Day 1 free-agency fantasy roundup
Raiders bring back McFadden, let Jennings leave for Giants
There's a line by Albert Einstein about the definition of insanity. It's something about trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results. There's this other line by George Santayana about people who don't remember history -- something about being doomed to repeat it.
And yet here the Raiders are, signing Darren McFadden for yet another go-round, albeit essentially on a one-year, $1.75 million deal (and much less than that may be guaranteed). Nevertheless, how do you suppose this ends? DMC missed 19 games the past three years because of injuries. In his six-year pro career, he has never played more than 13 games in a season, and in the past two years, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Nobody questions McFadden's raw tools, but staying in Oakland just feels like punishment all around. You know the team won't be good. You know the quarterback will be a Band-Aid. The offensive line looks further diminished. Even if McFadden stays healthy -- which he won't -- does anyone seriously see a renaissance here?
Add to the mix the fact that the Raiders just let Rashad Jennings walk to the New York Giants, and this actually may be a recipe for Latavius Murray sleeper love. Murray sat out his rookie year with an ankle problem, but he's 6-foot-2, 223 pounds and ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day. He's inexperienced and was never a breakout star at Central Florida, but he looks the part of a potential platoon mate for DMC, and possibly a starting fantasy option if/when McFadden gets hurt again. (Personally, I've got Murray in a couple of different dynasty leagues, so, y'know, fingers crossed.) There are rumors that the Raiders may sign Andre Brown to join their backfield, too, but for the moment I have McFadden rated 31st among RBs and Murray rated 38th.
Here are your other key Day 1 signings:
Rashad Jennings to Giants
I already mentioned this one: Jennings, who was considered likely to re-sign in Oakland, is now the favorite to lead Big Blue in touches for 2014. Like the man he replaces, Andre Brown, Jennings is a big dude at 6-1 and 234 pounds, and it's reasonable to expect that Jennings will slide into Brown's role, even with Peyton Hillis re-signing with the Giants Tuesday. The key variable in New York's backfield is David Wilson. He's got the every-down chops, whereas Jennings is better cast as a thumper and goal-line threat. But Wilson also is coming off spinal fusion surgery in his neck, and isn't guaranteed to play another down in the NFL.
The best-case scenario for New York would see Wilson leading a split with Jennings, and Hillis on the street. But at this point, knowing what we know about the severity of Wilson's neck injury and his mercurial NFL career (including some shaky pass protection), I'd certainly draft Jennings miles ahead of Wilson. Jennings broke some big plays for Oakland in '13, but shouldn't be confused with a speedy player. He's one of those guys who takes a while to get up to top gear, but he's a legit bruiser. I have him rated 24th among RBs at the moment, while Wilson is 41st. And if the news on Wilson's neck gets scarier, Jennings has top-20 upward mobility.
The Jags gave Gerhart $4.5 million guaranteed, which makes him the favorite to replace Maurice Jones-Drew as their starting tailback. What I like about Gerhart's game: He's a ferocious pass-blocker and has a surprising slipperiness in close quarters for a guy who drags around 230 pounds. What I don't like about Gerhart's game: That slipperiness shouldn't be mistaken for quickness (and is actually probably borne of strength), and he takes way too many strides to get to top speed.
While I believe Gerhart is probably a better player than incumbents Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson, I couldn't swear to it. I think we can probably expect to see those smaller guys on the field quite a lot. However, whatever few rushing TDs a Chad Henne-led offense produces -- in 2013, that number was a mere seven, though to be fair, all seven came from inside the opponent's 6 -- are likely to go to Gerhart. Right now, he's 36th on my RB list, while Todman is 53rd and Robinson is 79th.
Brown got $4 million guaranteed from the Chargers, but he joins a much more complicated depth chart than Gerhart. Behind Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in '13, Ronnie Brown had 45 carries and eight receptions. But you don't pay Donald Brown $4 million for 53 touches per season, and you also don't release players like Mathews or Woodhead, who make relatively short money. (Mathews will make $2 million and Woodhead $1.75 million in '14; both are free agents in '15.)
Frankly, this is a confusing signing. Ronnie Brown was an elite pass-blocker; Donald Brown is "Dammit Donald." (Google it if you're not familiar) Will San Diego trust him on third downs? Will they simply mix him in sparingly until and if Mathews gets hurt? Or will they make him part of a legit three-headed monster, rendering each of them maddening on a week-to-week basis? I have to admit: At this point, I'd be guessing. Mathews had great results in the second half of '13 but still lacks elite footwork, Woodhead is a tough little pass-catcher but now would seem to have a smaller role as a runner, and Brown turned his career around in '13, becoming a decisive dervish hitting holes hard. For the moment, I've got Mathews at No. 17 among RBs, while Brown is 39th and Woodhead is 44th.
Denver Broncos' defense improves
If the Broncos had signed only strong safety T.J. Ward on Tuesday, it would've been a great day. Duke Ihenacho was a weak link last season -- to be fair, it was the first season he saw action on defense -- and had his playing time decreased late in the season. Ward is a big-time hitter and one of the game's most feared run-defending safeties, and Denver got him for "only" $14 million guaranteed. (By contrast, the New Orleans Saints gave free safety Jairus Byrd $28 million guaranteed.)
But then late Tuesday came word that the Broncos also signed corner Aqib Talib from their rivals, the New England Patriots. Talib got a whopping guaranteed $25.5 million, the most ever for a cornerback. This means Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will move on, but by any measure, Talib is an upgrade over anything the Denver defense ran out there in '13. Considering DeMarcus Ware is joining a rehabbing Von Miller (torn ACL) on the Broncos' pass rush, we could be looking at the birth of a fantasy monster. I reserve the right to change my mind based on this fluid situation, but at the moment, for me the Broncos rank fourth among fantasy defenses.
Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line problems
The biggest loser in the Day 1 offensive line shuffle may be Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs find themselves in a shaky cap situation, and were basically powerless to prevent the departures of left tackle Branden Albert (Miami Dolphins), right guard Jon Asamoah (Atlanta Falcons), and swing guard Geoff Schwartz (Giants). The Chiefs hope they have a tackle solution in last year's No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, but Fisher was terrible in his rookie year (and right now his opposite number is Donald Stephenson, though one assumes KC will sign some more bodies). And the situation at guard looks even worse; with Asamoah and Schwartz gone, Jeff Allen and perhaps Rokevious Watkins are now the favorites to start. It would be a mistake to declare this unit set in stone after one day of free agency, but it seems clear they won't be able to add a big name.
The Redskins gave Roberts $8 million guaranteed on the same day as they re-signed Santana Moss on the cheap, which tells you what new coach Jay Gruden thinks of Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson and free agent Josh Morgan. Roberts appears to be a curious fit opposite Pierre Garcon; each player has above-average speed and below-average size. It wouldn't be the first time Washington has seen a Smurf-like receiving corps, of course, but times have changed, and a Garcon/Roberts/Moss triumvirate would invite physical defensive play that could interrupt Robert Griffin III's development as more of a quick-hitting QB in Gruden's system.
Anyway, Garcon finished second in targets among all NFL WRs last season, two fewer than A.J. Green and one more than Andre Johnson. It's difficult to imagine that Roberts will siphon off enough of those looks to become a consistent fantasy target. He's still only 50th on my WR list, while Garcon stays happily nestled inside the top 20.
Dexter McCluster is coming off a career-best 53 grabs for 511 yards and got $4.5 million guaranteed from the Tennessee Titans, but don't bite. McCluster was brought in for his special teams prowess, as the Titans have a strong group of wideouts, led by Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. ... Ahmad Bradshaw came back to the Indianapolis Colts on the cheap. Bradshaw may be the oldest 28-year-old in NFL history; he's coming off neck surgery, plus he's had ankle and foot problems his entire career. For now you can expect Indy to try like heck to let Trent Richardson win their starting gig this fall, with Bradshaw and Vick Ballard competing to back him up. ... Andre Caldwell got a two-year deal to re-sign with the Denver Broncos, and you might envision that if Eric Decker goes elsewhere as expected, Caldwell could benefit. But I'm not buying. He's a slot player who really saw any significant action only when Wes Welker was hurt in '13. ... Brandon Myers went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which dampens any enthusiasm you might've had for Timothy Wright. Neither guy can block, and each ran the majority of his routes out of the slot last season. One may get cut in favor of a Luke Stocker type who can maul, but either way there's no fantasy value here. ... The San Francisco 49ers gave up a sixth-round draft pick in exchange for Blaine Gabbert, whom the Jaguars once drafted with the 10th overall pick. One imagines Gabbert may be asked to renegotiate his $2 million price tag, especially considering it's twice the salary earned by the man he'll hope to back up in '14, Colin Kaepernick.
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