The Week in NFL News - 3/22

A look at the biggest news of the past week and why it matters for fantasy teams.

AFC

 

Baltimore

The Ravens signed WR Michael Crabtree (Oakland) to a three-year, 21 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: Crabtree took a nosedive in receptions and yardage last year, but was still a strong red zone receiver and instantly becomes the Ravens #1 receiver. His value is up on the strange turn of events that was set in motion by the Packers releasing Jordy Nelson. The Raiders saw Nelson as more worthy of the #2 wide receiver role and pay, and dropped Crabtree for him. The Ravens, meanwhile had signed Ryan Grant a four-year deal worth nearly 30 million dollars, but he failed his physical (curiously only after Crabtree was released). Baltimore gets a much better investment for their money and fantasy players get a Ravens receiver who is much more likely to create production out of the ample opportunity in their pass offense.

Buffalo

WR Zay Jones was arrested on Monday, March 19 and charged with felony vandalism.

Why It Matters: Jones had a chance to seize a role as a rookie, but injuries and inconsistency slowed his momentum. Now this incident calls into question his condition beyond how it affects his football career. The Bills depth chart at wide receiver is basically Kelvin Benjamin and line up with two tight ends and a fullback. Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy will get a ton of targets, albeit from an underwhelming or rookie quarterback.

Cincinnati

Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Why It Matters: The Bengals signed former Bills LB Preston Brown and could save six million under the cap with a three million dead cap hit if they release Burfict. It’s not impossible that they move on Burfict after this latest suspension. The Raiders were rumored to be attempting to trade for him and could get him without the cost of draft capital or a negative in the compensatory pick formula.

Cleveland

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington and Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah from the NFL Network all indicated that USC quarterback Sam Darnold is very likely to go #1 to the Browns.

Why It Matters: The Browns have conducted their offseason as if a quarterback was in their draft plans, and it only makes sense considering the depth at the top of this class, having a second pick in the top four to get a top non-quarterback, and the team passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson the last two years only to see them have spectacular early-career success. Darnold is probably the safest of the top five quarterbacks, and his ceiling is still among the highest being only 20 years old and still displaying the loose mechanics of youth that can lead to errors.

Houston

The Texans signed DB Tyrann Mathieu (Arizona) to a one-year deal worth seven million dollars.

Why It Matters: Mathieu is a getting a far cry from the 18.75 million Arizona would have had to pay him over the next two years if he had stayed on their roster, but Mathieu is only 25 and can get paid that and more next year on the free agent market if he plays up to his previous levels of brilliance. He instantly becomes the best defensive back in a group that has never really hit its stride despite a big investment at cornerback. If the front seven can be as disruptive as they were at their recent peaks, Mathieu should make a lot of plays out of the chaos.

Indianapolis

The Colts traded the #3 pick in the draft to the New York Jets for #6, #37, #49 and a 2019 second-round pick.

Why It Matters: GM Chris Ballard had to do this. The Colts have their quarterback (pending the continued recovery of his throwing shoulder of course) and got to take numerous resources from a team with quarterback hunger while preserving the certainty of getting a top 3-4 non-quarterback on their board - quite possibly even getting the player they would have taken at #3 anyway. Now Ballard could decide to trade down again if only two or three quarterbacks go before their #6 pick and another quarterback-needy team decides to commit to a 2018 draft prospect. The Colts have so many holes on their roster and now they have three extra second-round picks over the next three years to hand-pick players for their new offense and defense.

The Colts released DT Jonathan Hankins.

Why It Matters: Hankins helped a terrible run defense level off at times in 2017, but apparently his fit in new defensive Matt Eberflus scheme made him expendable despite the Colts still carrying a lot of cap room at this juncture in free agency. He’ll surely find a new home and probably get paid something near the 8.468 million dollars he was going to be due on the Colts roster this year. He has been linked to the Lions, who have a need at defensive tackle and a new defensive scheme themselves.

The Colts signed TE Eric Ebron (Detroit) to a two-year deal worth up to 15 million dollars.

Why It Matters: Ebron got a solid monetary commitment from the Colts, who need his receiving ability in the middle of the field despite the presence of Jack Doyle at tight end because they have only one proven wide receiver. Andrew Luck could support two low-end TE1 producers in Ebron and Doyle if Ebron is consistent, but his value will be capped as long as Doyle is healthy. It’s a decent development for Luck, but Ebron will contribute little to nothing as a run blocker.

The Colts signed WR Ryan Grant (Washington) to a one-year deal worth five million dollars.

Why It Matters: Indianapolis’s doctors didn’t fail Grant medically after the Ravens did, and they got him at a great per year and guaranteed money discount from the seven plus and 14.5 million Grant was getting from Baltimore. He will be a competent #2 at best, but closer the the fourth or fifth option in the pass offense, and like Kamar Aiken last year, no guarantee to be a consistent weekly fantasy factor, although he’s worth monitoring iif Luck returns to form.

Jacksonville

The Jaguars released WR Allen Hurns.

Why It Matters: Donte Moncrief and Marqise Lee both got big guaranteed financial commitments from Jacksonville, and Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook both entrenched themselves on the depth chart with good rookie seasons. Hurns’ seven and eight million dollar price tags on his age 26/27 and 27/28 seasons isn’t at all exorbitant in this market and based on his previous level of play, and he should get at least 5-6 million dollars this season from his new team and have a chance to earn more in the future. He could gain fantasy value with his release, potentially going from a crowded depth chart on a run-heavy team to a team with a more fantasy friendly depth chart or passing game. The latest word was that the Cowboys, Jets, Browns, and Ravens were among the suitors for Hurns’ services in 2018. If the Cowboys were to release Dez Bryant to sign Hurns, that would be the best fantasy destination for him, with the Ravens also providing instant fantasy opportunity.

The Jaguars signed restricted free agent RB Corey Grant to a one-year, 2.914 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: Grant was explosive and game-changing whenever the Jaguars gave him a chance to be. They tendered the restricted free agent at a second-round level, guarding him from offer sheets even in a perpetually depressed running back market. Rational management would dictate that Grant’s role grows in 2018 despite the presence of Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon. He could be valuable in any games that Fournette misses and provide an occasional Antone Smith-esque best ball return in the meantime.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers signed OL Mike Pouncey to a two-year, 15 million dollar contract.

Why It Matters: The Chargers lost 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp before the season began last year. They could have a much improved interior offensive line, giving Melvin Gordon III a shot to get out of the sub-four yards per carry doldrums. Pouncey has missed multiple games in four of the last five seasons, likely a big part of the reason Pouncey was relatively cheap on the free agent market.

Miami

The Dolphins signed RB Frank Gore to a one-year deal.

Why It Matters: Gore is still better than his advanced age would suggest, but he’s about as small a threat to Kenyan Drake’s touches as the Dolphins could have added and still addressed the thin depth chart at running back. Drake won’t be getting 85-90% of the snaps and touches like he was late last year, but he can absolutely support a third or fourth-round ADP with Gore spelling him. Gore would only have value if Drake went down, and that’s only if the Dolphins don’t draft a running back this year, to prepare for the future.

New England

The Patriots signed RB Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati).

Why It Matters: Hill only got 150,000 guaranteed on a 1.5 million dollar, one-year deal. He could be a portion of what LeGarrette Blount provided to the running game in recent years and has the size and power at his best to outperform Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the drive and game-closing role. This is best the destination he could have landed in for fantasy, although he has to win a roster spot and hope the team doesn’t draft a similar back

The Patriots traded a fifth-round pick to Oakland for WR Cordarrelle Patterson and a sixth-round pick.

Why It Matters: Patterson probably won’t generate fantasy value in New England for himself, but the team loves former first-round reclamation projects and he could make the offense and return games more explosive while pushing Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett or Kenny Britt off of the roster. The Raiders had to use Patterson a lot while paying him over five million dollars, and took a small draft bump instead carrying him at a 3.25 million dollar price tag this year. He isn’t a lock to make the Patriots roster with a deep group already rostered at wide receiver.

New York Jets

The Jets re-signed CB Morris Claiborne to a one-year, seven million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: With Trumaine Johnson on the other side and safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye on the rise, the Jets have a strong secondary forming, even if their pass rush is among the worst in the league. Claiborne is an underrated player who has been held back by injuries. He could get paid if he plays in 15 games again in 2018. 2017 was the first year that Claiborne played more than 11 games since his rookie year.

The Jets acquired the #3 pick in the draft from the Colts for #6, #37, #49 and a 2019 second-round pick.

Why It Matters: There are at least three and as many as five first-round rated quarterbacks and the Jets now are guaranteed their third-ranked quarterback at worst. They surely have one in mind beyond Sam Darnold, who appears to be the favorite to go #1. If the Giants pass on quarterback and don’t trade down, the Jets could get their #2 ranked quarterback. While three second-round picks is a high price to pay according to traditional pick value charts, those don’t reflect the huge discrepancy between bottom-end starting quarterback pay and rookie deals for top picks, which magnifies the value of hitting on a first-round pick at quarterback. The trade makes sense for the Jets, who didn’t have to part with a first-round pick to make the move, unlike Houston and Kansas City last year.

QB Teddy Bridgewater’s contract with the Jets includes only 500,000 dollars guaranteed.

Why It Matters: Bridgewater isn’t a lock for the opening day roster with the Jets almost certain to take a quarterback at #3 now. While he has the chance to greatly increase his future earnings if Josh McCown gets hurt and he’s the backup ahead of the rookie, he could also be looking for work in Week 1. It appears the league is not ready to buy into the idea that Bridgewater is roughly the same prospect he was before dislocating his knee.

Oakland

The Raiders signed CB Rashaan Melvin (Indianapolis) to a one-year, 6.5 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: The Raiders were relying on 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley and not much else to speak of at corner before this signing. Melvin peaked in 2017, but the Colts did not want to retain him despite fielding a bare depth chart at corner, perhaps figuring that he would get paid in an open market despite turning 29 this year. The Raiders got a very reasonable deal and can at least put two credible corners out there now.

RB Marshawn Lynch took a 500,000 dollar pay cut, but is now guaranteed 4.5 million dollars for 2018.

Why It Matters: The signing of Doug Martin cast doubt on Lynch’s 2018 status in the mind of some, but this seems to have cleared up both his status and role for the upcoming season. While he took a small paycut, a large portion of Lynch’s 2018 salary has been guaranteed, which would lock him into a similar role to the one he had last year, with Martin competing for a smaller role/backup spot with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. Lynch is a risk/reward mid-round pick coming off of a year that was better than his season-end stats would indicate.

NFC

 

Arizona

The Cardinals signed OL Justin Pugh (New York Giants) to a five-year, 45 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: Sam Bradford is going to open the season as the starter, so the quality of the offensive line takes on increased importance for the Cardinals this year. As long as his back is better after an injury that cost him six games at the end of the season last year, Pugh should upgrade the pass blocking at guard for Arizona.

Carolina

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Panthers TE Greg Olsen is committed to playing football in 2018.

Why It Matters: There was some talk that Olsen would return if he got a job as a prime-time game analyst, but that was clarified as a development for the long haul, not 2018. He is still safely in the top 5-6 at tight end in drafts, and Cam Newton will still have one of his top targets to help compensate for a middling at best wide receiver group.

Free agent CB Bashaud Breeland (Washington) failed a physical because of an infection in his foot and his contract with Carolina was voided.

Why It Matters: The Panthers are woefully inexperienced at cornerback and this deal didn’t end up helping the issue. Breeland was a good fit for the defense, but was going be out for months, not days, after a skin graft was called for on his infected foot. The Panthers have to address this heading into a schedule that includes six games against Drew Brees, Jameis Winston, and Matt Ryan, and matchups against Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Alex Smith, and maybe Carson Wentz.

Chicago

The Bears signed previously transition tagged CB Kyle Fuller to a four-year, 56 million dollar deal with 18 million guaranteed.

Why It Matters: For only five million more guaranteed than the transition tag, the Bears will retain Fuller this year with a tolerable per year cost over the next three years if Fuller plays up to a top level through his prime years. The tactic of giving him the transition tag bought the Bears more reach over Fuller’s future than if they had given him the franchise tag, which would have scared off potential offer sheets. This also could be GM Ryan Pace’s strategy on tendering WR Cameron Meredith at only original pick level, which would mean that an offer sheet would cost another team nothing if the Bears choose to not match. Meredith is taking visits elsewhere and probably would sign an offer sheet that puts him well under the long term contract terms he would get next year as an unrestricted free agent, which would then allow the Bears to keep Meredith long term, where a second-round tender would have discouraged offers and only assured them one more year of control.

Dallas

The Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson (Buffalo) to a one-year, 2.5 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: The Cowboys have had a disappointing offseason, but Thompson could give the team an underrated addition of speed and stretch the field against defenses that are preoccupied with stopping the run. Thompson won’t have fantasy value of his own, but he could help the offense be more successful.

Detroit

The Lions signed RB LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract.

Why It Matters: The Lions have been fumbling about for a consistent power presence in the running game, and Blount could provide it in 2018. The team still seems very likely to draft a back early, maybe even LSU’s Derrius Guice in the first round, but for now, Blount has 6-10 touchdown potential.

The Lions signed TE Luke Willson to a one-year, 2.5 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: Eric Ebron is gone to Indianapolis, and Darren Fells is gone to Cleveland, so there’s plenty of targets up for grabs at tight end for the Lions. Willson probably won’t have fantasy value and will compete with 2017 fourth-rounder Michael Roberts for looks, but he does have an intriguing size/speed combination and will be worth watching in very deep TE premium leagues.

Minnesota

Vikings RB Latavius Murray agreed to a contract restructure.

Why It Matters: Murray gave up 1.5 million in base salary, dropping his 2018 pay to 3.65 million. That’s reasonable for a proven running back to spell your starters and provide a quality backup in case Dalvin Cook goes down again. Murray will only have fantasy relevance this year if Cook misses time.

The Vikings signed DT Sheldon Richardson (Seattle) to a one-year contract worth eight million with another three million available in incentives.

Why It Matters: The Vikings already had the best defense in the NFC, now their defensive tackle rotation gets fresher and more talented. They were a strong scoring defense in 2017 and good against both the pass and run, but perhaps Richardson could help them get more lethal pressure inside and force more turnovers this year.

New York Giants

The Giants acquired a 2018 third-round and fourth-round pick from the Buccaneers for a 2018 fourth-round pick and DE Jason-Pierre Paul.

Why It Matters: The Giants are changing the defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher, so Pierre-Paul’s fit could have been a consideration here. He was due 15 million more in signing bonus money in 2019 and 2020, bringing his cap hits to around 20 million each year. By trading him now, the Giants accelerate that hit to this year and actually save a little under the cap. This gives them another top 75 pick this year, and frees up the cap room to sign Landon Collins and Odell Beckham Jr Jr to long-term deals in 2019. Pierre-Paul is 29 and not the player he used to be, so while he might have earned his salary this year, the Giants decided it was better to move on while they are in rebuilding mode.

Philadelphia

The Eagles released DE Vinny Curry, re-signed LB Nigel Bradham to a five-year, 40 million dollar deal and signed DT Haloti Ngata (Detroit) to a one-year, 2.6 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: The Eagles were able to bolster the weakest part of their defense by transferring cap space from Curry to Bradham’s new deal, and the addition Ngata will help bolster a run defense that lost Beau Allen. He’ll play fewer snaps and maybe create more impact per snap a la Marcell Dareus in Jacksonville.

The Eagles signed WR Mike Wallace to a one-year contract.

Why It Matters: The Eagles netted some cheap cornerback depth when they sent Torrey Smith to Carolina, and now they got some deep speed to replace Smith’s tactical value in their diverse pass offense. Wallace will probably have as much fantasy relevance as Smith did last year, but he can also help the pass offense stay at the same high level if he can still threaten with his vertical speed after he turns 32 this August.

Seattle

The Seahawks signed TE Ed Dickson (Carolina) to a three-year deal worth up to 14 million dollars, and WR Jaron Brown (Arizona) to a one-year contract.

Why It Matters: The Seahawks have bled good players this offseason, with Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson Jr gone to greener pastures, and this is the best they could do to replace them. Dickson was at one time an above average physical talent at tight end, but he’s in the autumn of his career and save for a few games last year has never been a fantasy factor. Brown has a size/speed/athleticism combination that has hinted at more after toiling behind an all-world group at wide receiver at Clemson, and could stick as a steady presence outside now two years removed from an ACL tear. Even in a best case scenario, Russell Wilson’s supporting cast has taken a big hit.

The Seahawks re-signed RB Mike Davis to a one-year deal.

Why It Matters: With the state of the Seahawks running game (they did at least sign battleship-sized offensive lineman DJ Fluker this week) and Chris Carson returning from injury, it probably doesn’t matter, but Davis impressed in limited action before getting hurt last year and could be in position for a role again this year.

Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers signed OL Ryan Jensen (Baltimore) to a four-year, 42 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: The Ravens were pressed into playing Jensen at center last year and he more than came through. That level of play earned him a big payday, and left the Ravens looking for a starting center yet again. Tampa’s line doesn’t have any big holes and could lay the groundwork for a resurgence in the running game if they land a top rookie back in April.

The Buccaneers signed DE Vinny Curry (Philadelphia) to a three-year, 27 million dollar deal and traded a 2018 third-round and fourth-round pick to the Giants for a 2018 fourth-round pick and DE Jason-Pierre Paul.

Why It Matters: DT Gerald McCoy was lamenting the team’s inability to improve the edge rush via free agency or trade earlier this offseason, but he has nothing to complain about now. The team had ample cap room to take on both players and should have two starting quality ends for the first time since their defensive heyday. The immense disappointment of 2017 is giving way to another offseason that is creating hope of a turnaround.