Fantasy Impact of the Lockout
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 21st, 2011

The excitement is building as the lockout is almost over and the preseason is on the horizon. There WILL be football games in just a few weeks. In this article, we will look at the fantasy impact of the lockout as well as what to expect when the lockout is lifted. This has been a weird football offseason with no rookie camps, no training camps, and no volunteer workouts to speak of. Yes, there should be training camps starting in just a few days, but the output of such camps will be limited with the abbreviated time to organize and evaluate the players.

The biggest impact of the lockout will be on the teams who have new coaching staffs or are installing new schemes on offense or defense. When we look at the teams with new head coaches, most (obviously) are poor teams. Of the teams changing head coaches, the two teams least effected by the change will be the those who kept the interim coach from the end of last year, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. But, even with those two teams, there has been turnover. Dallas now has a new defense and defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan. Also, as we saw at the end of the 2010 season, Jason Garrett's offense as the head coach was more aggressive than when he reported to Wade Phillips. The Dallas offense will be explosive. In Minnesota, the transition from Brett Favre to either rookie Christian Ponder or a retread veteran acquired via trade or free agency will be huge. The Vikings have gone from an experienced team to an old team very quickly. This looks like a transition year for the men in purple. In Oakland and Tennessee, internal coaches are taking over the reins. Both teams are looking for a spark after frustrating 2010 campaigns. The other teams with new head coaches all look to improve off of dismal seasons. The lack of an offseason will hinder teams like Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, and San Francisco. All have new head coaches looking to install new systems and wanting to change the teams' culture. The lockout will hurt these teams tremendously ... but, will we notice?

Another victim of the lockout has been the incoming rookie class, especially at the quarterback position. The transition to the professional ranks is difficult enough on a first-year passer that missing almost the entire offseason is a huge blow. The rookie quarterbacks are at a big disadvantage when compared to even average veteran competition. If you are looking for proof of this, look no further than Jacksonville and San Francisco. David Garrard and Alex Smith are strong favorites to start most of the games this season for their respective teams. Even the quarterbacks thrown into the fire week one will suffer due to the decreased time learning the offense and working with the receivers. The lockout has made a difficult situation MUCH more difficult. The wide receiver position is no different in that it usually takes players a while to transition ... and now that transition period has been delayed several months.

Another impact of the lockout will be the increased number of free agents re-signing with their 2010 teams. Considering the diminished training camp, NFL clubs will look to re-sign free agents from last year just because they are familiar with the offense or defense. This makes sense because the coaching staff knows the strengths and flaws of their own free agent players and realize that it will take too long to incorporate too many new free agents into their system. There will be approximately 500 free agents on the market this offseason. Since games will be starting soon, and an expected higher salary cap to spend, teams will make re-signing their players a priority.

One of the more interesting aspects of the lockout has been the impact of having free agency AFTER the NFL Draft. Most seasons, the free agency period opens in March with the Draft in April. This allows teams to address needs in free agency, then draft players for the future. But, since most teams filled voids via the Draft, the market for most of the free agents has decreased. Yes, the market for the top tier players will be just as high, but this will not be the case for the decent starting caliber players. There will be several surprises where established, but declining, veterans will not have many offers outside of re-signing with the old team. Also, we may see an increase in one-year (or two-year) deals for free agents hoping to have a good season and parlay that into a big contract. With the teams wanting to re-sign their players, and the decreased market for free agents, this might be the best option for many.

On a similar note as above, expect the franchise tags from before the lockout to still be in place after the lockout is lifted. While this may not sound like a big deal, let's look at the players who were eligible for free agency prior to being slapped with the tag. What would happen if players like Michael Vick, David Harris, Haloti Ngata, LaMarr Woodley, Peyton Manning, and Vincent Jackson were all free agents? The players are hopeful to win the ability to escape the tag this season. But, do you really think the owners would allow these stars to be free agents this close to the season? It just does not seem plausible. In addition, there was even one brazen sports agency who pined for no franchise tags going forward. The reason? They had several clients listed above who will likely not make it to 2011 free agency. The effect of the lockout to these players was two-fold. First of all, teams were not allowed to engage in talks to extend the contracts of the pending free agents. They may not get contract extensions before the season. This is huge for the big money players who now have to wait and watch as their teams place a priority on signing free agents before signing these players to new contracts. Secondly, these players have little leverage to ask for a trade or even hold out. Will Manning or Ngata really hold out given the shortened training camp? They would look horrible if so since the fans are now getting excited about finally having football.

There will be more outcomes from the lockout. The shortened training camps will help the good teams with established veteran leaders. Expect there to be an increase of players reporting to camp out of shape. For this reason, many are predicting more injuries than normal. Fans take for granted the level of conditioning NFL players employ. They are some of the best athletes in the world. Along these lines, the ruling that injured players could not seek help (therapy or rehab) during the lockout will make a huge impact. Think of the many players who were injured at the end of the 2010 season. Team trainers will have their hands full in a few weeks.

Below are some predictions coming after the lockout is lifted:

  • Kevin Kolb will be traded to the Arizona Cardinals in a deal that has been rumored for months. The delay while the lockout has been in effect will hinder Kolb's ability to get up to speed for several weeks. Do not expect an instant grasp of the offense or a huge improvement for the wide receivers (notably Larry Fitzgerald) until midseason.

  • As noted above, David Garrard will keep his job most of, if not all, season unless he is injured. Rookie Blaine Gabbert has promise but also has a lot to learn coming from Missouri's spread offense to the Jacksonville system. Another variable at play is coach Jack Del Rio. If you were a head coach with his job on the line, would you push the rookie to start given no training camps?

  • Denver will look to trade Kyle Orton to a team with a young quarterback. The best three spots for him to go are Minnesota, Seattle, and Washington. While the coaches of these three teams all avow their love for the youngsters already on the roster, they cannot be confident in their jobs if the team has a horrible season. The Broncos are reportedly asking for a 2nd round pick in return. The price may be too high, but desperation may set in for one of the teams. Per Footballguys' own Cecil Lammey, Orton has made it abundantly clear he does not want to be a backup so the Broncos may be put in a precarious position soon.

  • There will actually be a market for Tarvaris Jackson and possibly Bruce Gradkowski going to teams listed above for Orton. You can add Tennessee to the list as well. These two quarterbacks are free agents and cost nothing to acquire. Neither of these two passers are much more than placeholders for a youngster. Predictions: Jackson reunites with ex-Viking offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Seattle and Gradkowski helps with the transition of Ponder in Minnesota.

  • The shortened offseason has oddly increased the price tag for free agent Matt Hasselbeck. A desperate Seahawk or Titan front offense may have to overpay for the services of the to-be 36 year old. Whichever team signs him will regret it given the average play of recent years. His ties to Tennessee will win out as the new Titan coaching staff looks to groom Locker while Hasselbeck starts and plays at a mediocre level with few receiving weapons before getting injured.

  • There will be little demand for Donovan McNabb and Vince Young. Both are still under contract with their teams, but the whole football world knows they will be sent packing so the trade value is approaching nil. Who would want McNabb and his huge salary? If interested, it will be an incentive-laden contract via free agency. Since neither quarterback is known for playing the role of good soldier and grooming a youngster, the teams listed above with young passers will not be interested unless they only want a starter. Look for one of the two, especially Young, to land in Miami as Chad Henne has not shown the ability to produce. Buffalo and Cleveland are longshots for this pair of passers. There remains the possibility that Washington holds onto McNabb until late in preseason just to see if a starting quarterback gets injured in order to improve the trade chances.

  • The most likely free agent signing is DeAngelo Williams to the Denver Broncos. The Williams-Fox connection is well chronicled from their days in Carolina, as is the team's desire to add a primary ball carrier. With the Broncos not addressing the position in April's Draft, the club has to bring in a top back in free agency. Possibilities if Williams goes elsewhere are Marion Barber (assuming Dallas cuts him and his big salary) and Ronnie Brown (who would make a good stopgap).

  • Cedric Benson will likely re-sign with Cincinnati, especially after his arrest this past weekend. The team has only Bernard Scott behind him at the position and there is not much available via free agency. The arrest will limit the market for Benson's services and the Bengals are one team not afraid of players' legal issues. Further, the Bengals will address the running back position NEXT year after grinding Benson in 2011. Cincinnati drafted their tight end of the future two years ago (Gresham) and the heirs at quarterback (Dalton) and wide receiver (Green) this year. For a team rebuilding, next year's draft class will have plenty of ball carriers.

  • Willis McGahee and Jason Snelling will have a decreased market to leave their 2010 teams unless Miami or St. Louis is interested in augmenting the position. Both are likely to re-sign with their old squads. Many teams needing a running back addressed the position in the Draft. Daniel Thomas, Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, Kendall Hunter, etc. have slimmed down the market for the aging backups. Along this same vein, there WILL be a market for Darren Sproles to either team mentioned above as each offense needs a speedy weapon out of the backfield.

  • The Cardinals played rookie Andre Roberts over Steve Breaston late in the year last season, giving the indication that the multi-faceted receiver will not be a priority in free agency. Look for him to end up in Kansas City with former coach Todd Haley. Breaston would make a strong WR2/3 and returner for the up and coming Chiefs. Plus, the strong-minded Haley likes "his" guys and Breaston was a player who flourished when Haley was in the desert running the Arizona offense.
  • With the preseason on the horizon, 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. I will also be active in the pinned "wannabee" thread in the assistant coach forum.

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