On Tuesday, March 11th, the NFL’s equivalent of “Black Friday” kicks off, as NFL teams scratch and claw to have their pick of this year’s free agent crop.
Well, actually, with the “legal tampering” period that begins on March 8, teams have already had the weekend to woo free agents. Still, it reads better if it happens that way, so screw it…mad scramble it is.
Of course, some of the dominoes have already fallen (or not, as the case may be). Inside linebacker Donald Butler re-upped with the San Diego Chargers, where he’ll stay an LB2. Defensive end Greg Hardy got the franchise tag from the Carolina Panthers, which leaves him making $13 million as a DL1 this season.
D’Qwell Jackson, on the other hand, is moving on. Released after eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Jackson visited several teams before signing a four-year, $22 million deal to start along side Jerrell Freeman in Indianapolis.
As the floodgates prepare to open, Fantasy Sharks’ Staffers Gary Davenport, Walton Spurlin and Mike Woellert gathered together to discuss the IDP impact of this year’s free agent class.
First Down: Of all the individual defensive players set to hit free agency on Tuesday, which veteran most has your attention and why?
Gary Davenport: Since I think a fairly large percentage of the names of interest to IDP owners (Karlos Dansby, Daryl Smith) will stay put (and relatively stable) in 2014, I’ll touch on a few guys who could wind up in new homes. Defensive end Jared Allen and the Vikings appear headed for a split, and the Denver Broncos reportedly had interest in him at last year’s trade deadline. If Allen gets a nice deal and a boost in morale from a change in scenery, there might just be a top-five season left in his tank.
Similarly, Charles Tillman was a mess for the Chicago Bears last year, but if he travels south and rejoins Lovie Smith with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers there could be some real upside for the aging cornerback. With Butler wrapped up, Washington’s Perry Riley is likely the top young inside linebacker among free agents this year, so the demand for his services could be high. It will interesting to see where he lands.
I may be going for the easy ‘low hanging fruit’ answer here, but I feel the veteran IDP free agent with the most upside and value is ILB Karlos Dansby.
is coming off of back-to-back 100 solo tackle seasons, and has put up at least 95 or more total tackles for seven straight years. Dansby is a three down LB that can do it all. He put up a career high 19 passes defended last season as well as four interceptions. The man simply produces.
Oh yeah, he’s pretty dang durable too, having averaged 1,007 snaps per year dating back to 2008. Even at 32 years old, Dansby has the savvy and experience to get the job done (and then some), and there are years of production on tape for potential suitors to see. He’s a top-five IDP LB selection if he returns to Arizona, and top 10 no matter where he ends up.
Mike Woellert: I’m a linebacker and tackles guy, so I’m keeping a close eye on the LB situation, as a change in scheme can have a huge impact on their IDP production. This has nothing with my Browns homerism, but I’ll be carefully watching D’Qwell Jackson and his role with the Colts. Jackson, since missing the entire 2010 season, has three-straight seasons of 115+ tackles and has been an elite IDP producer.
His play fell off in 2013 as he transitioned to yet another defensive coordinator, which is again the case in 2014, but Jackson still produced a 12% tackle rate in 2013. He reunites with Rob Chudzinski in Indianapolis, which is a surprise landing spot. He’ll play alongside Jerrell Freeman and both will be three-down ‘backers. I look at Jackson now as more of an LB2 with the upside to produce 110-115 tackles.
Second Down: Conversely, are there any free agents who were productive IDP assets in 2013 who you feel could be headed for a free-fall this season?
The cornerback position by it’s very nature is a fickle mistress in IDP fantasy football and that has me worried about Alterraun Verner. Verner finished fourth among cornerbacks using
Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring
last season and looks to be a rising star.
Or does he? Too many times a player flashes a huge season at CB only to fall off the radar the next year. Verner has put up nice big play production the past two seasons having scored a defensive touchdown in each as well as picking off seven passes, recovering a pair of fumbles and forcing another.
Verner’s tackle numbers fluctuate greatly from year-to-year as he’s had a high of 101 total stops in 2010 and then saw that number fall to 47 in 2011. After another solid 82 total tackles in 2012 he put up only 57 last year. I just see him as too big-play dependent to be relied upon to put up another elite performance in 2014.
Woellert: I was happy that Jon Beason landed in an IDP-friendly situation with the Giants last year, but I do believe he’s going to be over-drafted in IDP leagues this year. I will give him his due; there were only a handful of LBs that were as productive from Week 10 on last year, as Beason produced six games of 7+ total tackles, included two 10+ tackle games.
With the Giants, he produced a 12.5% tackle rate and 93 tackles in 741 defensive snaps, returning to a three-down role. Beason’s IDP value in 2014 depends on where he lands, but I can’t trust him as more than an LB3 and he could be drafted as an LB1 this season. Keep in mind, Beason isn’t guaranteed a three-down role if signs with another squad.
Davenport: Most of the aging free agents (Allen, Dansby, Tillman, etc.) are going to carry a measure of risk with the additional uncertainty of a new landing spot. Even Dansby, who responded well to his move back to the desert last year by leading the NFL in solos. It was a great fantasy performance, but from players over 30, it’s more exception than rule.
With that said, my esteemed colleague Mr. Spurlin is on to something with Verner. In fact, Id say it extends to most defensive backs no matter their position, and it’s part of the reason I show them about as much loyalty from year-to-year as Taylor Swift shows her boyfriends.
Chicago Bears strong safety Major Wright parlayed a career-high 100 tackles in 2013 into a top-15 IDP finish among defensive backs. However, Wright graded out dead last among safeties last year at Pro Football Focus, and the Bears have made as much effort to re-sign Wright as Swift has to get married.
That tells you all you need to know about Wright’s chances of triple-digit stops in 2014.