If there's one thing nearly all NFL fans agree on, it's that offseason spending sprees rarely lead to success in the regular season or playoffs. Year after year, middling and sub-par franchises go crazy during free agency, only to later miss out on the postseason while the teams that barely made a peep in March do battle in January and February.
The narrative often – and incorrectly – implies that high-priced free agents just aren't worth the money, whereas the reality is far more simple: in a league with both a salary cap and salary floor, the only franchises that can afford to binge are those that don't use the vast majority of their cap space to retain their own players. If a team is able to make multiple splashy signings in one offseason, it generally means it drafted poorly over the last decade, or failed to retain some of its most talented players. Simply put, losing leads to spending – much more so than the reverse.
And while a well-placed addition can make a huge difference, it's nearly impossible for a free-agent haul to replicate the home-grown cores that teams like the Patriots, Seahawks and Steelers have in place. Most of the league's truly elite players are signed with the teams that drafted them, on contracts worth far less than what they could've gotten as free agents. Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman and Antonio Brown, among others, were wisely re-signed prior to their contract years on deals that clearly made sense for both player and team.
It thus follows that most of the players available in free agency are highly flawed, yet we as fantasy owners need not give up hope – some players were allowed to leave because their old teams have strong alternatives at the same position, and others chose to leave due to fractured relationships or a lack of faith in their former organization (Hello, Lamar Miller!).
When trying to sort out the signings that will be most impactful in fantasy leagues, our best bet is to focus on young, talented players who fill obvious needs for teams that figure to boast respectable offensive attacks. The size of a contract is useful when trying to predict a player's role, but we also need to closely evaluate team context, as some of the new acquisitions – Chris Ivory and Ben Watson come to mind – will face sturdy competition for snaps and/or touches despite getting paid like starters. On the other hand, we have players such as Miller and Marvin Jones, both of whom are sorely needed by their new teams, likely leading to increased opportunity compared to what they had with their former squads.
In addition to the aforementioned "luxury signings" like Ivory and Watson, it's generally best to avoid players who simply weren't good in non-fantasy terms last season. The Titans and Ravens might be able to justify the acquisitions of DeMarco Murray and Mike Wallace, respectively, but do you really want to bet a valuable draft pick on the odds that those players merely needed a change of scenery? Given their respective ages (Murray is 28, Wallace is 30) and career paths, it's much more likely they just aren't effective players anymore. And in those particular cases, the acquiring teams seemingly acknowledged that possibility via their other offseason decisions.
In any case, let's look at the notable offseason transactions.
Brock Osweiler, Texans
4 years, $72 million
Only 25, the 6-foot-8 Osweiler is best known as the NFL's tallest quarterback, mostly playing at a forgettable level while filling in for an injured Peyton Manning last season. Despite his solid supporting cast, Osweiler was mediocre at best, completing 62 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt, with 10 TDs and six picks in eight games. He won't have to compete for a starting job and should benefit from playing for another team with a solid roster, but Osweiler also won't provide much on the ground (61 rushing yards last year) and is a painfully obvious "bust" candidate in real-life terms. For the fantasy world, he probably can't be much of a bust, as he'll mostly (and rightly) go undrafted outside of two-quarterback leagues.
Robert Griffin, Browns
2 years, $15 million
Still only 26, Griffin offers some shred of upside because of his running ability, but he's otherwise a pile full of questions. He hasn't played since 2014 and hasn't been effective since his rookie campaign in 2012 ... which explains why he finds himself (and whatever remains of his confidence) competing with Josh McCown to start in what could be an atrocious offense. The Browns acknowledged their deficiencies during the draft, adding a quartet of wide receivers led by 15th overall selection Corey Coleman, a Baylor product like Griffin.
Lamar Miller, Texans
4 years, $26 million
Coming off a pair of impressive seasons, Miller, 25, was widely rumored to have no interest in remaining with a Miami franchise that refused to give him an RB1 workload even as his per-touch production demanded it. Boasting a three-down skillset with a 4.6 YPC for his career, Miller is the rare free-agent addition who doesn't set off any real red flags, other than the inherent reality that he's an NFL running back. Some will argue he hasn't proven he can handle a huge workload, but one could just as easily (and with more evidence) argue it's a good thing he hasn't been heavily used to this point. Miller played all 16 games each of the last three seasons, and he's always looked the part of a high-end starter. So what's the downside? Actually, it's quite simple – as the subject of oodles of fantasy hype the last few years, Miller probably will be valued appropriately in most leagues. He does, however, still have plenty of potential to outperform his ADP, especially in PPR leagues. The competition for snaps is all but non-existent, and Miller could easily finish second on his team in catches. Lest we forget, the departed Arian Foster averaged 19 carries, 5.1 targets and 3.5 catches per game in his two seasons under coach Bill O'Brien, despite struggling with lower-body injuries throughout.
DeMarco Murray, Titans
Acquired via trade
One of 2015's biggest disappointments in both fantasy and actual football, the 28-year-old Murray was offloaded from Philadelphia to Tennessee in what largely amounted to a salary dump, and he subsequently agreed to a revised four-year, $25 million contract. While undoubtedly pleased to join a team that will (presumably) mold its running game around his abilities instead of forcing him into a poor system fit, Murray is far from a sure thing to approach his peak Dallas form. Last season's 3.6 YPC can't solely be blamed on Chip Kelly, and it's more than likely a 497-touch season (including playoffs) in 2014 took a permanent toll on Murray's body. He's expected to start with a three-down workload in a Tennessee offense that should be improved, but second-round bruiser Derrick Henry looms as a serious threat for carries, including at the goal line. Murray's early season form will be imperative, with a slow start quite possibly leading to a significantly diminished role. He thus shapes up as one of the riskier 2016 commodities ... which isn't necessarily a bad thing if planned for appropriately.
Matt Forte, Jets
3 years, $12 million
The contract might seem tiny for such an accomplished player, but consider that Forte is 30 yet still managed to land $9 million guaranteed. He remained effective when healthy last season, averaging 99 scrimmage yards while scoring seven times in 13 games, despite splitting work with Jeremy Langford late in the year. Forte even managed 4.1 YPC to Langford's 3.6, running behind a competent but uninspiring offensive line. Not to dismiss the concern, but Forte's reliance on his vision and hands has allowed for graceful aging in comparison to backs who largely rely on speed and strength. However, age isn't the only concern, as the Jets re-signed Bilal Powell to a contract that's not much smaller than Forte's, then also added power runner Khiry Robinson. It's quite possible Powell could poach some receptions while Robinson handles short-yardage and goal-line work. Powell and Forte are both capable as blockers and receivers, making them nice fits in Chan Gailey's spread attack.
Chris Ivory, Jaguars
5 years, $32 million
Coming off a career year for Gang Green, the 28-year-old Ivory received a shockingly large contract, albeit with just $10 million of the $32 million guaranteed. It's the kind of deal that essentially assures a player of a significant role, even after 225-pound T.J. Yeldon (a second-round pick) put together a respectable rookie season. Despite his large frame, Yeldon appears to be the proverbial "jack of all trades but master of none," whereas Ivory is more of a classic power back, with middling receiving and blocking skills. He's one of the NFL's better pure runners when healthy, but even while playing 15-plus games in each of his three Jets seasons, Ivory was often limited by lower-body injuries. He figures to get most of the carries along with the goal-line work early, but Yeldon will handle passing downs and also poach some of those carries. We also have to consider that Yeldon – as a second-year player with an impressive pedigree and physical specs – could be much better than what we saw from him last season. Would the Jags have even considered signing Ivory if they didn't have such an enormous amount of cap space?
Alfred Morris, Cowboys
2 years, $3.5 million
The cap-strapped Cowboys likely regretted signing Morris as soon as they made the decision to draft Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall. Following three straight seasons of YPC decline, not to mention his continued inactivity as a receiver, Morris will have to battle Darren McFadden for whatever the rookie leaves behind. In the wake of McFadden's competent showing last season, there's only one real cause for optimism – Morris will get to run behind an excellent offensive line if he actually gets on the field.
Marvin Jones, Lions
5 years, $40 million
This would have qualified as No. 1 wideout money a few years ago, but even with half of his contract guaranteed, the 26-year-old Jones is only being paid like a high-end No. 2 by today's standards. It's only fair, considering he's yet to have the chance to be anything besides a second/third option. Unfortunately, Jones sat out all 2014 with a foot injury, thereby missing the one time A.J. Green was sidelined for multiple games. Although not a true burner nor a physical freak (6-2, 200), Jones also doesn't have any apparent weakness in his skill set, which has allowed him to post a career 62-percent catch rate and 8.0 yards per target. He found a nice place to maximize his production, joining a seemingly competent Lions passing game that must replace Calvin Johnson's 150 targets. Also consider that the Bengals' failure to match this contract shouldn't be taken as a critique of Jones' ability, given that the team already has Green and Tyler Eifert to lead the passing game in a balanced offense. Jones is the best bet among the notable 2016 free-agent wideouts to take a big step up from last year's production (65-816-4 on 103 targets).
Mohamed Sanu, Falcons
5 years, $32.5 million
Although mostly outplayed by the aforementioned Jones during their joint tenure in Cincinnati, Sanu didn't fall too far behind when it was time to cash out, landing a deal that includes $14 million guaranteed. He theoretically fills an obvious need for a team sorely lacking in complementary playmakers, but he's coming off a 33-394-0 receiving line and has produced just 7.1 yards per target for his career. If you wonder what the Bengals thought of the two receivers, note that Jones more than doubled Sanu's 50 targets during a 2015 campaign that saw both play 16 games. The price might not seem right from a team perspective, but that doesn't mean Sanu should be written off in the fantasy world, as he'll likely see plenty of single coverage in an offense that only has two other sure bets (Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman) to draw consistent targets.
Travis Benjamin, Chargers
4 years, $24 million
A 2012 fourth-round selection, Benjamin mostly made his mark as a return man prior to last season's 68-966-5 breakout (on 124 targets) for the receiver-deficient Browns. While unlikely to match his 2015 workload, Benjamin should be more efficient on a per-target basis in a Philip Rivers-led passing attack that features Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead. Those players are slower, possession receivers, making the 26-year-old speedster a perfect deep-threat complement. His role should be similar to that of the now-retired Malcom Floyd, only Benjamin has the potential to contribute in the screen game and on occasional reverses. He's also much, much faster.
Rishard Matthews, Titans
3 years, $15 million
Much like Lamar Miller, but perhaps with even more cause, Matthews thought he was consistently underused in Miami. He may have a point, as he's produced 8.5 yards per target on a 65-percent career catch rate, highlighted by a stretch last season in which he topped 50 receiving yards seven times in eight games. Matthews will have the chance to start, but he'll compete for targets against Dorial Green-Beckham, Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and others – in a Tennessee offense that presumably hopes to boast a strong power run game.
Chris Hogan, Patriots
3 years, $12 million
A former college lacrosse player who spent one season (2010) with the football team at FCS Monmouth, the 27-year-old Hogan finally made his mark the last two seasons, topping 400 receiving yards in consecutive campaigns while primarily working out of the slot in Buffalo. He might threaten Danny Amendola's role, but it's also quite possible Hogan – listed at 6-1, 220, with a 4.5 40 – will primarily work outside. If Julian Edelman and/or Rob Gronkowski suffer a serious injury, Hogan might find himself with a leading role in a high-volume, high-efficiency passing game. Also worth noting: Hogan was a restricted free agent, and the Patriots front-loaded his contract to discourage the cap-challenged Bills from matching.
Mike Wallace, Ravens
2 years, $11.5 million
Coming off a 39-catch campaign and now five years removed from his last 1,000-yard season, the 29-year-old Wallace hopes to revive his career with a surprisingly profitable move from Minnesota to Baltimore. Although he might fit better as a deep threat for strong-armed Joe Flacco, it appears Wallace will have to compete against Kamar Aiken and Steve Smith for snaps after Breshad Perriman tore an ACL in June. The Ravens also have a plethora of pass catchers at tight end and running back.
Brandon LaFell, Bengals
1 year, $2.5 million
After missing New England's first five games with a foot injury, LaFell appeared lost for most of 2015, catching 37 passes for 515 yards (with no touchdowns) on 74 targets. Plagued by both drops and an inability to create separation, he simply wasn't the same player who caught 74 balls the previous year. With Sanu and Jones both departing, LaFell only has to compete with second-round rookie Tyler Boyd for snaps behind A.J. Green. The battle becomes much more interesting for fantasy purposes if red-zone hog Tyler Eifert (ankle) isn't ready for Week 1.
Coby Fleener, Saints
5 years, $36 million
Replacing Ben Watson as the Saints' primary tight end, Fleener no longer has to worry about competing with former teammate Dwayne Allen, who also stands to benefit from this transaction. Watson memorably broke out for a 74-825-6 receiving line as a 34/35-year-old last year, making him the latest in a long line of overachievers alongside Drew Brees. Although not much of a blocker and sometimes plagued by drops, Fleener is one of the elite athletes at his position. He ran a 4.51 40 at 6-6, 247, at the 2012 combine, and while his toughness and hands might sometimes come into question, his ability to get open is obvious. Sounds a lot like a poor man's Jimmy Graham, no?
Ladarius Green, Steelers
4 years, $20 million
Finally removed from Antonio Gates' shadow, Green saw his outlook further improve when WR Martavis Bryant was suspended for 2016. Green was hyped in past years only to never become a reliable fantasy asset. But he was mostly efficient with his limited work for the Chargers, catching 77 of 120 targets (64 percent) for 1,087 yards (9.1 YPT) in four seasons. Assuming he recovers from last season's ankle injury as expected, Green could become the second or third option in Pittsburgh's passing game.
Ben Watson, Ravens
2 years, $7 million
Although not in need of a tight end, Baltimore thought the 35-year-old Watson was a fantastic bargain, known for his strong blocking and coming off a career-best season as a receiver. He's all but assured of taking a big step backward stat-wise, though, as the Ravens also have Crockett Gillmore, 2015 second-rounder Maxx Williams and possibly Dennis Pitta (hip) at tight end.
Jared Cook, Packers
1 year, $2.8 million
Imposing though he may look on a field, the 29-year-old Cook failed to impress in three years with the Rams, falling shy of 700 receiving yards in each season. There's finally some upside now that he escaped for Green Bay, but there's no assurance Cook beats out incumbent Richard Rodgers for the top gig at tight end. It's also possible the two split snaps, which would likely render both useless in the fantasy world.
OTHERS ON THE MOVE
Chase Daniel, QB, Eagles
Khiry Robinson, RB, Jets
Stevan Ridley, RB, Lions
Rueben Randle, WR, Eagles
Chris Givens, WR, Eagles
Nate Washington, WR, Patriots
Connor Barth, K, Saints
This article appears in the 2016 RotoWire Fantasy Football magazine. Order the magazine.