Every year, NFL players change teams after their respective contracts expire. The player movement creates an opportunity for NFL players and fantasy owners alike. This article will look at the wide receivers whose contracts are up after the 2016 season and could change teams next offseason. Our goal is to identify the beneficiaries of the player movement. Free Agency impacts fantasy football and those fantasy owners who anticipate correctly the situations usually come out on top.
Alshon Jeffery – Jeffery is the superstar of this free agent class. After failing to reach a new deal with the Bears, Jeffery is playing the 2016 season on the franchise tag. The team is wanting him to put up big numbers without missing games to injury before handing over the truckload of cash Jeffery desires. There is a very real possibility that the receiver misses time to injury and the team allows him to walk in free agency. If this does happen, Chicago will be giving a huge vote of confidence to youngster Kevin White. ESPN ran an article this past week questioning whether the Bears viewed Jeffery as a “true no. 1 WR”. We see this a ploy using the media to gain negotiating leverage. It could backfire. This will be an interesting situation to watch play out.
Vincent Jackson – Jackson is a proven veteran who has seen his role diminish over time in Tampa Bay. The emergence of Mike Evans has limited the targets for Jackson. But, given the age of the veteran, we expect him to re-sign with the Buccaneers. He will get the veteran minimum so staying in Tampa is the logical move.
Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders has excelled in both Pittsburgh and Denver. At age 29, he will be looking for one more payday. Given the Broncos salary cap situation, we expect the team to try to lock up Sanders before he can get to free agency. The Denver front office misplayed both the C.J. Anderson and Von Miller situations by playing hardball. A mid-level tender would have kept Anderson from signing with Miami, and forcing Denver to match at a much higher price tag than the team expected. As for Miller, he would have been much cheaper to extend last offense. Back to Sanders. Hopefully, the Broncos organization will learn from these mistakes and sign the still-speedy Sanders to a three-year contract. If he hits the open market, Sanders could garner a pretty penny.
Michael Floyd – Floyd had a great ending to the 2015 season. Arizona will look to lock up the big receiver this summer. With Larry Fitzgerald quickly coming to the end of his career, Floyd is a cornerstone of the Cardinals receiving corps.
Rueben Randle – Randle signed a one-year deal in Philadelphia after starting his career in New York. Randle seems to have passed Nelson Agholor for the right to start opposite Jordan Matthews. With a solid season, Randle could sign a multi-year contract. If he flops, Randle could be out of football.
Cecil Shorts – Shorts has struggled to make it through a season without injury. After the Texans drafted two rookies this year, and Jaelen Strong in 2015, Shorts will struggle to see the field … even if healthy. He has talent and could land on another team in 2017 as the WR4.
Steve Smith – Smith will likely retire after the season. He has been a star throughout his tenure in Carolina and Baltimore, and likely will not play after the close of the 2016 season. We have admired the grit and determination of the diminutive receiver.
Brandon LaFell – LaFell signed a one-year deal with the Bengals after failing to seize the opportunity as a Patriot. He will have a solid shot at garnering 100 targets in Cincinnati. The issue is that LaFell may only catch 60 passes for 700 yards and 4 touchdowns with those targets. At this point, it is best just to avoid the veteran pass catcher.
Kamar Aiken – Aiken played well in 2015 when thrust into a starting role. With the uncertainty around both Steve Smith and Brashad Perriman once again, Aiken will look to have a big season in order to sign a contract elsewhere in 2017. He is a sure-handed possession receiver who could have a long career as a WR3/4 in a potent offense. At this stage of his career, Mike Wallace is not a threat to Aiken’s playing time. Aiken makes a solid stash in hopes of landing in a better situation this coming offseason.
Terrelle Pryor – This is a make-or-break season for the converted quarterback. The Browns have little depth at the receiver position and Pryor will be given every opportunity to shine. If he is unable to garner consistent targets, fantasy owners should assume he will not suddenly develop after landing on a different team. However, if Pryor is able to become the WR2 or WR3 in Cleveland, and improve his route running, he could land in a better offense and emerge as a fantasy option.
Leonard Hankerson – Hankerson flopped in Washington and Atlanta but has solidified his roster spot and will provide depth at a position rarely targeted (WR3/4). He is not a player we would advise stashing for the future.
Pierre Garcon – Garcon is a player we think could thrive in a new environment. He has made plays but overshadowed on an offense mired by poor quarterback play for several years. We would be excited for Garcon to land in Dallas or New England. He could be a fantasy starter in either uniform.
Kendall Wright – Wright was viewed as the Titans best receiver the past couple of years. He will line up in the slot this season. Unless Wright figures out how to make plays after the catch, he will only receive modest interest in free agency, primarily as a possession slot receiver. For Tennessee, Justin Hunter is also a potential free agent loss. With the signing of Rishard Matthews and drafting of Tajae Sharpe, we envision the team allowing these two veterans to walk in free agency. If depth is needed next year, a Ted Ginn Jr signing (see below) or selection of a rookie would make sense.
Ted Ginn Jr – Ginn added a much-needed deep threat to the Carolina offense during the team’s playoff run in 2015. He complements the size of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Combining return skills and deep speed, Ginn will have a job in the NFL as long as he wants to play. Several teams could use him this season so we expect a strong market next spring. Also for the Panthers, Corey Brown is a restricted free agent. If these two pass catchers depart, Carolina will need to fill the void.
Kenny Stills – After shining with the Saints, Stills has drifted into oblivion in Miami. The selection of Leonte Carroo and the emergence of DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry should result in little opportunity this season for Stills. He makes a great stash as the Stills we saw in 2014 almost amassing 1,000 receiving yards (931) in New Orleans. The explosive Stills is only 24 years old and has plenty of upside. He will be playing for a different team in 2017 and could be a fantasy starter.
Cordarrelle Patterson – Patterson has not been impressive as a receiver throughout the first few years as a professional. His size and athletic ability will provide another chance, even if just as a returner. But, improvement is needed this season or Patterson is staring at a veteran-minimum contract with little guaranteed. His loss would not be impactful for the Vikings. Charles Johnson could also leave as he is a restricted free agent. Johnson came to Minnesota with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and is likely to stay with the Vikings as long as the coach stays. The team has its two top receivers in Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs so these two potential losses are merely depth options on a team that wants to run more than it passes.
Kenny Britt – Britt is still much younger than most expect (27 years old). Since getting past the frequent injuries and legal troubles apparent early in his career, Britt has not been a consistent fantasy producer. The injuries took his speed and explosiveness. The Rams could lose both Britt and Brian Quick. Quick was raw coming out of college and has failed to develop into a starting NFL receiver. The team has re-stocked depth at the position through the draft with Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas. Still, while it is difficult to conceive, Britt and Quick start in three-receiver sets. Los Angeles will need to select a pass catcher early in the draft or sign a big name receiver above in order to help young quarterback Jared Goff.
Robert Woods – Woods has been injured and ineffective during most of his time in Buffalo. Expectations were high after a productive career at USC. The combination of a low-volume offense and a receiver slow to develop is not a great recipe for future success.
Markus Wheaton – This is a make-or-break season for Wheaton, too. He will battle for playing time. Only Antonio Brown has locked up a starting position. Wheaton has plenty of talent, and loads of speed, but has yet to make the splash the Steelers expected. So, Wheaton will vie with Sammie Coates Jr and Darrius Heyward-Bey for the WR2 and WR3 jobs.
Terrance Williams – Williams has failed to live up to the expectations that fans and fantasy owners had when he came out of Baylor. Even when Dez Bryant was injured, Williams was a non-factor. We have a hard time thinking things will turn around now.
The Raiders could see their depth receivers exit in free agency. Yes, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper are locked up. But, the depth pass catchers are better than most realize. Rod Streater has already departed and in Kansas City, Andre Holmes will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights free agent. Holmes could easily find a job as a speed receiver on several receiver-needy teams. The Raiders hold Roberts’ rights for one more season but could have to match if another organization covets the slot receiver.
We would like to recognize Overthecap.com for the Free Agents listed above. It is a good site for salary cap status for the NFL.
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