5 Free Agency Signings I'd Love to See

A look at my favorite landing spots for five impending free agents I'm keeping close tabs on

As the early-March free agency rush approaches, I've found myself watching several assets more closely than the pack. And it's led me to dream up five optimal scenarios, all of which look sexy here in February and could wind up bringing serious ADP value over the summer and fall.

Heavy Impact

Jimmy Graham to the Ravens

We could look at Graham’s wonky production in Seattle with skepticism toward his future. Or, we could note that Graham was merely next in a line of gifted yet cast-away pass-catchers the Seahawks have brought in, but struggled to incorporate. Over the past seven years the team has signed Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and most recently Graham to semi-pricey deals, but only Graham has provided a season of more than 50 catches or 748 yards. In fact, he’s kept up his elite Saints-era touchdown rate (18 scores across 170 Seattle receptions); there are still few tougher NFL covers near the goal line. Still, it probably makes sense for both sides to end the partnership now. The Seahawks are up against the cap and have young talent at tight end, while Graham is seeking his final NFL Brinks truck of cash. He’s not at the end of the line, and there are numerous teams who ache for his seam-busting and touchdown-making talents.

The Ravens would appreciate Graham. We can confidently expect that Joe Flacco will continue to throw often – and furthermore, that he’ll keep pushing the ball to his tight ends.

2016 - 17 PER GAME

 DropbacksAttemptsTE Target%TE Targets
NFL Average 37.2 34.9 19.0% 6.63
J. Flacco 40.8 39.0 22.7% 8.84

Graham’s upgrade over the likes of Ben Watson, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams would be massive. Last year, Watson caught 61 passes as a 37-year-old fresh off a torn Achilles. The team ran out 2-3 tight ends often, shoehorning in opportunity for the underwhelming Williams, who’s yet to impress on any level (7.5 yards per catch, 12.2 per game through 2 seasons). It would be safe to project Graham’s role to replace at least 1-2 of the incumbents’; give him Watson’s and Williams’ workloads, say, and he’d hover around 100 targets over a full season. Consider further that Jeremy Maclin looks like an easy cut, saving $5 million for the cap-strapped Ravens, and that Watson and Mike Wallace are unrestricted free agents without much return appeal. That would bring more than enough volume to supplement Graham’s sky-high touchdown potential; the drop-off in general offensive climate probably wouldn’t ding his outlook much, if at all.

Jarvis Landry to the Bears

Landry is absolutely a limited receiver. We know about his armadillo-like 2014 combine performance (a 4.77 40-yard dash and a 28.5 vertical), and we know that his 10.1 NFL yards-per-catch isn’t impressive. (Consider that, last season, Landry drew fewer Air Yards per Target than the likes of Jesse James and Jermaine Gresham.) But his chain-moving ability – only six NFL wideouts have produced more first downs since he was drafted – brings demonstrable, if relatively boring, fantasy value. Landry has caught 400 balls over 4 NFL seasons (third-most since 2014), and his underneath game translates all over the league.

A move to Chicago was whispered about late last offseason; it made sense then, and I like it today. The Bears, of course, “boast” one of the league’s most talent-deprived stable of wideouts. The fact that Markus Wheaton’s impending release actually matters here tells us all we need to know about its state. The Bears need bodies, and they can’t be too picky as they restock a near-bare pantry. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to add playmakers for Mitchell Trubisky; Landry would bring a stable, safety-valve presence for his development. If Landry were to replace Kendall Wright (91 targets, a 19.2% team share) in the slot – and soak up short targets from low-impact guys like Tarik Cohen and the team’s bevy of tight ends – he’d likely make a run at 85-90 receptions. That’s a tad shy of his typical Miami line, but it’d be awfully impressive coming from a slow-paced, run-oriented offense – and it would probably come at a cheaper ADP than we’re used to. And Bears receivers should carry even more volume upside in 2017, assuming new offensive mind Matt Nagy has more responsibility in mind for Trubisky.

Moderate Impact

Kirk Cousins to the Jets

There’s a ton to like about the idea of Cousins in New York, and atop the list is the presence (we assume) of Robby Anderson. It could be argued that the primary factor behind Cousins’ massive 2017 drop-off was his lack of an explosive deep threat; more simply put, the loss of DeSean Jackson. Take a gander at Cousins’ Washington splits with and without the clear-out monstrosity of Jackson in the lineup with him:

 w/ Jacksonw/out Jackson
Games 30 16
Att/Gm 35.6 30.5
Comp % 66.9 63.6
PaYd/Gm 293.7 206.2
PaTD/Gm 1.70 1.31
INT/Gm 0.9 1.0
FP/Gm 23.4 16.0

Yowzer: that’s a tale of two quarterbacks. Cousins was, for the most part, a great quarterback and fantasy producer with Jackson for (most of) 2016, and a mediocre passer with modest fantasy appeal without him in 2017. I’m of the opinion that Jackson’s deep-ball chops – both as a target and as a decoy – played a huge role in that discrepancy. So much of last year’s Washington passing game was rooted in predictable short throws to Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson, and the team’s tight ends, but Cousins is an underrated downfield thrower. In 2016, according to the Brick Wall Blitz’s expansive Deep Ball project, Cousins led the entire NFL in both completions and yardage on throws of 20+ yards. With the eruptive Anderson running downfield and clear-out routes, Cousins could be thrust right back into his 2016 comfort zone.

Now, Cousins may never regain his dazzling fantasy form of 2015 (29 touchdowns) and 2016 (4,917 yards). He likely wouldn’t approach 600 attempts in this offense, which was slow-paced in 2017 and seems unlikely to change much after promoting quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates to coordinator. But it would certainly be worth chasing his upside with Anderson, an ascending deep-ball talent who caught more passes of 20+ yards last year (17) than Tyreek Hill or T.Y. Hilton, and a physical mismatch at tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With the Jets running game still in transition, I’d be intrigued by Cousins’ potential to generate 25+ touchdowns and serve as a solid 2018 streaming option, at worst. He could be a solid asset for best-ball drafters who shrewdly sit tight at quarterback and team him with 1-2 similar options at low ADPs.

Potential Impact

Carlos Hyde to the Giants

On the surface, this idea makes it sound as though I hate Hyde. For several years, the Giants backfield has been where fantasy football fun goes to die. It hasn’t produced a per-game RB2 or better since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012; over that span, no team has averaged few yards per rush, and only the Chargers have produced fewer ground touchdowns. The team could look to change course with Saquon Barkley, should he fall to the draft’s second pick, but that seems unlikely. With a quarterback at age 37 and an offensive line starved for talent, the Giants seem unlikely to make a massive draft splash at RB. Instead, they’d probably be better served chasing veteran talent at a hefty discount. Hyde may have worn out his welcome with the rebuilding 49ers – and a coaching staff that didn’t draft him – but still brings plenty of appeal as a rotation-leading back elsewhere. He’d bring a talent upgrade over generally unimpressive second-year man Wayne Gallman, who averaged just 5.06 yards per college run and thoroughly bombed last year’s combine. Gallman had a decent enough rookie season, but the team would love real competition for him.

Hyde didn’t wow many with his 2017 numbers (3.91 yards per rush, 58.6 per game), but there was more to the story. He turned things around somewhat once Jimmy Garoppolo stepped under center, benefitting from a quicker (and finally competent) offense to produce solidly over 2017’s final 4 weeks. And with his passing-game resurgence fresh on the brain, Hyde could help wipe the slate clean of failed experiments Shane Vereen and Paul Perkins, as well. He may never again chase 59 receptions, but at least looks suited to a three-down role and could easily threaten 45-50 as a lead back. He’d be hard to project to a bona fide starter’s role in the offseason, but would bring sneaky fantasy appeal as a mid-round RB2 in an offense like Pat Shurmur’s – with the upside for a major bounce.

Donte Moncrief staying with the Colts

Full disclosure: I’m an unabashed sucker for Moncrief. I’ve written and argued more about him than just about any individual prospect over the past four years, and I’m still sending annoying “feeler” trades in my two dynasty leagues (I’m not asking much). Most of that love can be traced back to his 2014 combine, which was simply nothing short of outstanding. One of my favorite athletic measures of a receiver is his Adjusted Explosiveness Index, a number Raymond Summerlin has used to synthesize a prospect’s size, speed, and jumping ability. And dating back to 1999, only 8 prospects have topped Moncrief’s number. That list of eight is an unholy mix of megastuds (Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson), nobodies (Stephen Hill, Tyrone Calico, Mark Harrison), and one solid success story (Chris Chambers). Of course, that’s ancient history entering Season 5, but Moncrief will still only be 24 when camp starts. I’m also encouraged by the real (if far too sparse) flashes of touchdown-making we’ve seen from Moncrief thus far.

All of that makes for nice chat, but even I have to concede that Moncrief has been nearly invisible since 2015. Even with Andrew Luck under center, he’s underproduced mightily – just 3.7 receptions and 40.9 yards in Luck-started games. Obviously, a rebound into a Chris Chambers career is a ways off, but there are still such intriguing tools at play. Since he was drafted, Moncrief has actually been slightly more effective for Luck than T.Y. Hilton on a basis of adjusted yards per attempt, and he’s turned 18 of his 257 career targets into touchdowns. In 2016 he bounced back majorly as a downfield threat, averaging a career-high 15.0 yards per catch on a stout 14.1 air yards per target. Moncrief is an unrestricted free agent, but would likely benefit best by staying put, locking down the Colts’ No. 2 job (No. 3 target), and re-establishing his playmaking ability. If nothing else, he could benefit mightily just from an offensive resurgence in Indianapolis. Luck may not be ready to look elite, but even a marginal correction on 2017’s low-volume Jacoby Brissett attack That leaves plenty of room for big bounceback upside for this entire offense if Luck is hunky-dory. Remember: this offense produced 51 touchdowns in 2014, Luck’s last truly healthy season. Moncrief may struggle for volume, with a floor around 40-45 catches, but his overall ceiling will be tempting if he stays in Indianapolis and comes to us cheaply.