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Free Agency Overview: Key NFL Signings And Their Implications

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Ishmael Butler, James Harrison and David Bowie.

The initial surge of free agent signings is mostly at its conclusion, and it's time to look around to see who's switching jerseys.

This article is broken into four sections. The first three focus on offensive players: changed teams, notable re-signings and remaining free agents. The fourth focuses on IDPs. The players are sorted by position and then listed in a rough descending order of fantasy significance.

Changed teams

QBs

Josh McCown, TB (previous team: Chicago)

Contract: Two years, $10 million

Not only did Tampa Bay lure McCown away from Chicago, but new coach Lovie Smith almost immediately named McCown the team's starting quarterback. It was a surprising statement since Mike Glennon threw 19 touchdowns and just nine interceptions as a rookie last year. Impressive as McCown's breakout 2013 season was, throwing for 1,829 yards (8.2 YPA), 13 touchdowns and one interception, it wasn't necessarily convincing. McCown struggled as a starter in Arizona (2004, 2005) and Oakland (2007), and that was despite throwing to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald when he was with the Cardinals. Chicago coach Marc Trestman is the only coach who's been able to lead McCown to success, and it remains to be seen whether Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford can match Trestman. McCown will have an elite WR1 in Vincent Jackson and should have an effective running game at his side, at least.


RBs

Ben Tate, CLE (previous team: Houston)

Contract: Two years, maximum of $7 million


Injuries and the presence of Arian Foster prevented Tate from earning a workhorse role in Houston since 2010. Now that he's in Cleveland, Tate has just the injuries to worry about. The likes of Edwin Baker, Fozzy Whittaker and Dion Lewis shouldn't pose much of a threat to Tate's workload, and he steps into an offense directed by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who helped engineer offenses that made fantasy hits out of Alfred Morris and Steve Slaton. At 5-foot-11, 217 pounds and with 4.4 speed, Tate has the power and burst to capitalize in Cleveland with a little injury luck. He has 1,992 career rushing yards (4.7 YPC) and 10 touchdowns on 421 carries, though his career average of 4.9 yards per catch indicates he doesn't have much receiving upside.

Rashad Jennings, NYG (previous team: Oakland)

Contract: Four years, $14 million


Few players saw their fortunes improve as much as Jennings' have over the last year. Following a miserable 2012 season in which he totaled just 283 yards on 101 carries an average of 2.8 yards per carry it seemed as if the season-ending knee injury Jennings suffered in September of 2011 might have robbed him of his talents. But Jennings signed with Oakland prior to 2013, and by the end of the year he had climbed to the top of its depth chart. He arrives in New York with a starting role within reach. With David Wilson (neck) uncertain for the future, Jennings should probably be considered the favorite to start for the Giants. He totaled more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in Oakland a year ago (733 rushing yards, 292 receiving yards).

Toby Gerhart, JAC (previous team: Minnesota)

Contract: Three years, $10.5 million


Stuck behind Adrian Peterson for the entirety of his four-year career in Minnesota, Gerhart lands in Jacksonville with fresh legs at the very least. His days of roaming the sidelines appear to be over, though, as Jacksonville seems set on installing him as the team's top runner in 2014. At 6-0, 231 pounds and possessing good receiving ability, he has the on-paper look of a three-down workhorse, in fact. The presence of fellow runner Jordan Todman is a slight concern for Gerhart's fantasy value, but the likely ineptitude of the Jacksonville offense as a whole is much more troubling. The best-case scenario for Gerhart's upside would be if a rookie quarterback displaced Chad Henne from the starting lineup, but rookie quarterbacks aren't generally known for putting points on the board. Gerhart's carry count in the red zone doesn't figure to be especially high.

Dexter McCluster, TEN (previous team: Kansas City)

Contract: Three years, $9 million


McCluster was a useful slot wideout for Kansas City last year, catching 53 passes for 511 yards and two scores while adding two more touchdowns on punt returns, but he heads to Tennessee to play in more of a running back role. Coach Ken Whisenhunt evidently hopes to use McCluster in a role similar to the one Danny Woodhead played in San Diego last year, so McCluster could hold a surprising amount of fantasy utility if he turns out to be qualified for the task. McCluster posted respectable numbers as a running back in 2011, running for 516 yards and a touchdown on 114 carries (4.5 YPC) and catching 46 passes for 328 yards and a score.

Donald Brown, RB, SD (previous team: Indianapolis)

Contract: Three years, $10.5 million



The addition of Brown to the San Diego backfield is a bit puzzling at a glance. Danny Woodhead was a big hit as a runner-receiver dual threat, and former first-round pick Ryan Mathews finally played all 16 games, turning in a career year with 1,255 yards (4.4 YPC) and six touchdowns on the ground. But the Chargers were reminded of Mathews' frailty when he suffered an ankle sprain shortly before the start of the playoffs, and Mathews' contract expires after 2014. Brown gives San Diego reliable insurance at running back should Mathews unsurprisingly get hurt again, and he gives the team a cheap fallback option beyond 2014 if Mathews leaves town at the season's conclusion.

WRs

Eric Decker, NYJ (previous team: Denver)

Contract: Five years, $36.25 million


The gap between Peyton Manning and Geno Smith couldn't be much bigger, but at least Decker lands on a team with very little competition for targets. Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Stephen Hill combined for 249 targets last year, so Decker seems like a reasonable bet to approach around 120 targets. With 32 touchdowns on his last 216 catches, Decker should secure a high percentage of however many touchdown passes the Jets throw in 2014.

Golden Tate, DET (previous team: Seattle)

Contract: Five years, $31 million


Tate has been extremely efficient over the last two years, averaging 9.6 yards per target while totaling 109 catches for 1,586 yards and 12 touchdowns. It's reasonable to hope for a breakout season in 2014, as Tate leaves Seattle's run-heavy offense for a Detroit offense built on Matt Stafford and the passing game. Coach Jim Caldwell called a Baltimore offense that ran 614 pass plays in 2013, so Detroit's emphasis on the passing game should remain in effect this year. Tate should earn a huge portion of the target count previously held by Kris Durham and Nate Burleson, and those two combined for 139 a year ago.

Emmanuel Sanders, DEN (previous team: Pittsburgh)

Contract: Three years, $15 million


Sanders will replace Eric Decker as Denver's second outside receiver, with Demaryius Thomas playing the lead at the other outside spot and Wes Welker remaining in the slot. At just 5-11, 180, however, Sanders isn't likely to match Decker's prominence in the offense, and almost certainly not in the red zone. Sanders simply isn't as skilled as Decker, moreover, so some of Decker's previous workload is likely to get split up between Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas. Still, playing fourth fiddle in a Peyton Manning offense could yield a career year for Sanders after he caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns in 2013.

Hakeem Nicks, IND (previous team: Giants)

Contract: One year, $3.5 million


It's possible Nicks' recurring knee and foot issues have drained him of some of the athleticism that made him look like a special talent in the not-so-distant past, but there's redemption potential for Nicks as he lands in an Andrew Luck-led offense. Eli Manning's passing abilities have rapidly deteriorated over the last two years, and it might not be entirely Nicks' fault that he posted just three touchdowns in his last 109 receptions, including none in 2013. Reggie Wayne will be 36 on Nov. 17 and is returning from an Oct. 20 ACL tear, and T.Y. Hilton (5-foot-9, 178) isn't suited to a workhorse role.

Steve Smith, BAL (previous team: Carolina)

Contract: Three years, $11 million


Even though he lost some of his speed in recent years, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Smith remains unparalleled in terms of fire and toughness, so he could establish himself as Baltimore's primary underneath option at receiver. Torrey Smith is best suited working downfield, and the addition of Steve Smith affords Baltimore the luxury of allowing the two to specialize in what they do best. Although Smith failed to reach the 100-yard mark in 2013, Carolina got a fine showing from him in his final game with the team, as he caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Andre Roberts, WR, WAS (previous team: Arizona)

Contract: Four years, $16 million


Roberts finished the 2012 season with 64 catches for 759 yards (11.9 YPC) and five touchdowns despite enduring a foul quarterback rotation that year, but the growth of former first-round pick Michael Floyd pushed Roberts to the margins in 2013. After catching just 43 passes for 471 yards and two touchdowns last year, Roberts won't be an exciting fantasy option in Washington. He could have some low-ceiling value, though, since the Redskins badly lack pass-catching threats aside from Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed.

James Jones, WR, OAK (former team: GB)

Contract: Three years, $11.3 million

The emergence of Jarrett Boykin allowed Green Bay to let Jones walk this offseason, and he received a surprisingly lukewarm reception in free agency prior to agreeing to terms with Oakland on Monday. He should emerge as Oakland's top receiver, but Denarius Moore and Rod Streater will steal plenty of targets, and the pie might not be very big in an Oakland offense that currently has Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor as its top quarterbacks. Jones' value would get a boost if Oakland reels in Matt Schaub, Michael Vick or one of the top rookie quarterbacks.

Brandon LaFell, WR, NE (previous team: Carolina)

Contract: Three years, $11 million


The Patriots were desperate for some size and speed at receiver, and they took a chance on LaFell to come through in those categories. At 6-2, 210, LaFell stands out in a wideout group otherwise headlined by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Even while playing with a full play count in an offense led by an elite quarterback, though, LaFell failed to exceed 677 receiving yards in any of the last three years with Carolina.

Andrew Hawkins, WR, CLE **(CIN still has time to match RFA offer)

The Bengals tendered Hawkins, a restricted free agent, at the 'original pick' level of compensation. Since he was undrafted, that meant Cleveland wouldn't need to surrender a draft pick if it signed Hawkins to an offer sheet. The Browns decided to swoop in, and now the Bengals are left to decide whether to give Hawkins the four-year, $13.6 million deal the Browns are wiling to pay. Lack of size (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) prevents Hawkins from playing outside of the slot on most downs, but he has extremely fast feet and could emerge as Cleveland's third-leading target after Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.

TEs

John Carlson, TE, ARZ (previous team: Minnesota)

Contract: Two years, $4.65 million


He's not necessarily an intimidating one, but Rob Housler is a significant obstacle to Carlson. Housler caught just 39 passes for 454 yards and a touchdown in 13 games last year, though Carlson's 32 catches for 344 yards and a score in 13 games wasn't any better. The two might negate each other's fantasy value rather than create any for themselves.

Brandon Myers, TE, TB (previous team: Giants)

Contract: Two years, $4 million


Just one year removed from a 79-catch, 806-yard showing in Oakland, Myers' fantasy value looks rather low in Tampa Bay. He caught only 47 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns with the Giants last year, and fellow tight end Tim Wright might steal a significant number of targets in what ought to be a modest Tampa Bay passing game.

Left tackles Branden Albert (MIA) and Jared Veldheer (ARZ)

It's not often an offensive lineman is worth keeping in mind for fantasy football considerations, but Albert and Veldheer are exceptions. They both have above average talent at their positions, and they both head to offenses that badly lacked blocking ability prior to their arrivals.

Veldheer's arrival in Arizona occurs alongside the return of guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed all of his 2013 rookie season due to a leg fracture after the Cardinals selected him seventh overall. Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington could both noticeably benefit. Albert, meanwhile, should provide a significant upgrade over Bryant McKinnie, which will hopefully allow the Dolphins to protect Ryan Tannehill better after allowing an unacceptable 58 sacks in 2013.

Notable re-signings

Darren McFadden, RB, OAK


Two straight years of 3.3 yards per carry and 29 missed games in six years has McFadden's value in the basement, and a one-year, $1.75 million deal from Oakland is what he was left with. Rashad Jennings is with the Giants now, and the Raiders otherwise have just Latavius Murray for running back competition, but it seems as if McFadden is a long shot to capitalize even if he remains starter in 2014.

Julian Edelman, WR, NE

Cleveland and San Francisco were looking at adding Edelman, but Cleveland eventually opted to pursue Cincinnati RFA Andrew Hawkins as their new slot receiver, and New England quickly took advantage of Edelman's deflated market. With the modest trio of Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson next in line at receiver and Rob Gronkowski (knee) on shaky ground, Edelman could push for the 100-catch mark for the second year in a row.

Anquan Boldin, WR, SF

Boldin's age-33 season and first one in San Francisco turned out to be his best since 2008. Boldin works well with Colin Kaepernick, and it showed as he reeled in 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven scores. Even with lead wideout Michael Crabtree back, Boldin posted a respectable playoff box score with 16 catches for 227 yards and a score in three games. He might remain relevant for another year or two after signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the 49ers.

Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, WR, PHI

Philadelphia was able to bring back both of its big name free agent receivers Maclin on a one-year deal and Cooper on a five-year deal. Cooper couldn't compare to Maclin prior to the 2013 season, but Maclin's ACL tear and Cooper's 835-yard, eight-touchdown breakout season have left Maclin with more to prove. For now, anyway. Maclin was much better than Cooper in the three years prior to last, and Maclin is a candidate to post career-best efficiency numbers as he benefits from the Chip Kelly scheme for the first time. Neither player is much more than a gamble in fantasy leagues, but at least one should be fantasy relevant in 2014 with Jason Avant (76 targets) gone and Nick Foles in line for 16 starts.

Dennis Pitta, TE, BAL

Pitta was promising in his late-season return from a dislocated hip last year, and the Ravens gave him a five-year, $32.5 million contract for his reward. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a history of making his tight ends productive, and Pitta is a strong candidate to serve as Baltimore's second-most productive pass catcher behind downfield specialist Torrey Smith.

Garrett Graham, TE, HOU

The Texans cut longtime tight end Owen Daniels, leaving Graham and Ryan Griffin to step in as Houston's top two tight ends. New coach Bill O'Brien has a history of getting big numbers out of his tight ends, both in New England and at Penn State, so it's an ideal situation for Graham. O'Brien stated he plans to use Graham as the 'move' tight end in his offense, which is the role that Aaron Hernandez once had.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, DET

Pettigrew's per-target efficiency has been poor for years, but the Lions evidently value his ability to contribute as a blocker on the edge. They handed over a four-year, $16 million contract a few days ago, but second-year player Joseph Fauria is the most intriguing fantasy tight end in Detroit.

Andrew Quarless, TE, GB

Quarless returns to Green Bay on a two-year deal, and he'll be the favorite to start at tight end if the team doesn't draft another one in the first couple rounds in May. Quarless caught just 32 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns as a 10-game starter in 2013.

Remaining free agents

Michael Vick, QB (former team: PHI)


Vick is looking for a team where he'll earn a starting role, and it won't be Philadelphia after Nick Foles' 27-touchdown, two-interception 2013 season. Age 34 awaits in June, and after missing nine games in 2013, Vick reminded that he's a near lock to be sidelined at some point. It's not clear whether any team wants to give him another shot as starter.

Knowshon Moreno, RB (former team: DEN)

Moreno put up huge numbers for Denver in 2013, totaling 1,586 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage, but the team appears willing to head into 2014 with second-year player Montee Ball replacing him as the offense's workhorse. Meanwhile, with Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart and Rashad Jennings all signed, there don't appear to be many running back roles up for grabs at this point.

LeGarrette Blount, RB (former team: NE)

Coming off a 772-yard, seven touchdown 2013 season, Blount looks like a reliable fit for the New England offense. He had just 151 yards the season before that in Tampa Bay, though, so it'd probably be a surprise if any team decides Blount is worth more than whatever New England is willing to pay. Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley would largely negate Blount's fantasy value if he returns to the Patriots, in any case.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (former team: JAC)

Particularly in light of the Toby Gerhart signing, Jones-Drew appears unlikely to return to Jacksonville. Coming off a season in which he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, there isn't necessarily another team where MJD would have a shot at a prominent role. He's up to 2,139 career touches from scrimmage as he heads into his ninth season.

Andre Brown, RB, (former team: NYG)

The signing of Rashad Jennings would seem to leave Brown as an afterthought for the Giants. After he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in 2013, it's understandable. It doesn't look like there will be much opportunity for the injury-prone runner in 2014, though he has been linked to Oakland, where the equally injury-prone Darren McFadden currently sits atop the depth chart.

Santonio Holmes, WR (former team: NYJ)

Cut by the Jets on March 10, Holmes is coming off an 11-game season in which he caught 23 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown. Foot and hamstring issues followed him at several points, and his durability issues are compounded by perceived attitude issues. Holmes doesn't have much recent production to point toward, and at age 30 he might struggle to get more than a modest, 'prove it' contract.

Kenny Britt, WR (former team: TEN)

While at one point he was one of the NFL's most promising young receivers, it turned out Britt's talent was only exceeded by his knuckleheaded tendencies. Knee troubles, drops and general bridge burning made Britt a non-factor in 2013, and he'll try to convince a team he's worth the trouble as a redemption project after catching just 11 passes for 96 yards a year ago.

Miles Austin, WR (former team: DAL)

Not only was Austin outdone by rookie Terrance Williams in 2013, but by the end of the year he wasn't even as good as Cole Beasley. Be it due to his chronic hamstring issues or something else, Austin looks like toast. He couldn't stay vaguely relevant despite getting handed a starting role in a Tony Romo offense.

Jimmy Graham, TE**** (franchise tagged by NO)

The Saints have a strong hold on Graham at the moment thanks to the franchise tag, so he won't be going anywhere in the short term. Getting him on the field remains a challenge, however, since Graham and the Saints have very different ideas of Graham's value. Graham thinks he should get paid like a receiver, but the Saints insist he's no such thing. Officially tagged as a tight end, Graham is expected to resist.

Owen Daniels, TE (former team: HOU)

The Texans cut Daniels after a broken fibula limited his 2013 season to five games, with his final box score showing 24 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Daniels will be 32 in November and has a history of knee troubles, but he still has something to offer to teams in need of receiving talent at tight end. Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin should see new opportunities in Houston with Daniels gone.

Jermichael Finley, TE (former team: GB)

Roughly five months removed from a scary neck injury that at one point looked potentially career-ending, Finley is attempting to make his way back onto the field. So long as he can pass a physical, someone will want him. Tight ends with Finley's athleticism aren't easily found. Seattle is the team with the most concrete link to Finley at this point, but that landing spot wouldn't be good for Finley's 2014 fantasy value. Zach Miller is already there, and the Seahawks haven't made much use of the tight end position.

IDPs

DeMarcus Ware, DE, DEN (former team: DAL)


Neck and elbow injuries prevented Ware from making an impact in 2013, but he heads to Denver with a clean bill of health and a three-year, $30 million deal to show as proof. Even with age 32 waiting for him in July, Ware possesses more talent than most edge defenders and should prove to be an upgrade over Shaun Phillips, who finished 2013 with 10 sacks.

Lamarr Houston, DE, CHI (former team: OAK)

Arguably one of the two best players on the Raiders roster, Houston left Oakland for the Bears early in free agency. With two straight 69-tackle seasons, Houston should continue finding the ball with the Bears, no matter whether he plays tackle or end.

Michael Johnson, DE, TB (former team: CIN)

After posting 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson finished the 2013 season with just 3.5. The Buccaneers still chose to pay him $9 million per season over the next five years, and he'll have a favorable situation playing alongside star defenders Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.

Justin Tuck, DE, OAK (former team: NYG)

Despite Tuck coming off a 63-tackle, 11-sack 2013 season, the Giants had little interest in re-signing him. The nine sacks combined from the two seasons prior to last might have something to do with that. There isn't much competition for snaps in Oakland, so Tuck could have some by-default IDP value in 2014.

Julius Peppers, DE, GB (former team: CHI)

Peppers still has something to offer at age 34, but he might be limited to nickel snaps on a Green Bay defense that uses the 3-4 as its base. Playing around half of the snaps, Peppers might struggle to regain IDP relevance.

Karlos Dansby, (3-4) ILB, CLE (former team: ARZ)

Dansby had an improbable career year in his age 31-32 season for the Cardinals in 2013, putting up 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions while defending a ridiculous 19 passes. He replaces D'Qwell Jackson as the leading linebacker in Cleveland, and Dansby should once again be a strong IDP target in 2014. Kevin Minter should replace Dansby in Arizona.

D'Qwell Jackson, (3-4) ILB, IND (former team: CLE)

Jackson annually posted huge numbers in Cleveland, including 141 tackles last year, and he should play a three-down role with the Colts. He might struggle to post his usual production, however, because Jerrell Freeman is a tackling machine.

Jairus Byrd, S, NO (former team: BUF)

Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Rafael Bush combined for 149 tackles last year, and the first two are gone. Byrd was one of the league's best IDP defensive backs in Buffalo, and he shouldn't see much if any drop-off in his elite numbers as he heads into a profitable situation with New Orleans.


T.J. Ward, S, DEN (former team: CLE)


Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams combined for 181 tackles last year at safety for Denver. Moore will be back, but Ward should steal the vast majority of snaps that went to the latter two a year ago. Ward was an annual triple-digit tackle threat with Cleveland, and he'll remain one with Denver.


Donte Whitner, S, CLE (former team: SF)


Whitner's tackle totals in San Francisco were generally too low to make him a reliable IDP option. He could see a big improvement in his 2014 numbers, however, because Mike Pettine's defense gave big numbers to safeties Jairus Byrd, Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy in Buffalo.

Antoine Bethea, S, SF (former team: IND)

A longtime tackle machine for the Colts, Bethea joins a 49er defense that has lent only modest tackle totals to players like Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson and Eric Reid.