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Friday, March 5, 2010
Taylor, Burleson gain in free agency

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Thoughts from the first morning and afternoon of NFL free agency:

• The biggest loser in the opening moves is, without question, Matt Forte. With Chester Taylor signing with the Chicago Bears for $7 million guaranteed and Mike Martz coming on board as offensive coordinator, it's not hard to see a platoon coming, which might be a best-case scenario for Forte. As the bigger man (6-foot-2, 216 pounds, compared with Taylor's 5-foot-11, 213), he'll probably still get first crack at being the team's goal-line back, but remember: Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in '06, his first year with the Minnesota Vikings before some guy named Adrian Peterson came along.

Chester Taylor
Chester Taylor scored just two touchdowns in 2009 but had six total TDs in 2008 backing up Adrian Peterson.

Taylor has skills to be an every-down back. We know he's an elite third-down and receiving option, something Martz loves. Of course, Forte can catch well, too (63 and 54 receptions his first two seasons). I guess what I'm saying is that it's tough to divine a situation where one of these guys earns a full starter's reps without an injury to the other. Add in the fact that the Bears' O-line has big question marks (although it does have decent upside), and neither Forte nor Taylor belongs in your top 20 running backs next season, unless you're in a point-per-reception league. In a PPR, I think I actually might prefer Taylor.

Nate Burleson, last seen playing 14 of a possible 32 games for the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons, somehow swung $11 million guaranteed from the Detroit Lions, who acknowledged the failure of their Bryant Johnson experiment last season. Burleson is a straight-line guy with historically shaky hands (although he seemed to improve in that area last season) who won't distract opposing defenses from double-teaming Calvin Johnson, at least not until he puts together several good games in a row. Can Burleson by himself be a fantasy factor? I still think he's bench fodder, but he probably earns a spot in my top 50 receivers because he moves to a club whose quarterback has the arm to get it to him deep.

• The Carolina Panthers cut Jake Delhomme on Thursday night, admitting that signing him to that huge contract ($20 million guaranteed) after his playoff implosion against the Arizona Cardinals last season was stupid. But give the team credit for acknowledging the mistake; there are NFL franchises (paging Oakland Raiders) who regularly refuse to give up on lost causes, and Delhomme was a lost cause. Matt Moore has already been named Carolina's starter in '10, and A.J. Feeley was also kicked to the curb, so it wouldn't appear that Moore will have much competition for snaps. But he's also never played a full season, he has only Steve Smith to throw to, and the Panthers are a run-first team. Right now, I don't view him as a top-20 fantasy option.

• The Philadelphia Eagles retained fullback Leonard Weaver, which in a roundabout way could be good news for LeSean McCoy. With Brian Westbrook gone, McCoy is the presumptive starter, but there's been speculation that the Eagles have doubts about his ability to assume a Westbrook-esque workload, which could lead the team to draft or sign another back. That could still happen. But by retaining Weaver, who got 70 carries in '09, the Eagles could also be signaling that they're comfortable with him as the de facto backup. Until further notice, McCoy remains inside my top 20 running backs for '10.

• The Chicago Bears have had a busy first day: They also signed former San Diego Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Now, Manumaleuna isn't going to be a fantasy factor; he's one of the league's premier blocking tight ends. But his becoming a Bear could be very bad news for Greg Olsen's future in the Windy City. Could the team keep both guys and run a lot of two-tight-end sets? Sure, if its new offensive coordinator wasn't some guy named Martz. Either Olsen's fantasy value just dropped even lower, or he'll be leaving town via trade.

• A few teams made defensive splashes in the first hours after midnight. The Chicago Bears signed Julius Peppers to a six-year contract with $40 million guaranteed. ... The New York Jets traded a conditional draft pick to the San Diego Chargers for corner Antonio Cromartie, an All-Pro in '07 but an underperformer the past two seasons (and an off-field knucklehead). If Cromartie turns it around in Gotham, he'll only add to a scary fantasy defense; I think it's likelier that teams are going to pick on him for 60 minutes every week. ... And the Detroit Lions signed former Tennessee Titans (and Arizona Cardinals) defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who was a strong performer two years ago when he played with Albert Haynesworth, but who was invisible for an awful lot of the '09 season. ... The Lions also traded a late-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for Corey Williams, once a burgeoning star for the Green Bay Packers who flamed out in the 3-4 defense. In his return to a 4-3, he may very well be effective again. ... The Jets were already my No. 1 fantasy defense for next season. The Bears made strides toward becoming at least a top-15 fantasy defense with the Peppers signing, though they need secondary help, too. Is the Lions' D now fantasy-relevant? Um, no. They released their only decent corner (Phillip Buchanon) and haven't replaced him yet. For now, it still looks ugly in the Motor City.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.