Free Agents - QBs and RBs
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 5th, 2011

Breaking down the potential once the lockout is lifted, there will be a plethora of free agents on the market. Jason LaCanfora of NFL Network expects players who have accrued at least four years in the league to be eligible for unrestricted free agency. If so, it could be a crazy time with situations changing by the second. Many fantasy owners would expect most players to be switching teams. But, the other issue at play with regard to free agency will be the rules around the salary cap. Many of the national beat writers expect rules around a minimum cash cap. What this means is that teams will be forced to spend a certain amount of the cap every year. This is a great rule for fans. Their home team must spend money in order to be competitive. If this rule goes into effect, most teams will hope to sign their own players first before looking at others. This makes perfect sense with the shortened offseason activities. Keeping current players who know the coaches and the playbooks will be important. Too much player turnover will be disruptive to teams.

We will examine the possible free agent quarterbacks and running backs in this article. The players who have been slapped with the Franchise Tag will be omitted since they will likely be back with their 2010 team.

Quarterbacks

There are a handful of free agent quarterbacks who have potential to produce in 2011, whether with the former team or a new one. Below are the free agent signal callers with a chance to make a fantasy impact this season.

Good chance to be a starter

  • Matt Hasselbeck - Fantasy owners should expect the aging passer back in Seattle. He was offered $7 million to re-sign in Seattle but decided to explore the marketplace. If the Seahawks are still willing, Hasselbeck should jump all over the opportunity. While not a fantasy factor in Seattle, with few weapons to target, Hasselbeck is worthy of rostering in most leagues. There is a slim chance he ends up in Tennessee, Arizona, or Miami, but only the situation in Arizona could make the 35 year old a fantasy starter. He did play better late in the season but needs to stay healthy. In addition, the TD/INT ratio of 12/17 has to improve or Hasselbeck is nothing more than waiver wire fodder.
  • Alex Smith - Smith is expected to re-sign in San Francisco. Coach Harbaugh has been fawning all over Smith through the media during the lockout. Even if the former first overall pick is the starter, what are the expectations? Fantasy owners cannot think that he will suddenly be effective. The drafting of Colin Kaepernick in April means that Smith will be the starter until the rookie is ready. It could take a year - or just a few games - but it will happen.

Could compete to be a starter

  • Rex Grossman - If he re-signs with the Redskins as expected, Grossman will compete with John Beck to be the starter. After the fiasco with Donovan McNabb last season, it is difficult to believe the team will go into the season with only these two journeymen. Grossman is not worthy of a roster spot unless in the deepest of leagues. He barely completed half his passes last season. Washington has few weapons in the passing game, making the task more difficult for the pair of career backups.
  • Kerry Collins - As an aging veteran with an inflated self worth, Collins has stated that he will re-sign with Tennessee ONLY IF the Titans will let him compete for the starting job. Did he miss the NFL Draft where Jake Locker was a Top 10 pick? In his "advanced" age, has he forgotten how pathetic his play was last year? Collins will be a back up if he cannot come to terms with Tennessee. Either way, he is far from the fantasy radar.
  • Marc Bulger - Bulger could sign with either Arizona or Miami to compete for a starting job. But, there are reports (one by former teammate Kurt Warner) that state his desire to remain a backup in Baltimore. Bulger was abused his last season in St. Louis and may be looking for a steady paycheck without getting hit every snap. He would vault to roster-worthy status if Flacco was injured.

Players to keep an eye on

  • Matt Leinart - Leinart has disappointed so far in his professional career. There is a very slim chance that his former college coach brings in the lefty, foregoing Hasselbeck, to compete with shaky starter Charlie Whitehurst. Pete Carroll has bypassed Leinart once so it is far from a given that Leinart ends up in Seattle. The Texans will try hard to re-sign Matt Schaub's backup.
  • Bruce Gradkowski - After suffering through injuries in Oakland, the gritty Gradkowski could emerge as veteran competition in a place like Minnesota or Tennessee. If so, he would definitely be a player to watch. Gradkowski has produced fantasy numbers in a much worse situation.
  • Tyler Thigpen - Thigpen would instantly be worth monitoring if he lands in Buffalo as the backup to Fitzpatrick. Fantasy owners should be reminded of the strong performance Thigpen had as a rookie in Kansas City, running Chan Gailey's "Pistol" offense. Do not discount this move in deep or two quarterback leagues. Thigpen could be a surprise fantasy starter.

Running Backs

The running back free agent class is strong and deep. This group of players does not even include the ball carriers expected to be released or traded.

Expected to be the primary ball carrier

  • DeAngelo Williams - For the money it will take to sign Williams, he will be expected to carry the ball often. There is talk of Carolina wanting to re-sign the tailback to keep the Williams-Stewart combination together, but he is not expected back with the Panthers. The most likely destination is the Denver Broncos. The obvious reason is head coach John Fox, who recently departed Carolina. His fantasy value is low off the fantasy-plagued 2010 season. A rebound campaign in a new situation seems to be on the horizon.
  • Ahmad Bradshaw - Bradshaw is expected back with the New York Giants. He was very effective last season as the team's primary ball carrier. The shifty runner adds a play-making dimension to the offense that Brandon Jacobs cannot fathom. There would be a few teams clamoring for Bradshaw if he leaves New York, with Miami at the top of the list. In addition, if fantasy owners start to get the feeling that this is the most likely scenario, they would be wise to scoop up Jacobs on the cheap. Only rookie Da'Rel Scott would be competition for touches.
  • Cedric Benson - While his career was revived in Cincinnati, the plodding back will not be a hot commodity on the free agent market. The Bengals are hoping to bring back the veteran. He knows the offense and will not inhibit the team from strongly addressing the position in next year's NFL Draft. Benson has been consistent but struggles to make a big play. His 2010 3.5 yards per carry average shows the limits of Benson's ability and why he will not be sought after to be a starter. He will be 29 years old late in the season and only possesses a 3.7 career yards per carry average. Benson will start in Cincinnati, but not elsewhere.

Will compete to be the starter

  • Joseph Addai - Addai has been underrated in fantasyland during his tenure in Indianapolis. He finished as a fantasy RB1 (Top 12 backs) in three of his five seasons as a Colt. The Indianapolis organization is not prone to re-signing older running backs unless they are reasonably priced. But, with little else at the position, remaining with the team could be Addai's best option. He knows the Colt offense and has the trust of Peyton Manning, something Donald Brown does not possess. Addai's fantasy outlook is brightest back in Indianapolis. Fantasy owners should root for a reunion for the two sides.
  • Ronnie Brown - Brown and backfield mate Ricky Williams are free agents this offseason. The Dolphins drafted Daniel Thomas, leaving Brown to look for a role with another team. He could land in a few spots (Washington, Denver, New York Giants, etc) that would propel Brown back to viability. Otherwise, it appears that he will morph into a complementary role, limiting any fantasy upside.

Players to watch where they land

  • Darren Sproles - While it would be asking too much for Sproles to land a bellcow role, he could be a fantasy force as a change of pace back in Miami, St. Louis or Tampa Bay. The best landing spot for fantasy owners would with the Rams as a complement to Steven Jackson. The speed of Sproles on the turf, in a Josh McDaniels' offense, could make him a fantasy starter ... especially in PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues.
  • Cadillac Williams - Williams has lost a step after the knee injuries but could flourish in a committee role. With his slashing style, landing with the Redskins or Giants could be a boon. The Rams are also an option as they seek to find a back up (and supporting back) to Jackson.
  • Jason Snelling - Snelling has voiced his preference to remain with the Falcons. He has been surprisingly effective as Michael Turner's back up. The market for Snelling's services is not expected to be large, but he is a well-rounded player who could pay big dividends if landing in the right situation. The bruising rusher has averaged over four yards per carry and is a very good receiver for a 235-pound back. He would make a nice fit in Baltimore if Willis McGahee was jettisoned. But, re-signing in Atlanta is the most likely outcome.

Longshots to keep an eye on

  • Jerome Harrison - Most fantasy owners remember the awesome string of games Harrison had to end the 2009 season for the Cleveland Browns. Underrated as a backup, Harrison has averaged 4.6 yards on 373 professional carries. If he lands in a committee or as the primary reserve behind an established starter, Harrison is worth a roster spot in deeper leagues. Even last year in Philadelphia as McCoy's backup, the veteran averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 7.1 yards per reception. This is not by accident. He is an underrated football player with some upside.
  • Jerious Norwood - Norwood has been off fantasy radars for a couple of years now as he has battled injuries. It seems as though he has been in the NFL a long time, but will only turn 28 years old in July. If Norwood has regained a semblance of his former speed, he could shock the fantasy world if landing in a good situation. Yes, that is a couple of "ifs" but stranger things have happened in the past.

Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any suggestions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.

© 2011 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved