The suspense was ruined as we waited for the inevitable deal between the Indianapolis Colts and free agent Ahmad Bradshaw, but that gave fantasy owners plenty of time to push up Bradshaw's stock in anticipation of the move, while Vick Ballard's stock plummeted from his "starter by default" value. As usual, the right move is going to be going in the opposite direction of the prevailing winds. While Bradshaw has been a reliable fantasy performer for the last three years, there are too many signs that he won't be able to be counted on for his usual RB2 numbers in this new situation.
First and foremost, the Colts successfully used a multi-back approach last year. Donald Brown and Vick Ballard shared the workload to begin the season, with Ballard gaining more of the touches as the season went on, and finally only being a quality fantasy option when Brown missed time at the end of the year. Ballard is still a useful all-around back, and head coach Chuck Pagano recently said Brown is "in great shape and healthy and looks fantastic", according to ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. Philip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star opined that either Brown or Delone Carter is likely to get cut with the addition of Bradshaw. Since Pagano didn't even mention Carter in his running back update in May, expect him to get the axe. Since Carter is the only back on the roster geared towards short yardage work, we could also see new fullback Stanley Havili take over that role. Havili was an excellent runner at USC albeit with a limited amount of touches. The bottom line here is that no back is likely to get more than 15-18 touches in a game as long as they are all healthy, and Bradshaw is much more likely to miss time than Ballard.
Let's also remember that Bradshaw is damaged goods. The Steelers had him in for a visit and decided to draft Le'Veon Bell instead. The Packers and Broncos also chose to go running back in the second round of the draft after expressing interest in Bradshaw. He sat on the open market without as much as a sniff from a team for over a month after being cleared for football activities before the Colts signed him, and the Colts held their purse strings tightly when they did enter negotiations with Bradshaw.
So what did Bradshaw get once he did sign? NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports that the Colts will pay Bradshaw 1.1 million dollars in base salary, with a $250,000 signing bonus and $650,000 in per-game bonuses. That's a far cry from starter money, and signficantly less than role-playing backs like Shonn Greene and Danny Woodhead pulled down in free agency. Even Rashard Mendenhall got more money upfront and a higher salary. The Colts weren't willing to commit beyond 2013. Does this make it sound like Bradshaw is a player that the Colts are going to make a centerpiece of their backfield?
So what do we do as fantasy owners? Bradshaw's ADP was already creeping up into the ninth round before the signing. He is likely to level off in the same range as Mendenhall, around the sixth or seventh round. The wide receiver and quarterback value there is much better, especially when you consider that Bradshaw will be a flex play at best with Ballard and others stealing touches from him (don't forget the seventh-round pick of speedy receiving back Kerwynn Williams, a Matt Waldman favorite). Ballard's value is sinking fast. While he might be attractive in the late rounds, Bradshaw's habit of playing well through his injuries could keep Ballard from having a second straight late-season surge. Taking both backs will give you a flex play and a bench back unless Bradshaw misses time, and if you expect that, why would you ever spend a sixth or seventh round pick on him?
Likewise, in dynasty leagues, Ballard owners should not feel tempted to spend capital to acquire Bradshaw. A solid flex play is not going to put your team over the top. If you do own Bradshaw, dangle him in front of the Ballard owner for a second-round pick or quality prospect.
While this is about as interesting as June free agent signings get for fantasy, it shouldn't cause anyone to do anything drastic. Follow the Colts lead here. Only devote resources to acquiring Bradshaw if the price is right, and that means, very low.
More from Sigmund Bloom:
Playoff Fantasy Rankings and Strategy - December 29
Week 17 Quarterback Tiers - December 24
Week 17 Running Back Tiers - December 24
Week 17 Wide Receiver Tiers - December 24
Week 17 Tight End Tiers - December 24
Week 16 Running Back Tiers - December 18
Week 16 Quarterback Tiers - December 18
Week 16 Tight End Tiers - December 18
Week 16 Wide Receiver Tiers - December 18
Buy Low, Sell High: Week 16 - December 18