-round pick, Johnson has managed to stick around in the NFL for nine seasons. In his first seven, he caught between 35-49 passes every year, but he’s mostly been forgotten the last two in Detroit and Houston. As the #4 WR for much of the year with the Texans in 2011, Johnson managed only 6/90, but he did catch a TD pass in their meaningless Week Seventeen game. He could be picked up for depth, but obviously he doesn’t have fantasy value
Jerheme Urban (KC) – Believe it or not, Urban actually started a game for the Chiefs last year. Of course, he made very little impact on offense, catching 4/35/1 for the season, and while he’s typically a valuable special teams player, he played in only six games all season. Previously, he missed the entire 2010 season with a hand injury, and his best offensive season came in 2008, when he had 34 catches for the Cardinals. If someone gives him a shot, it will be because he can contribute on special teams. Perhaps he’ll follow Todd Haley to Pittsburgh.
Ruvell Martin (Buf) – The odd thing about Martin is that he’s actually produced occasionally when given a chance. In 2010, he caught passes in only two games with the Seahawks, but he put up 4/73/1 and 3/85 in those games to have some relevance. However, that late-season production didn’t earn him anything this past season, as he ended up in Buffalo and totaled 7/82 in a pair of late season games. At 29 years old, Martin has caught a total of 20 passes in the last three years, so he’s a depth/special teams guy and little more.
Rashied Davis (Det) – Davis was the Lions fourth-leading wide receiver last season, but that’s not saying much. The Lions had TEs and RBs heavily involved in the passing game, and Davis finished the season with only 4 catches for 63 yards. He hasn’t had double-digit catches since 2008, when he caught 35 passes for the Lions. He’s a special teams guy, and that’s pretty much it.
Restricted Free Agents
Mike Wallace (Pit) – A lot of the Steelers’ success on offense the last couple years has hinged on QB Ben Roethlisberger’s improvised passes, often downfield to Wallace, who has emerged as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. In 2011, Wallace got off to a ridiculous start, putting up 100 yards in each of his first three games and averaging 13.8 FPG in the first half of the season. However, defenses adjusted and worked to take away big plays – plus Roethlisberger played hurt – and Wallace failed to hit 100 yards and averaged only 7.8 FPG in the second of the season. For the season, he caught a solid 72 passes on 112 targets (64.3%) for 1193 yards and 8 TDs to average 10.8 FPG, while teammate Antonio Brown emerged to replace Hines Ward as a more complete receiver opposite Wallace. The Steelers surely want Wallace back, although they are expected to run the ball a bit more under Todd Haley as they change their approach from the tenure of former OC Bruce Arians. The Steelers did not use the franchise tag on Wallace, thanks to their shaky salary cap situation. He now has a restricted tender on him, which would cost a 1st-round pick and a new contract. A team desperate for an instant-impact deep threat can’t be ruled out, since all it will take now is a healthy contract offer and a #1 pick. Wallace it particularly interesting for teams picking near the end of Round One this year, since those picks aren’t as valuable as early picks. So teams like New England, Baltimore, and San Francisco could be interested. Obviously, the Steelers still want him back badly, and with Brown continuing to develop, defenses won’t be able to focus all their attention on him as easily, and he certainly fits what the Steelers do with Roethlisberger at quarterback. Wallace’s status is clearly one of the biggest offseason stories for fantasy football.
Danny Amendola (Stl) – The Rams had plenty of issues in 2011, but Amendola’s absence certainly played a big role in the passing game’s struggles. The offense line was a problem too, and so was the lack of consistency among the starters on the outside. But QB Sam Bradfordmissed Amendola, who provided a sustaining element to the passing game as a reliable underneath receiver out of the slot in 2010. In a breakout season, Amendola averaged only 8.1 YPC, but he was a PPR machine with 85 catches for 689 yards and 3 TDs on 123 targets (69.1%). He was useless in standard leagues, but he had consistently good value in PPR formats. Unfortunately, his season ended quickly in 2011, as he lasted only one game before a nasty dislocated elbow sidelined him the rest of the way. The ugly injury means he probably won’t command a lot from other teams, and as a restricted free agent it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up back in St. Louis, although the Rams do have a couple young receivers in Greg Salas and Austin Pettis who can both play Amendola’s spot in the slot. If nothing else, the team should be inclined to keep Amendola around just to help Bradford.
Matt Willis (Den) – An occasional training camp star and little more, Willis caught exactly 1 pass in half the games last year, but rarely did he do more, aside from the 4/75 he had against the Bears. The Broncos run a very conservative offense under John Fox, utilizing base formations that typically don’t feature more than two WRs. Willis was the team’s #4 last year, and the one positive is that his 18 catches were at least significantly more than his previous seasons, in which he totaled 2 catches. He’s not hopeless when given a chance, but he’s still little more than a depth guy. It’s possible the Broncos will keep him as a cheap bench option. #3 WR Eddie Royal is an unrestricted free agent.
Brett Swain (SF) – After recording a career-high 6 catches in 2010 with Green Bay, Swain managed a whole 2 grabs for the 49ers, who had shaky depth at WR, in 2011. In three years, Swain has eight career catches, so he’s someone who a team will keep around only for depth and special teams purposes at this point. He’s not proven anything as a receiver and will probably never be on the fantasy radar.
Received Franchise Tag
Fred Davis (Was) – The Redskins had a handful of contributors at the WR position this year, but no real dynamic talents. Given that aging veterans Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney were their best players on the perimeter, it was good news, then, that Davis broke out at the TE position. In 12 games of action before losing the last four with a banned substance suspension, Davis caught 59 passes for 793 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 8.1 FPG, which tied him with Tony Gonzalez for the 5th-most in the NFL. We’ve said for two years now that Davis is a lot more exciting and dangerous than the banged-up and declining Chris Cooley, who played in only five games this year and caught only 8 passes thanks to knee and hand injuries. With Cooley out, Davis was pretty much the glue that held the passing game together. He moves well, and the coaches love extending him from the formation. Plus, with his fantastic vertical speed from the TE position, he becomes a really difficult matchup for LBs and safeties across the middle. Chances are the Redskins will look to upgrade the QB position this off-season, and it’d be a big help to their new signal caller to have a dynamic weapon like Davis creating havoc across the middle of the field. That’s why the Redskins planned to make Davis a priority this off-season and opted to use the franchise tag on him – despite his being in the league’s drug program – and they’ll probably try to work out a long-term deal.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Dallas Clark (Ind) – The Colts have absolutely gutted their roster in the last week, starting at the top with Peyton Manning, so it’s probably no surprise that they don’t find room amongst their 53 for an aging, oft-injured TE like Clark. Clark, who will be 33 in June, has managed to play just 17 games over the past two seasons, catching a total of 71 passes for 699 yards and 5 TDs. And while Clark has always been prolific as a pass-catcher, he doesn’t really fit the mold of the Jimmy Grahams and Rob Gronkowskis who are revolutionizing the TE position. Clark’s game, like Manning’s, is one of precision and timing, and obviously it’s led to speculation that the two veterans will latch on with the same club this month. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better fit than that for Clark. He’s old, his athleticism is declining, and he’s coming off of two injury-plagued seasons. Perhaps his best chance to find work will be with Manning serving as an active campaigner for his services whenever Peyton picks a club. If Clark wants to extend his fantasy relevance, that’s probably going to be his only real hope. And if he does latch on with Manning, it is worth noting that he caught 100 passes in 2009. Maybe there is a bit of PPR life left in him in the right situation.
Visanthe Shiancoe (Min) – Shiancoe is an athletic player who has had some mid-range value as a fantasy player over the last few years, but it appears as if his days with the Vikings are over. At the TE position with Minnesota this past season, Shiancoe was the starter, going for 36/409/3 on 70 targets (a really poor 51.4%, especially for a TE), and a poor 3.9 FPG. Shiancoe can stretch the field and be a weapon in the red zone, but entering his age 32 season with an expiring contract, it’s hard to imagine him sticking around, especially since Minnesota has gifted youngster Kyle Rudolph ready to take over at the position. Of course, that doesn’t mean Shiancoe can’t help a contender. He’s never been prolific, but he can exploit mismatches down the seam, and he scored 11 TDs as recently as 2009 with QB Brett Favre. Shiancoe’s best bet for fantasy relevance – or extending his career in general – will probably be latching on with a contender looking for a strong #2 TE or to add some legitimacy to a position where they were lacking it in 2011. That might not mean he’ll be a fantasy starter, but he does have some gas left in the tank. You have to think the Giants will be looking at their former draft pick if Shiancoe hits the open market. We asked head coach Tom Coughlin about their TE situation at the combine, and he not surprisingly said it was a huge priority given the injuries to their top two guys in the Super Bowl.
Jeremy Shockey (Car) – It’s appearing to be nearing the end for Shockey, who will enter his age 32 season in 2012, but it doesn’t look like he’s ready to hang ‘em up just yet, and he’s still a good fit in Carolina’s system, if the Panthers want him back. While Greg Olsen was considered the starter, Shockey was on the field just enough to take opportunities away from Olsen, which made both guys tough to trust for fantasy but valuable weapons for rookie QB Cam Newton. Shockey saw action in 15 games and had a respectable season with 37/455/4 (12.3 YPC) on 62 targets (59.7% caught), which was good for 4.6 FPG (25th at the TE position). Obviously, Shockey can’t move like he used to, but he’s still a physical player who can contribute in the red zone, and he’s unlikely to find an opportunity in a TE-friendly offense like he already has in Carolina. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Shockey back on another mutually friendly deal, because the fit here seems too natural and he did have a pretty nice season for a guy past his prime.
Bo Scaife (Cin) – The Bengals signed Scaife after he lost his job to Jared Cook in Tennessee at the end of the 2010 season. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury that landed him on the IR at the end of the preseason. Scaife has been in the league since 2005 and at 31, his best years are definitely behind him. His last full season, 2010, saw him put up 36/318/4 in 14 games, but those numbers were down from his previous two season in Tennessee. Outside of providing veteran depth, there’s not much to get excited about when it comes to Scaife, especially coming off a season-ending injury
Restricted Free Agents
None of note
FantasyGuru.com Senior Writers Matt Camp, Joe Dolan, and Matt Brown contributed to this report, as well as Publisher John Hansen