The last “big” fantasy football free agent signing finally dropped when Arian Foster predictably signed with the Miami Dolphins on July 18. Foster has been an uberstud running back for most of his career, but this time around we should be wary of believing that he’ll even be the most valuable fantasy running back on his team’s roster.
Foster signed a one-year, 1.5 million dollar contract with two million dollars in incentives. That is certainly not starter money, and it’s not even great backup running back money. The deal is more typical of a "prove it" deal, which fits with Foster's injury history and his coming off of a torn achilles at a point in a player's career where he can not afford to lose much to stay viable at a young man's position. Foster would not have signed the contract if he wasn’t given assurances about his role in the backfield, but what will that role be?
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reminded us that new head Adam Gase wants his running backs to play all three downs “because he prefers to substitute backs for an entire series, instead of during a series.” We know Foster can do that, and Ajayi’s experience as a receiver out of the backfield at Boise State combined with Gase’s praise of the second-year back indicates that he’ll be ready to do that this year, too. Jackson expects both to get “plenty” of carries, no matter who starts, and Foster himself said he doesn’t have any expectations about being the starter. Adam Beasley, also of the Herald, paints a less optimistic picture about Foster’s workload, writing “unless Foster makes a dramatic recovery and can turn back the hands of time, the Dolphins will probably still go into the season with second-year pro Jay Ajayi as their starter.” Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post called Foster a “solid insurance plan”, and wrote that Ajayi is “more likely” to enter training camp as the starter. This makes Foster’s focus on “route-running, catching the ball out of the backfield” when talking about Gase after the signing a potential clue to the size of his role. It’s possible, if not probable, that Foster would be used as a two-minute drill/no huddle back to align with Gase’s penchant for keeping backs on the field for a whole series, while trying to preserve his health for the whole season by giving Ajayi the majority of the work in the base offense. Jackson included a note that third-round pick RB Kenyan Drake did not do enough this spring to suggest that he was “ready to be a reliable No. 2 back”, and that his hamstring injury was his eighth injury in four-plus years, which also paints the signing as more of a depth signing than pure competition for Ajayi.
Based on what makes sense and what the local beats think, we can posit a range of possibilities of Foster being in close to a 50-50 RBBC as the most optimistic and Foster being more of a situational back and insurance policy for Ajayi getting injured or failing as the most pessimistic. Of course, none of that factors in the increased possibility that Foster can’t stay healthy and Ajayi ends up in the same unencumbered starting spot that garnered him a fifth-round ADP before the Foster signing. Unless you just don’t believe in Ajayi, he should be considered the more valuable back in drafts. Ajayi’s ADP is in for a tumble, and Foster’s should rise based on his reputation as a week and league winner, but recent history suggests that Ajayi will be the more valuable back by year’s end, and maybe even the only one that can help your fantasy team in November and December. With local writers painting a picture of Ajayi likely being as or more valuable than Foster going into the season, the shark move here will be to buy Ajayi as his ADP falls and hope that Foster stays healthy through training camp and the preseason so the discount stays intact through all of our drafts leading up to Week 1.