Dynasty Watch: Rising/Falling Before Free Agency

Dynasty Watch: Rising/Falling Before Free Agency

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.

The 2021 NFL league year doesn't start until March 17, but trading is now open in a lot of dynasty leagues, creating a window to profit by anticipating some of the transactions that are likely to happen over the next two months. Plus, we'll look at some of the players impacted by transactions or rumors in January and February, including the two mega-trades for quarterbacks.

And the first two weeks of March could be busier than usual, as the challenge of complying with a reduced salary cap likely means more veterans will be released and renegotiated. That's one of the things I discussed in my recent 2021 Offseason Guide, and it seems I'm not alone in anticipating a busy transaction wire.

 Now, before we get into some of the shifting player valuations, let's do a quick run through of key offseason dates:

  • Feb. 23: First day of window to apply franchise/transition tags.
  • March 9: Last day to apply franchise/transition tags.
  • March 15: Start of legal tampering period (teams can contact agents but can't sign).
  • March 17: 2021 League Year begins. (Free agents can sign. Trades can become official.)
  • Apr. 5: Teams with new head coaches can start offseason programs.
  • Apr. 19: All other teams can start offseason programs.
  • Apr. 23: Last day of restricted free agent (RFA) signing period.
  • Apr. 28: Last day to match RFA offer sheets.

In a normal offseason we'd also have solid dates for OTAs and minicamps, but with COVID-19 still a factor, it isn't yet clear what that will look like. As for the more immediate future, we'll likely see franchise tags Monday and Tuesday, or perhaps even over the weekend.

    

Rising

Quarterback

Carson Wentz

A trade to Indianapolis was the best possible outcome for anyone holding Wentz in a dynasty league. The Colts might still draft a QB, but they wouldn't have traded two Day 2 picks for Wentz and his large contract if they didn't have some level of belief in the player. While that won't necessarily stop the team from benching him if he stinks, Wentz at least appears locked in for the Week 1 start, which is more than we could've said for him in Philadelphia.

As someone who is a bit less optimistic on Wentz than the Colts seem to be, I wonder if there might be a sell-high window this offseason... perhaps even right at this moment. However, I'd probably wait before trying to sell, as the Colts still have a bunch of cap space and a need at WR. Anyone who wants to trade for Wentz now will be even more excited to do so if his team signs Allen Robinson or JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Colts already have a solid defense, a top-5 offensive line, Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman, so it's not like Wentz will need to shoulder the entire burden the way he did for the Eagles at points in 2018 and 2019.

   

Matthew Stafford

Stafford was traded from a bad team to a good one, though most of the talent gap between Detroit and Los Angeles occurs on the defensive side of the ball. He's a lock for 4,000 yards and 25 TDs if he stays healthy, and I'd argue his ceiling is what we saw in the first half of 2019 (312.5 ypg, 19 TDs in eight games) when he, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones were all healthy. Early best-ball drafts have Stafford's ADP at QB11, which seems about right to me. 

For dynasty purposes, we'll note he just turned 33 in February and has two years remaining on his contract. The Rams owe Stafford a non-guaranteed $20 million in 2021 and a non-guaranteed $23 million in 2022, so we'll either be talking about a cap casualty or a huge extension next offseason. I'll bet on the latter, given his steady performance in a chaotic environment the past few years.

   

Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins emerged as an early favorite to trade for Deshaun Watson, who is now stuck in a staring contest with the Texans. It's unclear if the star QB will be traded, and even if he is, the Dolphins will have to compete with the Jets and Panthers, among others. Anyway, the reduced odds for Watson to land in Miami mean increased odds for Tagovailoa to enjoy a breakout season. 

Not to say Miami is an ideal situation for QB production, but it at least appears to be a functional NFL franchise these days. Plus, The Dolphins could add Ja'Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith if they doesn't lose their top draft pick in a Watson trade.

    

Other Rising QBs: Jalen Hurts, Derek Carr, Taylor Heinicke

      

Running Back

David Johnson

Johnson was underrated as a prospect, overrated at his peak and probably fits best as a passing-down back now that he's lost a step. He also plays for the most chaotic franchise in the league, so we don't really know if his Week 1 QB will be Watson, Tagovailoa, AJ McCarron, Zach Wilson, David Carr or Tony Banks.

Regardless, the Texans have double-down on DJ, leaving no doubt he's expected to handle a significant role in 2021. The recent contract negotiation reduced his base salary, but it also increased his guaranteed compensation to $4.25 million, which is starter money in RB terms. None of this means Johnson should be your priority this spring, but it does improve his odds to squeak out another useful fantasy season... which is all we can really ask at this point.

         

Other Rising RBs: Jeff Wilson, Jamaal Williams

         

Wide Receiver

Chase Claypool + Diontae Johnson

Ben Roethlisberger is borderline washed-up, but even his 40-year-old self is better than anything else the team could've come up with this offseason. And while Roethlisberger's new contract agreement is helpful for the 2021 cap situation, Pittsburgh beat reporters still seem to think JuJu Smith-Schuster is as good as gone, despite the wideout's stated desire to stay with the team.

Maybe this is just me, but at one point in January I was envisioning a nightmare scenario for Claypool & Johnson where the Steelers lost Roethlisberger but kept JuJu Smith-Schuster, and then had a terrible QB splitting his passes between three highly talented wideouts. Now we know Part A won't happen, and Part B appears less than 50/50. As a bonus, I can use similar logic to be wrong about James Washington again.

             

Other Rising WRs: Cooper Kupp + Robert Woods + Van Jefferson

    

Tight End

Tyler Higbee

Higbee gets a QB upgrade, though not a huge one, in Stafford, and L.A. beat writers expect Gerald Everett to sign elsewhere this offseason. Perhaps 2020 fourth-round pick Brycen Hopkins is ready for Everett's old role, but if not, Higbee could handle an every-down gig.

    

Other Rising TEs: Dallas Goedert, Irv Smith

   

Falling

Quarterback

Teddy Bridgewater

While rumors should always be treated with skepticism, there's probably an underlying fire when we see smoke coming from a bunch of unrelated media sources. National reporters and Carolina beat writers agree that the Panthers are thirsty for a new QB, narrowly missing out on Matthew Stafford and now willing to do "whatever it takes" to acquire Watson (according to ESPN's Panthers beat writer David Newton). Best-ball drafters have caught on to Bridgewater's thin-ice/no-ice situation, picking him at QB37 on BB10s so far.

Jared Goff

It's not just that Goff is moving from a good team to a bad one. He's also switching from Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to ? and ?, plus his top-five head coach (Sean McVay) has morphed into human meme Dan Campbell. Even if he doesn't end up staying in Detroit too long, Goff won't necessarily be handed another starting job at his third NFL stop. He's officially entered the QB wilderness, no longer viewed as a franchise centerpiece.

     

Other Falling QBs: Alex Smith (FA) 

       

Running Back

Zack Moss

I'm not totally giving up on a good prospect after one mediocre season, but things are trending against Moss, starting with the nature of Buffalo's offense (Allen, Allen and more Allen) throughout the successful 2020 campaign. Moss, of course, suffered a major ankle injury in the playoffs, and while he's been busy recovering from surgery, mock drafters have been matching the Bills with Clemson's Travis Etienne and Bama's Najee Harris

Even if the Bills don't take a tailback that early, they still have Devin Singletary and could bring in a veteran free agent or Day 2 draft pick, setting up a three-way backfield competition in an offense that's finished bottom five in cumulative RB fantasy points each year since drafting Josh Allen.

  

Other Falling RBs: Mark Ingram (FA)

        

Wide Receiver

Brandin Cooks

Cooks is signed through 2023, and his $12 million base salary doesn't look so bad after he played at high level from October through December. At the end of the season, it looked like he'd avoid being a cap casualty and get at least one more season with Deshaun Watson, potentially in an offense without impending free agent Will Fuller.

Well, most of that is still possible, but it's complicated by Watson's insistence that he won't play for the Texans again. At this point, it might not even be the worst thing if Watson were traded, as the Texans might then decide to rebuild and deal Cooks to a better team. Maybe it all works out in the end, or maybe Cooks ends up battling Fuller for targets from a rookie QB (or Tua Tagovailoa... or Sam Darnold).

   

Other Falling WRs: DeVante Parker

      

Closing Thoughts

  • ESPN's Dolphins beat reporter Cameron Wolfe will be "shocked" if Myles Gaskin keeps the featured backfield role. It's not exactly news that the Dolphins will add backfield talent this offseason, but I don't share Wolfe's conviction it'll be a clear upgrade on Gaskin, who played well in 2020. A mediocre runner who can catch and block is a pretty good RB in today's world. In redraft terms, Gaskins current ADP on BB10s (67.4, RB28) seems pretty reasonable to me. And, FWIW, I have him in a few dynasty leagues and am not trying to trade him. Here's what Wolfe said in his article:

"It would be a shock if the Dolphins don't come away with a new feature back this offseason. Gaskin and Ahmed showed promised, but they are best as rotation backs. Najee Harris (Alabama) and Javonte Williams (North Carolina) await as tantalizing draft options. If Miami wants to spend on a free-agent starter instead, then Green Bay's Aaron Jones is the top name to watch – if he hits the market."

  • Phillip Lindsay is going at RB54, ADP 165.5 in early best-ball drafts. He'll likely be back in Denver, where Melvin Gordon is A) mediocre, and B) in danger of getting a three-game DUI suspension. Once that suspension comes down, Lindsay's ADP will go up, right along with the trade cost in dynasty leagues. The buy-low window won't stay open too long.

  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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