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This Week in NFL News - 3/24/16

Sigmund Bloom runs down the news for the week of March 24, 2016 in the NFL. 

AFC

Baltimore - The Ravens will sign free agent running back Trent Richardson if he hits a “physical benchmark” after getting in better shape. 

Why It Matters - Richardson was a once-every-few-years kind of running back talent in the draft, and lack of dedication sunk his career. The Ravens have rehabilitated Ryan Mallett, to an extent, and perhaps Richardson could flourish in their culture. Between Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen, and Lorenzo Taliaferro, The Ravens don’t really have a long-term back on the roster, and Richardson is still only 25.

Cleveland - The Browns signed QB Robert Griffin III to a two-year, 15 million dollar deal, with 6.75 million guaranteed.

Why It Matters - Griffin will likely get a chance to compete to start, and as long as Josh McCown is traded, he is likely to win. Griffin will have fantasy potential because of his running ability, and having head coach Hue Jackson in his corner won’t hurt. Josh Gordon being reinstated would be a boon for Griffin, but he has to turn his own career around before he can help any fantasy teams. It might be best for him to be a backup this year, but unless the Browns take a quarterback early and rush him, it’s likely Griffin’s show. McCown will certainly garner interest from the Jets, Broncos, and Rams.

Cleveland - The Browns may learn the fate of WR Josh Gordon next week. Commissioner Roger Goodell said “I have scheduled when I get back to New York sometime in the next week or so to get an update on that. Our staff has been working on it. We’re obviously aware of it. Soon as we have an opportunity to see it. No decision yet.”

Why It Matters - Gordon has proven elite WR1 upside, no matter who his quarterback is. The team is preparing to be without him, with Executive Vice President Sashi Brown saying that if Gordon is reinstated, “"we would need to see where his head is at before you bring him back into the locker room.'' He has been going in the 3rd/4th round of early drafts. While his upside justifies that, his zero floor for 2016 is in clear view.

Kansas City - OLB Justin Houston’s 2016 is in doubt after he had surgery on his ACL in February.

Why It Matters - Houston is the most valuable player on the Chiefs’ defense, and without him they could get away from their ball control, conservative style on offense. This could actually boost the values of Jeremy Maclin, Alex Smith, and Travis Kelce, but Houston could also return as early as August.

Miami - Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, reports that the Dolphins have conversations with “multiple teams” about acquiring a running back.

Why It Matters - Second-year back Jay Ajayi would enter the season as the feature back if nothing changes, and he’s capable, but untested. Head coach Adam Gase said “The reason we were trying to do that is we’re looking to having more than one guy”, and Salguero added that Arian Foster hasn’t been ruled out as an option. Ajayi is unlikely to retain his current value, but the eventual new back, whether via draft, trade, or free agency, will still have to contend with him.

New England - The Patriots acquired TE Martellus Bennett from Chicago for the cost of dropping from the fourth (127) to the sixth (204) round.

Why It Matters - The Patriots offense has supported two TE1s for fantasy before, and it is poised to do it again. With no real outside wide receiver threat, Tom Brady can have another middle of the field option, and one that is a great run blocker to boot. Bennett should have a shot to notch 8-10 scores, and that’s without harming Rob Gronkowski’s upside.

New York Jets - Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan said the team still has a goal of signing free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and owner Woody Johnson called it a “priority”. Head coach Todd Bowles said that a deadline set by the team for Fitzpatrick to decide “isn’t close”, but stressed that the team has backup plans. 

Why It Matters - Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall’s fantasy values are at stake, although for his flaws, Geno Smith is not a bad producer as a downfield passer. Josh McCown would be almost as good as Fitzpatrick for the Jets’ wideouts, while Colin Kaepernick would be a disaster. The quarterback soap opera for the Jets isn’t over yet, and a new character (McCown) just got introduced.

Oakland - Head coach Jack Del Rio said the team wants to add talent at running back and how the depth chart shakes out is up to the players

Why It Matters - Murray is being drafted as a low RB2 and presumptive starter in early drafts, but the Raiders have been giving off plenty of signals that he is not entrenched by any measure. While they didn’t land a big name free agent, there is still the draft and Arian Foster, and Murray could still be demoted in season if he doesn’t perform no matter who else is on the roster. Proceed with caution.


NFC

Dallas - The Cowboys signed RB Alfred Morris to a two-year, 3.5 million dollar deal and RB Lance Dunbar to a one-year, 1.75 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters - Dallas has one of the best running games in the league by far, but only Darren McFadden returning from the key performers last year. Dunbar is coming back from a torn ACL and could have a lot of potential in PPR leagues, but he could also begin the season on the PUP list. Morris is better at getting yards after contact than McFadden, and he could regain his early career form behind a better offensive line. The team could (and should) still add a back in the draft - even Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) at #4, as none of their trio is signed beyond 2017. Jerry Jones said McFadden is still the starter, but we think Morris can give him a run for early down work.

Green Bay - Packers RB Eddie Lacy has been working to lose weight on P90X and a recent photo was promising. The team also brought back RB James Starks on a two-year, six million dollar deal.

Why It Matters - Lacy was a “safe” first-round pick last year, now he’s sometimes falling to the fourth in early drafts. Starks played some of the best ball of his career last year and basically passed Lacy on the depth chart, and he’s going for nothing in early drafts. Either could be a huge value and season maker at current ADP.

New Orleans - Head Coach Sean Payton agreed to a five-year extension with the Saints, and the team is working with Drew Brees on a four-year extension. 

Why It Matters - Last offseason, the idea of Payton and Brees in New Orleans for the rest of the decade was not a sure thing, but it is becoming a foregone conclusion this time around. After shrugging off an early season shoulder/arm injury, Brees worked new personnel into the passing attack and leveled off as a strong QB1 he has been for a long time now. He’ll be a value going outside of the top 6-8 quarterbacks in a lot of drafts.

Philadelphia - The Eagles signed WR Rueben Randle to a one-year, 1.025 million dollar incentive-laden deal with 500,000 guaranteed. Head coach Doug Pederson also said this week that he plans to take a look at WR Jordan Matthews outside.

Why It Matters - The value of all Eagles players is up in the air with Chip Kelly gone. Matthews might have a slow transition to more outside work based on his college film and usage to date in the NFL. Randle has been a bust since going in the early second round in 2012, but if he makes the team, he could keep Matthews inside, which is probably better for Matthews’ fantasy prospects. If the team goes three-wide most of the time, Randle could redeem himself. 

San Francisco - Carlos Hyde (foot) should be ready for OTAs and he is trying to get under 220 pounds for Chip Kelly’s offense. His trainer David Alexander said he’s got Hyde’s mind “wrapped around being on the field 10 plays straight”.

Why it Matters: While we are often wary of weight changes for running backs, Le’Veon Bell and Marshawn Lynch both exploded after dropping weight to similar levels, and Hyde should have no shortage of work in the offense. He is coming at a 3rd/4th round mid-low RB2 price in early drafts, but offers 1st/2nd round upside.

San Francisco - Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been dealt, and Chip Kelly insists he won’t be released before his 11.9 million dollar salary becomes guaranteed on April 1.

Why It Matters - The Broncos and Jets have been connected to Kaepernick, but they could be calling the 49ers’ bluff by not agreeing to trade terms and seeing if the 49ers commitment to Kaepernick is too thin to justify the near 12 million dollar expense. Kaepernick will be starting somewhere in 2016 because of the quarterback shortage, but the fantasy quality of that destination is unknown, and Kaepernick could flame out quickly in his shot at redemption a la Josh Freeman. It’s now or never for him and 49ers.

Seattle - Head coach Pete Carroll said the team “hopes” to have TE Jimmy Graham for the start of the season and “he’s doing great” and “should be fine”. 

Why It Matters - Graham wasn’t so hot as a fantasy option as a Seahawk when healthy, so if he’s not his old self, there’s not much to see here. Luke Willson would likely open the season as the starter if Graham can’t go, but the bigger beneficiaries would be Doug Baldwin and Thomas Rawls as red zone options.

Seattle - Head coach Pete Carroll said the team anticipates Thomas Rawls ”will be fully recovered and ready to go at least by the time the season starts and hopefully by camp.” Carroll also said RB Christine Michael being re-signed was a good thing, and that the two will be a “one-two punch” and the team will evaluate from there.

Why It Matters - Rawls is going in the top 25-30 in early drafts, but he didn’t have to share with Michael as he rose up the ranks. If Michael is effective and the Seahawks ease Rawls in because his ankle injury saps most of his offseason, Rawls might not have the opportunity to deliver on his low RB1/high RB2 cost.