Free Agency Roundtable: Ripple Effect Losers

The Footballguys staff gives their opinion on which players will decline the most as a result of an addition or subtraction made by their team during the free-agent period.

Which player who didn't change teams will decline as a result of a move their team made during free agency?

Dan Hindery: John Brown probably takes the biggest hit given the arrival of Stefon Diggs. Brown finished the 2020 season as the fantasy WR20 (one spot ahead of Diggs) and was a rock-solid WR2 all season. However, given how talented Diggs is and the massive haul of draft picks Buffalo gave up to acquire him from Minnesota, it is clear Diggs is going to be the lead receiver in Buffalo.

The Bills offense is not one that can support two impact fantasy wide receivers. Josh Allen threw for only 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. This is a run-heavy attack and it is hard to see Brown garnering the same number of targets (115) again.

Drew Davenport: I have to think Julian Edelman is going to suffer from Tom Brady's departure from New England. There is plenty of evidence that says Brady was merely average last year, so there is an argument to be made that the Patriots can replace his production at quarterback with someone who can get the ball out with the same efficiency. But there are significant reasons to believe that Edelman's fantasy production will suffer.

Foremost is the chemistry between these two. Brady's work ethic is legendary and his time with Edelman allowed the two of them to be as effective as they were. This is not something we can quantify, but it's very real. Things like offseason work, knowing the offense, and how each player thinks (and the resulting ability to change on the fly because of the familiarity with each other AND the offense) can’t be taken for granted. Regardless of whether they bring in a passer with Brady's abilities, the intangible connection will be broken.

Secondly, Brady's unwillingness to throw down the field was evident last year. His average depth of target (according to Pro Football Reference) fell to 23rd in the league at just 7.6 yards per attempt. This helped to feed Edelman's target share. It's up for debate as to why the averaged depth of target fell, but it did, and it fueled part of Edelman's 100 catch 2019 campaign.

Finally, it's hard to believe that whoever the Patriots tab as their starting quarterback will be able to move the offense as well as Brady did. New England has a weak set of offensive playmakers, and despite Brady's decline, he knew the offense well enough to wrangle production from them. Asking a new quarterback to learn the system, get comfortable with the players around him, and then produce what Brady did would be a tall task.

From where I'm sitting, the Patriots offense as a whole is poised to pull back in 2020, and that means Edelman too.

Justin Howe: Virtually every Patriot takes a massive hit. There's so little firepower in that attack, and it's now lost a ton of potential for volume, efficiency, and touchdown opportunity. Edelman is objectively good enough to put up a usable PPR season (say, 75-850-6) with any passer, but his WR2 upside has vanished. The running backs are middling, dependent talents who need heavy touches and red-zone trips to produce. The unknowns (N’Keal Harry, Damien Harris, zero tight ends to speak of) lose any semblance of upside. There's a low, low floor for dynamism here.

Andy Hicks: Unless Bill O’Brien has a surprise up his sleeve at wide receiver, the loss of DeAndre Hopkins will be brutal on Deshaun Watson. Not only is Hopkins one of the league’s best receivers in his prime, but the coverage he commanded allowed the team’s lesser wide receivers to get open. Kenny Stills and Will Fuller V are frankly not good enough to be the No.1 and No. 2 receivers on a team. Fuller is always injured, while Stills has always been better in small doses. The addition of Randall Cobb is nothing to get excited about either. He hasn’t been fantasy relevant for years. Watson can make up for a lot of deficiencies in an offense, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match his previous output with Hopkins in Arizona.

Jeff Haseley: Speaking of Hopkins and Arizona, Christian Kirk was on the verge of becoming the Cardinals WR1 before the shocking trade. Kirk finished with 68 receptions (108 targets) for 709 yards and three touchdowns and was looking like a 2020 breakout candidate. But the addition of Hopkins completely changes Kirk's outlook and growth curve. While the third-year pro from Texas A&M now gets to face each team's second-best cornerback and still benefits from Kliff Kingsbury’s pass-happy offense, his level of success will be reduced by Hopkins' commanding so much of the production.

Alessandro Miglio: Hopkins does hurt the fantasy prospects of the other pass-catchers in Arizona, but I disagree that Kirk is going to be hurt the most. Larry Fitzgerald is a future Hall-of-Famer, but he will be 37 this fall and was already on the downslope of his career. He barely surpassed 100 targets last season in another annual decline, and Hopkins and Kirk are the future. It’s Fitzgerald who takes the big hit in Arizona.

My choice here is Phillip Lindsay. A year ago, Lindsay's star was on the rise. He was a popular value pick at the running back position for much of the offseason, with high expectations for many. Now, he is an afterthought. Melvin Gordon III's arrival in Denver squeezes Lindsay out of regular touches. The latter will be competing with Royce Freeman for snaps while Gordon has a chance to regain his role as a workhorse running back.

Jason Wood: Keenan Allen is the answer, assuming the Chargers are serious about not adding another quarterback in free agency. Tyrod Taylor is a "winner" and has played adequately at times, there's no arguing. But he's never been close to the passer Philip Rivers is, and he doesn’t have the chemistry with Allen that made the receiver a perennial Top-10 option, when healthy.

Phil Alexander: I'm going outside the box and picking “wide receivers playing against the Eagles”. Last year (and in recent years) wide-outs -- particularly WR1s -- were an auto-start against Philadelphia's beleaguered secondary. Besides a talent-deficiency at cornerback, opponents were encouraged to throw on the Eagles due to the ability of Philadelphia's defensive line to completely shut down the run.

Rather than addressing cornerback immediately in free agency, GM Howie Rose pressed his advantage by adding defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who is going to disrupt things inside and be able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he’s going to get playing next to Fletcher Cox.

The improvement Hargraves brings to Philadelphia's pass rush will be supplemented by Rose's second splashy move of the off-season -- trading third- and fifth-round picks to the Lions for Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay. Slay may not be on the same plane as the league's top cornerbacks, but he's close, and certainly more capable of taking out enemy WR1s than any Eagles corner in recent memory.

Top NFC East wide receivers like Amari Cooper and Terry McLaurin are officially on notice.

Daniel Simpkins: Philip Rivers’ signing to the Colts tells you how extremely their opinion has changed on Jacoby Brissett’s viability as a starter. This move has likely put Brissett on the same career path as a guy like Matt Flynn— someone many thought could be a starter but floundered with the few opportunities he was given.

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