The NFL’s new expanded 14-team playoff system will debut this season
Why It Matters: The NFL is moving towards the more expanded NBA/NHL playoff models. Last year, the Steelers and Rams would have made the postseason as the seven seed under the new rules. We would have been treated to Steelers-Chiefs and Packers-Rams matchups as additional wild card games, with the 49ers and Ravens getting an extra advantage as the sole teams with byes. The new rules would have given nine 8-8 teams a playoff spot and eight 10-6 teams out of the 36 extra spots that would have been created since 2002. The move is obviously a big advantage for #1 seeds and downgrade for #2 seeds, which should increase the competition for the top seed late in the season and hopefully be good for late season fantasy football efforts on the best teams, with fewer teams resting players late in the season because they are still jockeying for a much more valuable #1 seed instead of being satisfied with a division title and home game to open the playoffs.
Why It Matters: We should be sure to check back on all of the deals announced at the open of free agency, as physical and timelines are still longer and not all previously publicized deals have been officially announced as we head into April. Brockers and the Ravens couldn’t agree on adjustment to his contract after ankle problems were discovered, and they chose to let him walk (he quickly re-signed with the Rams for a similar contract to the one the Ravens pulled). Wolfe isn’t on Brockers level as a talent and he rarely plays a full season because of injuries, but he is a max effort interior lineman and should replace some of what the team lost when the agreement with Brockers broke down.
Why It Matters: The chances of this development meaning anything are small, but they are not zero. It would be an ultimate heel turn in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry and the familial connection to the Ravens #1 receiver matters. There’s a lot of hurdles to overcome before we can even consider Brown returning to the NFL, but in general being open to great players getting another chance no matter how deep the doodoo around them is at the moment has been wise in dynasty leagues. Brown would fill a huge need for the Ravens and his ability on the field is unquestioned. Stay tuned.
The Bengals released CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Why It Matters: The move saved them over eight million dollars as Kirkpatrick was not needed after the team signed Trae Waynes in a wave of free agent pickups to overhaul the defense. Kirkpatrick only played in six games last year, but is probably still a starting-level cover corner. The Cowboys, Vikings, Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Broncos, Lions, Chiefs, and Jets (among other teams) could all see Kirkpatrick as a potential upgrade to their starting lineup.
The Broncos re-signed DT Shelby Harris to a one-year, $2.5 million dollar deal
Why It Matters: Harris expected to find a much more enthusiastic reception in free agency, but instead settled for a very small short term deal in Denver to hopefully boost his prospects further next year. He was more productive than truly impactful, but could see growth now that he’ll get to play beside Jurrell Casey. The Broncos defensive front has been firmed up. Having Harris back as part of that effort on such a cheap deal is a big win for Vic Fangio and John Elway.
The Texans signed DT Timmy Jernigan (Philadelphia)
Why It Matters: DJ Reader left for Cincinnati, so the Texans had a big hole in the middle of the defensive front. Late season pickup Eddie Vanderdoes will take some of the load, but Houston hoping Jernigan can stay healthier than he has over the last two years, playing only 13 games, and be the primary option to replace Reader. The one-year deal only 1.25 million guaranteed, a huge discount from the four-year, $48 million dollar deal Jernigan signed with the Eagles in 2017. Jernigan turns 28 in the fall and could still be a strong contributor against the run.
Multiple teams have expressed interest in acquiring EDGE Yannick Ngakoue
Why It Matters: With the first wave of free agency past, and the crest of the second wave likely over, Ngakoue’s fate is among the most interesting free agency stories left, with fellow EDGE Jadeveon Clowney still looking for a home, stud Washington OT Trent Williams looking for a trade partner who will pay him, and of course the eventual destination of Cam Newton, to Jameis Winston to a lesser extent. The Jaguars are likely holding their ground looking for a first round pick, but might have to settle for the second-round pick compensation the Chiefs got for Dee Ford last year. Seattle (also linked to Clowney), the Jets, Philadelphia and Green Bay have all been linked to Ngakoue.
The Chiefs re-signed WR Demarcus Robinson to a one-year, $2.3 million dollar deal
Why It Matters: Robinson didn’t find anyone who wanted to pay him or use him like a starter after growing into a minor but steady role in Kansas City. Sammy Watkins eventual fate is still unknown as the Chiefs will surely seek to lower his 14 million dollar price tag, but Mecole Hardman should be ready to do more this year, so Robinson’s role in the offense might be unchanged if those two developments cancel each other out. Robinson had a huge game after Tyreek Hill got hurt last year and he could matter if injuries strike either of the Chiefs big-name targets.
Los Angeles Chargers
C Mike Pouncey (neck) has not yet been cleared to practice
Why It Matters: Another offseason, another medical drama for the Chargers offensive line. Left tackle Russell Okung was sidelined with a pulmonary embolism for most of the offseason and season last year (before getting traded this offseason) and the Chargers may not know exactly when they’ll get back their center. They did add Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga to reinforce the line, but the running game especially will miss Pouncey if he’s not ready for the 2020 season.
Head coach Anthony Lynn said QB Tyrod Taylor “is in the driver’s seat, but nothing is finalized”
Why It Matters: The Chargers are sitting pretty for a top three quarterback option or a top three offensive tackle at #6. If they go offensive tackle, Taylor will be cemented as the starting quarterback and he’ll have a much improved line in front of him. Expect Taylor to be a matchup DFS play and low QB1/strong QB2 if he is a starter on the fantasy strength of his running ability. Lynn and Taylor have won together in the past in Buffalo. The passing game would be muted with Taylor, hurting Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry, as Lynn will look to minimize turnover and win with the running game and strong defense.
Ed Bouchette of The Athletic “fully expects” the Steelers to draft a running back and he thinks WR Juju Smith-Schuster will enter free agency after the 2021 season
Why It Matters: The Steelers could go running back or wide receiver at #49 with uncertainty looming in the future at both positions. James Conner is probably not going to get a second contract from the team unless he can stay healthy, and he’ll likely be facing youthful competition. The Steelers starting running back in Week 1 2021 may not be on the roster right now, and Benny Snell didn’t exactly win the team over last year. Smith-Schuster is still only 23, the age of some of the current draft prospects, and he’ll be looking for a top dollar contract the Steelers might not be willing to give him. While this does indicate more opportunity possibly coming for Diontae Johnson and James Washington, the Steelers long term quarterback situation is a big question mark, so this offense could be heading for hard times that holds all of the talent back from hitting their ceilings.
The Titans re-signed LB/EDGE Kamalei Correa
Why It Matters: The Titans have been consistently mentioned in connection with free agent EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, but between the return of Correa and signing of Vic Beasley Jr, they had added enough depth at the position to make up for the loss of Cameron Wake and not need Clowney if his price remains too high or he prefers to return to Seattle. Correa has upped his game since following Dean Pees to Tennessee after little impact in first two years with the Ravens as a 2016 second-round pick.
The Cowboys signed PK Greg Zuerlein (Los Angeles Rams) to a three-year, $7.5 million dollar deal
Why It Matters: Dallas had recently signed Kai Forbath to a one-year deal with only $137,500 guaranteed, so while they had made a move at the position, they were far from settled. Zuerlein changes that and officially forecloses the possibility of him re-signing with the Rams. They and the Patriots each don’t have a kicker on the roster and will have to draft/sign a rookie or pick through the scrap heap.
The Cowboys signed EDGE Aldon Smith
Why It Matters: This is a sign the league will be more relaxed in reinstatements under the new CBA. Jay Glazer has been working with Smith and vouched for him, and his former coach in San Francisco, Jim Tomsula, is with the Cowboys. The team is also hoping to get Randy Gregory back, which would give them two high upside options to replace Robert Quinn, who left for Chicago in free agency. 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong also figures into the picture opposite Demarcus Lawrence and his development should be monitored in sack-heavy IDP leagues.
The Lions signed WR Geronimo Allison (Green Bay)
Why It Matters: Allison was a bust in Green Bay last year with a big opportunity. He’ll likely only be the fourth receiver and an injury depth option, but Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones Jr aren’t known for durability and Jones could be a trade candidate if the Lions aren’t playoff contenders.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams re-signed DL Michael Brockers to a three-year deal worth as much as $31.5 million dollars
Why It Matters: The Rams already signed A’Shawn Robinson to man the nose tackle position, the surprise ability to retain Brockers will give them a very strong front three to help a linebacker group that will have three new starters. He originally signed with Baltimore but an ankle problem caused a disagreement over the terms of the contract and the Rams pounced immediately when talks broke down.
The Vikings will pursue a contract extension for RB Dalvin Cook before the season begins
Why It Matters: It might seem illogical while the NFL landscape is littered with second running back contracts gone wrong, but the Vikings offense is built around Cook, he clicked as much as they could have expected or hoped last year, and did a better job staying healthy than he did in either of his first two years. 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison would be blocked indefinitely if this comes to pass, as many around the league believe it will.
GM Howie Roseman said WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside “needs to take a big jump” in 2020 and the team picked up WR Alshon Jeffery’s 2020 option.
Why It Matters: The team actually didn’t have a true option in the Jeffery situation, as dumping him would have resulted in a crippling 26.1 million dollar cap hit, but without a restructure last year that guaranteed his near $10 million dollar salary for 2020, he would probably not be an Eagle right now. Arcega-Whiteside looked overwhelmed last year and the 2019 second-round pick is going to be counted on to play a role if they don’t get an instant impact rookie or one of Jeffery and Desean Jackson continue to be plagued with durability problems. Don’t be surprised if the team take a wide receiver in the first round - perhaps even moves up for one.
The Seahawks signed DE Benson Mayowa to a one-year, $3 million dollar deal
Why It Matters: Jadeveon Clowney could still return to Seattle but if he goes elsewhere, Mayowa is a viable edge rush contributor to pair with Bruce Irvin, both reunited with the Seahawks in free agency after breaking into the NFL with the team. Mayowa had a career high seven sacks as a rotational player with the Raiders last year.
Washington signed CB Ronald Darby (Philadelphia) to a one-year, $4 million dollar deal
Why It Matters: After trading away Quinton Dunbar to the Seahawks for a fifth-round pick, Washington might actually have to resort to starting Darby. While he has been a productive IDP corner, Darby would be an achilles heel that opponents will attack and test in the passing game if he plays significant snaps in Washington this season.
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