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Free Agency Recap

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers make Miles Sanders highest-paid back of free agency

Allowed to walk by the most efficient rushing attack in the league, Sanders landed a surprisingly lucrative contract from a team that had success with replacement-level runners D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard down the stretch in 2022. Trying to pick up the backfield pieces after trading Christian McCaffrey, Carolina does have a strong run-game mind in new head coach Frank Reich. Sanders had been in danger of ending up in one of the league’s worst situations. Perhaps he is from a talent perspective, but Reich should be enough to keep Sanders in the top 20 for 2023 even if the majority of his work comes as a rusher between the 20s.

Eagles go for broke with Rashaad Penny as Sanders replacement

The Eagles got what they needed out of Sanders — big runs between the 20s, touchdowns when Jalen Hurts didn’t call his own number — but they always wanted more. Sanders was routinely yanked off the field on the most critical of downs for Kenneth Gainwell and even sometimes Boston Scott. Penny isn’t going to steal any of Gainwell’s passing-game work, but he could be too much of a menace to come off the field if he stays healthy. “If he stays healthy,” of course, has been Penny’s story since 2018. Limited to 42 of a potential 82 career appearances, Penny is now returning from a broken leg. When he’s been on the field, essentially no one has been better. Penny is averaging 5.7 yards per carry for his career and routinely laps the field in average yards over expected. Now paired up with the league’s pre-eminent rushing setup, he could be an RB1. Or, guaranteed only $600,000, he could be left off the 53-man roster. As usual, there figures to be no in-between for Penny in 2023.

Nothing fancy: Lions replace Jamaal Williams with David Montgomery

The Lions knew not to hit on 17 (touchdowns) with Williams. Let someone else pay that bill for a 28-year-old jack of all trades, master of none. As for who they replaced him with? It wasn’t exactly cheap. $11 million guaranteed for Montgomery who is … a jack of all trades, master of none. This seemed like a situation where the Lions could have paired a league minimum player with the explosive but injury prone D’Andre Swift. Instead, they are hoping Montgomery replicates Williams’ competency while, also like Williams, offering nothing in the way of big plays. You could still argue there is some untapped potential in Montgomery’s 25-year-old legs. He has never been on a team this good, or run behind an offensive line this strong. Perhaps he will suddenly become efficient as a fifth-year pro. It is not the most likely outcome. Montgomery is poised to remain a running back dead zoner, one who will be an RB3/4 whenever Swift manages to take the field.

Saints finally find a real complement for Alvin Kamara

Of course, that complement is a 28-year-old committee back who is replacement-level as a runner and offers increasingly little as a pass catcher. That latter point wouldn’t typically matter in New Orleans, but Kamara appears poised to earn a suspension stemming from his felony battery case. Yes, Williams led the league in touchdowns last season, but he was bottom half of the league in rush yards over expected per attempt despite running behind an elite offensive line. All Williams really offers the Saints is being an upgrade on Mark Ingram and Tony Jones. While that isn’t nothing, it won’t result in more than middling FLEX appeal in fantasy.

Samaje Perine added to unsettled Broncos backfield

With Javonte Williams recovering from multiple torn knee ligaments and in serious doubt for Week 1, Sean Payton did the only thing he knows how: Add a pass catcher in the backfield. The man who made Pierre Thomas famous could pick up where the Bengals left off with Perine, making him a stubbornly persistent PPR option. Williams could still end up healthy for the opener, complicating the calculus, but just ask J.K. Dobbins how “routine” it is to return from an ACL “plus” injury. Perine is in the right place to run a PPR scam.

Pats signal Rhamondre Stevenson commitment with James Robinson addition

First things first: The Patriots are not going to use just one back. That is just a fact of Belichick life. Although Damien Harris is gone, sophomores Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris were both going to be in the 2023 mix regardless of what New England did in free agency and the draft. But the fact that Robinson was all they did in free agency augurs well. Although Robinson seems like the kind of “little things” back who could win over Belichick’s heart, the reality is, neither Doug Pederson nor Robert Saleh could figure out how to use him post-Achilles injury. Robinson should be healthier in 2023, but he doesn’t profile as someone capable of being the 1B to Stevenson’s 1A. Maybe that best-laid fantasy plan will still go awry. We just knew there would be some obstacles placed in Stevenson’s way, and Robinson is not a particularly daunting one.

Raiders do the inevitable, sign Jimmy Garoppolo

This was one was long ago enough to already feel like old news, but coach Josh McDaniels is guessing someone he coached in New England will be a better fit for his offense than Derek Carr. If Carr saw his efficiency crash under McDaniels last season — and it did — what do we expect for Garoppolo leaving behind the single most efficient quarterback manipulator there is, Kyle Shanahan? It’s unlikely to be pretty, and it should be what finally aligns Garoppolo’s eye test and advanced metrics. The former has made eyes bleed while the latter always lights up “the computers.” It can’t be good news for Davante Adams, whose mindmeld connections with Carr and Rodgers won’t be replicated with a quarterback as (allegedly, eye-testedly) inaccurate as Garoppolo. Adams and fantasy managers’ best hope is that the computers continue to see something invisible to us mere mortals.

Bridge or competition? Commanders pair Sam Howell with Jacoby Brissett

Whatever the Commanders’ plan is with Brissett, it’s a bad one. He isn’t good enough to promote them to Playoff Problem, and he’s not bad enough to put them in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick. He is just perfect for the seven-to-nine-win Rivera Zone. That leads us to believe the Commanders could be swinging for the fences with sophomore Howell after his one decent start to end the year, but it’s frankly difficult to know what this organization is thinking. We do know it will be either Brissett or Howell, as the Commanders don’t have the draft ammo to move up for a signal caller. Whoever it is won’t be elevating Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson beyond their priors, but Brissett would certainly be the preference after he kept Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones afloat in Cleveland.

The tank is on: Bucs sign Baker Mayfield

There is no other way to interpret pairing Mayfield with Kyle Trask. Even if the Bucs don’t realize it, they’re tanking. It means players like Mike Evans should be available. With Evans a strong candidate for a draft week trade, the Bucs’ offense could look even more different than previously expected in 2023. If Evans remains and Mayfield gets the gig, it will be a calamity for Evans’ fantasy value. It’s hard to think of a worse QB/WR duo. Mayfield is bad even when he’s targeting efficiency monsters. An aging outside threat who needs to be fed jump balls? Yikes. Not that Mayfield will be a boon for Chris Godwin. He’s bad news for everyone except perhaps Cade Otton. Mayfield takes the path of least resistance, even when it means not scoring points.

Plan? Falcons add Taylor Heinicke

By its dictionary definition, signing Heinicke is indeed a plan. It is a “method for achieving an end.” As to what end? I haven’t the faintest idea. Heinicke is one of the very worst quarterbacks in the league. That’s why it’s good he has already publicly accepted being the backup. The bad news is, he’s ready to back up Desmond Ridder, who is also probably one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. The Falcons made real progress last season, road paving teams on the ground as Drake London looked like a future No. 1 receiver and Kyle Pitts (hopefully) developed. They are now threatening that progress with no viable way to get better under center. It is going to be awfully difficult for either London or Pitts to take a meaningful step forward in fantasy.

Cowboys become fourth team to trade for Brandin Cooks

Cooks declared in January 2021: No more trades. *five minutes later* After trying to force a trade for nearly all of 2022, it’s finally happened. The Cowboys’ new No. 2 receiver — or perhaps No. 3 if Michael Gallup is healthier and more productive after his 2022 post-ACL blues — Cooks offers some badly needed depth and dynamism to a receiver corps that was one of the league’s most disappointing last season. Will it amount to anything in fantasy? Cooks is a speed demon who will be on the wrong side of 30 in September. He struggled with injury — at least allegedly — last year. Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer will be designing the offense. While it’s tempting to view the Cowboys as a massive upgrade on the Texans, the reality is Cooks will probably remain a perfectly-fine WR3 you end up wishing you had let someone else draft.

Patriots bet on JuJu Smith-Schuster over Jakobi Meyers

The Patriots finally developed a wideout. They then immediately let him sign elsewhere. That is despite the fact that Meyers was a much more efficient player than Smith-Schuster in 2022. Although Smith-Schuster out-slashed Meyers 78/933/3 to 67/804/6, Meyers averaged 1.90 yards per route run to Smith-Schuster’s 1.68. This is where we remind Meyers was playing with Mac Jones and Smith-Schuster with Patrick Mahomes. The Pats must like Smith-Schuster’s more physical game and frame — Meyers forced only two missed tackles in 2022 to Smith-Schuster’s nine — but JuJu has proven to be Just A Guy just as much as Meyers. A man who struggled for WR2 relevance with Mahomes won’t find it with Jones.

Hey, I know that guy: Josh McDaniels reunites with Jakobi Meyers

Which brings us to Meyers. He’s a redundancy for a team that already has Hunter Renfrow, though he is far bigger and more explosive. It’s just hard to see what problem he solves for the Silver and Black. It also creates problems for fantasy managers, who are unlikely to find much WR3 usefulness for Meyers opposite targets black hole Davante Adams. Throw in the fact that it’s Jimmy Garoppolo as the triggerman, and you have a wideout whose floor remains reasonable but with a nonexistent ceiling.

Panthers sign Adam Thielen for to-be-determined quarterback

Although 32-year-old Thielen has been fading fast the past two seasons, he remains one of the NFL’s most proven red zone weapons. That is about the extent of the praise for a wideout whose 1.08 yards per route run checked in 83rd in Pro Football Focus’ database last year. He shouldn’t be anyone’s No. 2 at this point, though right now he is arguably the Panthers’ No. 1 on paper. That won’t be the case come Week 1, but we still don’t even know who Thielen’s rookie quarterback is going to be. Thielen’s best 2023 fantasy bet is serving as a plug-and-play WR4 who will stumble into some touchdowns for your squad.

We love you, Aaron: Jets sign Allen Lazard

As the Jets wait on Aaron Rodgers’ acquisition to become official, they’ve already signed one of his henchmen. We use that phrase lovingly, as Lazard is noted for his down-field blocking. It’s probably one of the reasons his receiving line never excites despite his plum placement in Rodgers’ pecking order. He will also have reigning OROY Garrett Wilson to battle for targets in Florham Park. Corey Davis will probably be sent packing. In the end, Lazard seems unlikely to reach 800 yards for the first time in his career, meaning he will remain mired in “matchup-based WR3” fantasyland. His contributions remain best felt on the real-life gridiron.

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