Keep it locked right here as Matt Harmon breaks down every fantasy-relevant deal done during NFL free agency.
Damien Harris signs with the Bills (1 year)
The Bills' offense is awesome. At the same time, it’s been painfully clear the last two years — especially late in the season — that they could use a counterpunch to the “All Josh Allen Show, All the Time” approach they’ve exclusively run since 2020. As awesome as that performance is, this team needs more power and juice from its run game. Enter Damien Harris. The former Patriots back brings the early-down banger ability this team just never got from Devin Singletary or Zack Moss and based on his Alabama years, he could even chip in on pass downs along with James Cook. He’s also a proven red-zone threat who can get you what you need in short yardage. While there were more tantalizing fantasies to imagine in this backfield, those Derrick Henry or Bijan Robinson dreams were exactly that; not realistic. This is the perfect low-cost fit for what Buffalo needed to play alongside Cook.
Fantasy spin: In fake football, we want proven quality backs in good offensive ecosystems. Check and mega check for Harris. While he will still have Cook to contend with as a committee player, he will have a valuable clock-killing and red-zone role. In a best-case scenario, this could develop into a predictable game script rotation situation where we know the weeks to play Harris based on how much Buffalo is favored. Either way, he checks a lot of boxes and fits a team-need. I’ll be interested in drafting him given his talent and the offensive environment.
Brandin Cooks traded to the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas parted with a fifth-round pick in 2023 and a sixth-rounder in 2024 for Brandin Cooks’ services and the Texans are still on the hook for $6 million of his salary. Dallas only has to pay the remaining $12 million.
Considering how big of a need the wide receiver position and overall playmakers were coming into this offseason, this is a massive steal for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys have one of the best young receivers in the game in CeeDee Lamb. He can play every position but primarily functions as the power slot in their offense. Michael Gallup did not have a good year in his first year off a late 2021-season torn ACL but when he’s right, he’s a great X-receiver. That leaves the flanker spot — vacated by Amari Cooper — wide open and that’s Cooks’ optimal position. The weakest part of their offense in 2022 might be about to transition into a strength.
Cooks had a strange year last year as he was openly trying to get himself traded midseason for the rebuilding Texans. However, he looked like the same player as ever on film. Cooks is loaded with speed and is a strong separator in the intermediate game. Those are two qualities that Dallas desperately needs on offense. I’d argue that Cooks’ Houston tenure actually contained the best years of his career from a pure individual play standpoint. He’s a better route runner now than earlier in his career and hasn’t lost much of a step physically.
Cooks is also capable of the acrobatic catch, especially when he needs to toe-tap along the sideline. That’s another great fit for Dallas as this offense, sometimes needlessly, requires the quarterback to make high-degree of difficulty throws.
It was plain to see that the Cowboys fumbled their wide receiver position all last season. It was the all Lamb show and nothing much behind him. Now, it might be a true needle-moving strength. As long as Cooks’ skills on film the last two season transition cleanly to Dallas and Gallup can get back close to his old form, the Cowboys employ an excellent wide receiver trio.
Fantasy spin: Much of Cooks’ fantasy value is going to be contingent on Gallup’s offseason reports. These two could end up with a similar target total as they play two different positions between X and flanker receiver. And they affect the game differently, even if they both win downfield. I like Cooks to end up being a bit of a volatile but desirable WR3 in fantasy. Even if he doesn’t get routine high-volume, he could have week-winning outings in what should remain a quality offense. Prescott might be the big winner here if this receiver trio hits.
As for Lamb, the Cowboys could not add a player that would detract from my enthusiasm for his role. He’s too good to lose targets. I expect all of his volume metrics from last year to hold, even as the players around him improve.
Devin Singletary signs with the Texans (1 year, up to $3.75M)
Devin Singletary has been a useful player in the Bills' backfield for a number of years. He’s operated as a high-volume player for spurts and been effective but he’s likely more of a strong No. 2 in a committee than a true starter. He brings decent wiggle in the run game and fine skills as an outlet receiver. Honestly, he might fall into a similar role as Rex Burkhead did with this team, he’s just younger and brings a bit more pop.
Fantasy spin: The main fantasy issue here is, “what does this do to Dameon Pierce?” My initial reaction: Probably not much. Singletary is a solid rotational NFL back but he’s not one to threaten a lead back’s role. The Bills themselves have been desperately trying to upgrade on him for years. If Singletary’s addition ends up being the thing that sinks Pierce, he was probably already doomed to fail. Based on how he played as a rookie, I think he’s too good for this to be the move that dramatically threatens his projections.
Dalton Schultz signs with the Texans (1 year, up to $9M)
While Dalton Schultz was more of a receptions compiler than a needle-mover for the Cowboys, this is a nice signing for the Texans. Their receiver corps has plenty of question marks and they were a near blank slate at tight end. Schultz can be a true inline player for a team that wants to run the ball well and be a security blanket for whoever they draft at quarterback. For a mere one-year commitment, this was a nice move to increase the competency of their skill position players.
Fantasy spin: Schultz will likely project to catch 50 to 60 balls next year but he’s swinging from a potent to an unproven offense. That’s enough of a big concern at a position where we’re mostly hunting for touchdown equity. Schultz should end up being drafted in the tight end 11 to 14 range and likely won’t be a priority pick. But he may end up being someone you can use in a bye-week pinch and hope for a 5-48 type of line.
Adam Thielen signs with the Panthers (3 years, $25 million)
The Panthers were bare-bones at the wide receiver position after trading D.J. Moore in order to get up to the No. 1 overall pick. Adam Thielen may not be exactly the same player he was at his peak but can still be an impact player for a young offense. Thielen has always been a technical player and is often right on time within the progression of routes in a play. Getting a hopefully young receiver room around him to absorb some of that will be key for the Panthers. Even more so, his role as a reliable target on third downs and in the red zone will be crucial for whoever the Panthers draft first overall. Even if he doesn’t separate at the level he once did or offer much down the field, a timing-based quarterback can still make beautiful music with Thielen in critical situations. Some of his decline can also be offset by a move back into the power slot role he once thrived in with the Vikings prior to Stefon Diggs being traded.
This is a good move for a young team that, while they’ll be breaking in a rookie quarterback, is too good to just be hapless on offense.
Fantasy spin: Thielen will almost certainly be more consequential for the Carolina Panthers, both as a quarterback and receiver mentor along with his on-field contributions, than fantasy contributor. I also want to see what the Panthers do in the draft. They still have the 39th overall pick and that selection should be bookmarked for a wideout like the Bengals did with pairing up Joe Burrow first overall and Tee Higgins in Round 2 back in 2020. Thielen will be the favorite to lead the team in targets and could offer some usable weeks as a red-zone threat.
Jamaal Williams signs with the Saints (3 years, $12 million)
The former Lions back ends up taking a little less than what his former team gave David Montgomery but ends up in a solid spot nonetheless. The Saints have lacked a power complement and capable running mate to Alvin Kamara over the last several years. Jamaal Williams can be that and more for this squad.
Williams ran as hot as you can possibly run in the touchdown column last year with Detroit. He won’t mash in that many touchdowns this year but projects as the top short-yardage and goal-line back on the roster. He’s a solid and reliable runner; the ultimate coach’s catnip of a running back. Williams is also a known tone-setter and culture-builder.
Not only is Kamara likely to get suspended by the league at some point this year but there was also some weirdness with his role last year. He was often removed in goal-line and passing-down situations. Williams can siphon even more work from Kamara in both areas. While he was mostly a banger back in Detroit, Williams played some passing downs early in his Packers career. Williams inherits a valuable fantasy role on what should be a solid-to-good offense.
It’s difficult to know how to approach Kamara without knowing if he’ll be suspended. Either way, he’s now set to be more of a true committee back than he has been in the last few seasons. His role will be closer to what it was when he was splitting time with Mark Ingram earlier in his career. I’m not sure he can be as hyper-efficient at this point in his career and in this version of New Orleans’ offense.
Ezekiel Elliott being released by the Cowboys
We’ll file this one under “not surprising but still significant.” Ezekiel Elliott seemingly entered the “fantasy nuisance” chapter in the lifestyle of a fantasy football running back a few seasons ago. But we should not forget what a dominant and fun player he was at his early-career peak. He was rewarded for that elite-level play with a massive contract that finally became untenable for Dallas.
The running back market has moved slowly in free agency and it may be due to teams waiting out some big-name cut candidates like Elliott. Despite what some folks think, Zeke is not completely done as a quality NFL back. He’s a rock-solid pass-protector and dynamite short-yardage back. There will always be a place in the league for guys like that who still have some juice left. I expect Elliott to be signed as a secondary committee back at some point.
The big winner here is, obviously, Tony Pollard, who didn’t need too much more steam after a breakout season in 2022. Expect a full-blown competition from all of your favorite and least favorite fantasy analysts to see who can declare themselves the biggest Pollard Bro this offseason. Even if we have some Mike McCarthy concerns, the Cowboys will be a good offense and Pollard is an electric run-and-pass game player. Those guys go in or near the first round in fake football.
As for Elliott, there’s a diet version of “this year’s Jamaal Williams” somewhere in his range of outcomes but that feels like a stretch. It would take the perfect landing spot and issues with the presumed RB1 on his next team to get that to happen. We have not seen the last of Elliott as a fantasy contributor; just the last of him as a clear-cut difference-maker.
Miles Sanders signs with the Panthers (4 years, $25 million)
The top back on the free agent market ends up clearing all of the other available backs in average per year salary. And it’s still not much at just over $6 million per season. The length of Miles Sanders’ deal is interesting and represents a solid level of commitment from the Panthers. There is a coach familiarity element here in Duce Staley, who worked with the running backs a few years in Philadelphia.
The cupboard is almost completely bare at the skill position spots for the Panthers. So they’re wise to at least hit a double here by signing a proven back in Sanders. Carolina’s offensive line is also quite underrated, so the run game could turn into a fruitful environment; it was near dominant down the stretch at times in 2022. There are a lot of questions to be answered about this offense overall but the run game has the potential to help out the young quarterback early.
Sanders is an efficient back who had more of a passing game role earlier in his career, prior to Jalen Hurts. He’ll need to get more work through the air to offset a likely efficiency downgrade. While I’m high on Carolina’s offensive line and potential rushing ecosystem, it is unlikely to match the 2022 Eagles. There are also some rumors the Panthers would still want to bring back D’Onta Foreman. Sanders won’t have this gig to himself, either way.
Sanders is likely to be an attractive mind-range RB2. He doesn’t have a flawless profile but there are a few notes to like in fantasy.
D'Onta Foreman signed by the Bears (1 year, $3M)
It was inevitable that the Bears would add another running back when David Montgomery signed with the Lions. Khalil Herbert was not going to stand alone on this depth chart. Chicago, in fact, added two backs to complement Herbert in D’Onta Foreman and Travis Homer. The former is the far more interesting player. Foreman was excellent as a bruising back at the end of each of the last two seasons for the Titans and Panthers, respectively. When he’s able to get a ton of work and get into a rhythm, he can run exceptionally hot in a good system. Homer agreed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract and will likely play a special teams role. However, he is also likely to soak up some passing down work, just as he did in Seattle, even if he doesn’t touch the ball much. Neither Herbert nor Foreman has much history of playing on late or passing downs. Right now the Bears have three very strong to solid role-playing backs on the roster which is key for a team that will lean run-heavy as long as Justin Fields is the quarterback.
Fantasy spin: The Foreman and Herbert backfield duo is a nice and cost-effective option for the Bears. It also has the potential to be a messy situation for fantasy football. As mentioned, Herbert and Foreman both profile as early-down bangers and I’m not sure how much, if any, separation there is in their talent levels. Herbert is a really talented runner who has shown out in a variety of rushing efficiency metrics. Then again, this brain trust isn’t the group who drafted Herbert and they never truly let him do more than eat into every third series of Montgomery’s work. He could stay in the role or Foreman could take that old position and Herbert becomes the lead back. I think anyone speaking in absolutes about how this will play out is fooling themselves.
Lastly, I don’t think the presence of any of these backs on the roster precludes the Bears from taking a running back in the NFL Draft. Then we’d really be looking at either a messy committee or one of these early-down bangers being moved off the roster at some point.
Mike Gesicki signed by the Patriots (1 year, up to $9M)
The former Dolphins tight end was just never a fit in Mike McDaniel’s offense but Mike Geskicki remains a talented move tight end. He essentially functions as a power slot receiver who specializes in ripping teams up the seam and winning in the red zone. New England already has answers at the inside receiver spot and still badly needs a perimeter player who can get open. Gesicki doesn’t help much there but should be a sizable upgrade on Jonnu Smith as the team’s move-tight end leaving Hunter Henry to play the traditional in-line role. New England still should not be done overhauling an offense that needed a full teardown and rebuild but Gesicki at least adds some pop to the pass-catching corps.
Fantasy spin: “Restore the middle class,” has been my offseason slogan to protect the tight end position from the cancel culture mob that wants to remove the position from fantasy football. Travis Kelce will lead the position, probably by a lot, and there will be a handful of sleepers who don’t produce usable weeks often enough at the bottom of the position. We just need more players between those two tiers after those guys were eroded by injuries last season. I had hoped that Gesicki could be one of those players. I’m not sure that is going to play out in New England. But I suppose the chances are greater than zero-percent. As things stand today, he should end up being the second-most targeted player on the team behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, although the areas they win on the field overlap. However, I’m just not sure how much that’s worth in this offense unless Bill O’Brien is a miracle worker.
Alexander Mattison re-signs with the Vikings (2 years, $7 million)
Alexander Mattison has been one of the best fill-in backs in the NFL. Fantasy gamers know this. Just about anytime Dalvin Cook missed time, Mattison has started and given the Vikings near-equal production. With Cook perhaps on his way out of Minnesota, you have to wonder if the Vikings are looking to make that swap on a more year-long basis with this move.
Mattison’s outlook is mostly going to depend on the Cook situation and what other moves the Vikings make in the backfield. This is not a mega financial commitment so we would see another back added in the draft, even if Cook moves on. If Mattison stands near alone atop this depth chart, he would become one of the most fascinating fantasy debates. He’s a somewhat proven player who would inherit the lead gig in a good offense.
James Robinson signs with the Patriots (2 years, up to $8 million)
I have a feeling that “up to” is doing a lot of work here. The James Robinson signing signals that Damien Harris will be moving to another team. Robinson didn’t quite look the same in his first year back from an Achilles tear — standard for a running back — in Jacksonville and didn’t ever catch on with the Jets after a trade. It’s difficult to know how he’ll perform going forward. The history of post-Achillies running backs is sketchy at best. But the Patriots need a reliable guy to mix in with young star Rhamondre Stevenson. Perhaps Robinson can be that guy.
Robinson is not much of a threat to Stevenson’s workload, which is the primary fantasy concern here. If Robinson has a good summer, he could end up on the priority backup list.
Parris Campbell signs with the Giants (1-year, $3 million)
Parris Campbell stayed healthy this year — that’s an outlier in terms of his career — but also showed why the upside case a few still hang on to from his prospect profile isn’t realistic. I think Campbell fits best as a vertical player, not the popgun slot guy we’ve seen him operate as in Indy. The Giants are hurting for both guys with speed and potential answers in the slot. Their 2022 rookie Wan’Dale Robinson is recovering from a late-season ACL tear and while they brought back one of my favorites in Sterling Shepard, he also has a long injury history. Campbell is at best a No. 3 receiver but should be able to fill a role for a team badly hurting for wideouts. I doubt this is New York’s last move at the position.
It’s hard to imagine Campbell having much fantasy appeal. The Giants are likely going to grab one more big-time wideout this offseason and he didn’t get much cash on the open market. Campbell is a fine real-life signing for the Giants but it would be a stunner if he emerges as a big target earner.
JuJu Smith-Schuster signs with the Patriots (3 years $33 million)
It appears the Patriots preferred JuJu Smith-Schuster to Jakobi Meyers based on the latter’s reaction to the former getting the exact same deal he received from the Raiders. I don’t agree with their assessment. Meyers is a better man-coverage beater and works better outside. That said, JuJu can be a fine replacement in the slot. He also brings an added element of physicality and is a better blocker. Perhaps that’s what New England valued more.
New England has badly needed a facelift in the receiver room for years. This is essentially just swapping out one guy for another. So expect the Patriots to make more moves this offseason for a receiver who can win and get open on the perimeter. That guy is still not currently on the roster.
Outside of his 2018 season, JuJu has never been able to command and sustain a high target share because of his limitations as a player. That was reinforced in Kansas City last year and isn’t likely to change in a far worse offensive ecosystem, even if Mac Jones rebounds with real coaching. He will fit somewhere on the low to mid-range WR3/flex radar assuming the Patriots don’t make another big receiver addition.
Allen Lazard signs with the Jets (4 years, $44 million)
Obviously, we know why the Jets made this move. This is part of their plan to entice Aaron Rodgers and surround him with some players he and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have rapport with. That said, I’m not going to be one of the people that bash this Allen Lazard signing.
I don't know that you got better by (likely) swapping Allen Lazard for Corey Davis but I don't think you really got worse. Similar WRs and ideal deployment.
Lazard = Davis
Lazard + helping coax a legit QB solution > Davis
...if my math checks out https://t.co/4kHg2tbWkm
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 14, 2023
Lazard has his deficiencies — he is not at all a separator — but he brings size, strong hands in tight coverage and absolute pristine blocking to the equation. The size and blocking ability add a different dimension to the table than that of current Jets receivers, Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. The Packers deployed him almost like a move tight end at times. He’ll essentially just take Corey Davis’ spot on the roster, as the latter is likely a cut candidate.
Fantasy spin: Lazard’s signing is a better real-life move for the Jets than a fantasy needle-mover. He will help out as a blocker for an offense that wants to run the ball well but I still expect him to be the WR3 in the pecking order on this team.
Hayden Hurst signs with the Panthers (3 years, $21.8 million
The Panthers have gaping holes at tight end and wide receiver. Signing Hayden Hurst is their first move to shore up two of their leakiest positions. Hurst had a nice year with the Bengals in 2022 and the Panthers bring him in on a modest deal. He’s a passable starting tight end for a team that will be playing a rookie quarterback this season after trading for the first overall pick.
It would be a shock if Hurst commands enough volume to be a weekly fantasy factor. However, he should be a trusted target for whoever Carolina drafts at quarterback given the state of their receiver room. Hurst is more of a TE2 in best ball drafts than anything else at this stage.
Samaje Perine signs with the Broncos (2 years, $7.5 million)
The Broncos' moves on Day 1 (more on that later) of the free agency negotiation period signaled they wanted to be a strong rushing and perhaps even run-heavy team. The issue was that their young ascending running back is rehabbing and coming back from a serious and complicated knee injury. It was clear they needed someone to hold the fort down until Javonte Williams is ready.
It looks like that guy is going to be Samaje Perine, who had a darn fine year with the Bengals last year. Perine has long been a solid NFL back who was unfairly maligned after a slow start with a dreaded Washington team. Over the last two years, Perine has run well with the Bengals and has been a superior asset on passing downs than Joe Mixon was. He can give the Broncos some good weeks as a fill-in.
There’s a chance the Broncos bring in a rookie back and he usurps Perine as the RB2. However, that seems like a stretch given they paid Perine decent money. Given that Perine has two-way ability in the run-and-pass game, he could be a high-snap player in the first few weeks of the season. He might end up a September steal in the late rounds of the draft, especially for teams that punt on running back.
David Montgomery signs the Lions (3 years, $18 million)
It seems wrong that the Lions won’t have Jamaal Williams on the team next season but that’s what this David Montgomery signing indicates. Montgomery is a solid if unspectacular back who is a capable early-down banger and passing-down player. Williams doesn’t offer much of the latter ability and perhaps that’s part of why the Lions were willing to sacrifice his influence as a culture guy. Montgomery lands in a great spot with a top-tier offensive line and overall ecosystem. I think he’s drawn way too much criticism as a player in the last few years and should be able to exploit this new, far superior setting.
Montgomery is going to be a tough player to rank. I can see his ADP sliding all over draft boards in the summer. One thing is clear, this current Lions staff just does not think D’Andre Swift is as good or useful as fantasy players believe. Montgomery’s ability in the passing game as a blocker and solid receiver is a further threat to Swift’s work.
Michael Thomas re-signs with Saints (1-year, $10 million deal with a max value of $15 million)
I anticipated a divorce between Michael Thomas and the Saints but it sounds like the Derek Carr signing partially changed the course. Thomas didn’t separate at his usual level in his three 2022 games but he still ran good short routes and was awesome as a contested-catch receiver. He also brings size to the table that Saints star Chris Olave and interesting speedster Rashid Shaheed do not. A full-time move to the slot as a power player might be best for his future. Of course, all of this analysis is contingent on Thomas staying on the field, something that’s been a monumental hurdle the last few years.
I don’t expect Thomas to threaten Olave’s standing as the best player on this offense, the top-volume sponge. But the target tree is wide open after Olave. He could be a red-zone threat for Carr and Co. if he’s healthy. Depending on how his summer goes, I don’t hate drafting him as a WR4-5.
Jimmy Garoppolo signs with the Raiders (3 years, $67.5 million)
The Raiders were always going to find it difficult to straight-upgrade on Derek Carr this offseason. I don’t think you’ll find a long list of folks ready to argue Jimmy Garoppolo accomplishes that goal. However, I’m not sure that’s all that matters here.
They’re getting Garoppolo in the building at a mere $24.3 million APY salary, much less than the Saints are paying Carr this year. Despite the big theoretical guarantees, the Raiders can get out of this deal at any point over the next two offseasons. The Raiders have 12 picks in the NFL Draft after shipping off Darren Waller. Don't rule them out as a trade-up team even after this move.
Getting Garoppolo was probably the best-case realistic scenario to field a quality starting quarterback in 2023 and it doesn’t rule them out of pursuing a top draft pick next or even this year. Say what you want about Jimmy G but he has been an efficient passer his entire career when on the field. He was certainly elevated by his circumstances in San Francisco but the Raiders have an excellent run game, three high-end pass catchers and a coach who is familiar with Garoppolo.
The biggest question in Garoppolo’s game is and has always been his lack of ability and/or willingness to push the ball down the field. The Raiders' top three receiving options can work the short and intermediate middle of the field areas Jimmy G loves to throw to. Davante Adams posted career-high yards per reception last year and there’s no doubt that goes down with this quarterback but he can still dominate closer to the line of scrimmage. Overall, I consider this move a win for the Raiders' fantasy assets, relative to possible post-Carr alternatives.
Jakobi Meyers signs with the Raiders (3-year, $33M)
The Patriots have thrown a ton of resources at their pass-catching corps over the last four years and yet Jakobi Meyers has emerged from each campaign as their best receiver. He was also the best wide receiver on this year’s free agent market by a country mile.
I have been a big fan of Meyers’ game for years now and believe he’s shown the ability to win inside and outside. That’s an important note considering the current Raiders coaching staff’s treatment of Hunter Renfrow. They viewed him as a slot-only option and played special teamer Mack Hollins over him in two-receiver sets. It’s likely Josh McDaniels (who coached Meyers for three seasons in New England) holds Meyers in higher regard as a full-time No. 2 receiver. Renfrow could be on the trade market, as well, thought I consider that less likely with Darren Waller out of the door.
Meyers specializes in running in-breaking routes like the slant and dig. Those are some of Jimmy Garoppolo’s best and preferred throws. The Raiders have stacked together a nice complementary receiver corps around Jimmy G for 2023 and a young quarterback in future years.
It’s going to be slightly difficult to parse out the target tree in Las Vegas - although the Waller trade clears things up. We can probably pencil in Davante Adams for his usual 28-32% target share but the rest is going to be quite wide open. I’d currently expect Meyers to finish second behind Adams, clearing Renfrow. Meyers is such a good player and fits so nicely with Garoppolo that I'm willing to push him into the "every-week flex" territory, especially since he can play outside. Renfrow looks like more of a bench player after this move.
Darren Waller traded to the New York Giants
It made sense that one of Hunter Renfrow or Darren Waller could be on the move after the Meyers signing. It turned out to be the tight end. The Giants part with the 100th overall pick in this year’s draft, the selection they received from Kansas City in the Kadarius Toney trade.
The Giants were desperately in need of high-end pass-catching talent this offseason. There were no true No. 1 receivers available on the free agent market so they opt for a dynamic, oversized, move tight end. Waller brings pre-snap alignment flexibility to a creative offensive coaching staff and for now, would be the easy favorite to be New York's lead receiver.
Waller has missed considerable time over the last two seasons and will turn 31 in September. So there is some risk here but this is one of the few ways the Giants could accomplish what should have been their No. 1 goal this offseason and they didn’t pay a premium. Love this trade for the Giants.
If Waller stays healthy, he can be a big piece in restoring the tight end middle class in fantasy. Daniel Jones was competent last year and the offense can take another step with legitimate pass-catchers. Waller will fight to be a top-five ranked tight end and is a desirable fantasy draft pick this summer.
Back in Las Vegas, this trade helps clear up the target pecking order for new addition, Jakobi Meyers. This also might pave the way for Hunter Renfrow to stay on the team and Davante Adams to remain an elite-ranked wideout in fantasy. This passing game just got much easier to project. Expect the Raiders to look for a more traditional in-line tight end in the draft.
DJ Moore traded to the Chicago Bears
The Bears had been signaling all along that they wanted to trade the No. 1 pick prior to free agency so they could establish their offseason plan. It was obvious they wanted a big-time player back in whatever deal surfaced.
That’s exactly what they got:
Compensation update, per sources: Bears trading No. 1 overall pick to Carolina for:
🏈pick No. 9
🏈pick No. 61
🏈a first-round pick in 2024
🏈a second-round pick in 2025
🏈WR DJ Moore pic.twitter.com/hHrHn1UIR2
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 10, 2023
The Panthers preferred to include a 2025 first-rounder in the package they sent to the Bears. General manager Ryan Poles insisted on wide receiver DJ Moore and reportedly didn’t budge. Carolina bent and sent Moore to Chicago to complete the deal.
Moore has been a productive player for the Panthers since he was drafted in 2018 and is a massive upgrade over what Chicago rolled out in 2022. In my opinion, Moore is not at the same level as some of the top receivers we saw dealt last offseason. He is a very good, but not elite, No. 1 wide receiver. I view Moore as one tier down (at least) from where I would have ranked an A.J. Brown or Stefon Diggs type of player prior to their trades, but Moore is for sure a top-20 player at the position regardless.
That still counts as a home run for the Bears. Moore has demonstrated the ability to win as a vertical X-receiver and flanker who can move into the slot for 30 to 40 percent of his snaps too. That’s valuable to a team that’s still trying to figure out what type of passing game works best around Justin Fields. The Bears quarterback is a big-game hunter, which would fit Moore's former role, but Fields desperately needs a quick-separation layup target, which would fit Moore's latter one.
Yep he's hovered between the mid 60 and low to mid 70th percentile in most of his #ReceptionPerception success rates the last 3 years (need to log a few more 2022 games to finish the sample).
His best season as a vertical X receiver was 2020. That's a nice template for Chicago pic.twitter.com/0iYaiI1G04
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 11, 2023
While Moore isn’t at the same level of player as A.J. Brown, this does feel extremely reminiscent of the Eagles' trade for the Titans receiver last year. It’s hard to remember now after a Super Bowl run but there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Jalen Hurts entering last season. Giving him a high-end No. 1 receiver who could beat man coverage was the best way to get a real evaluation of their quarterback. They got that and much more in 2022.
The Bears likely won’t offer Fields a 1B receiver (ala DeVonta Smith) or an elite-caliber offensive line like the Eagles gave Hurts but the trade for Moore should allow for a fair scope of their quarterback. With Moore at the top of the depth chart, they at least field a serious and perhaps quite solid receiver room for the first time in his career.
Historically, it’s always tricky to project massive leaps in passing volume from offenses and with how Fields broke out as a rusher last year, the Bears are likely to remain run-heavy as long as he’s under center. However, the 2022 Eagles were a great reminder to leave your imagination open to an environment outkicking efficiency expectations when new talent arrives.
Fields is still unproven as a pure passer so it’s difficult to say the move to Chicago was a win for Moore’s fantasy value. However, if Fields is considered the best passer Moore has been paired with by the end of this season, that would not be a shock. Overall, I think I’d project Moore for around 1,000 yards and 5-7 touchdowns. That’s not bad at all, but keep in mind that’s right around his career averages to this point.
Overall, I think Moore going to Chicago is a bigger stock-up for Fields in fantasy than it is for the receiver himself.
Rashaad Penny agrees to terms with the Eagles
The Eagles seem likely to lose Miles Sanders in free agency and moved to get a cheaper early-down banger back in Rashaad Penny. The former first-rounder has been absolutely electric in spurts over the last two years. He even led the NFL in yards after contact per rush last season. Of course, that “in spurts” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. We know the deal with Penny’s injury history. He’s a huge risk to miss time with serious maladies. However, he’s an excellent fit behind their mauling offensive line and the Eagles did get an A+ grade for their training staff in the NFLPA survey. Overall, you have to like this signing for the Eagles even if Penny does eventually get banged up again. He should burn bright even if he doesn’t burn long.
Fantasy spin: I’m betting this won’t be the Eagles’ only move at the running back position this offseason. When he’s on the field, Penny should inherit a juicy workload. The Eagles will retain most of their offensive line and while Jalen Hurts is a huge threat a the goal line, Sanders saw 26 carries inside the 10-yard line. As long as he’s going late - injured guys who have hurt peoples’ feelings like this almost always do - he would make a great fantasy pick for however long he plays. Penny will be extra attractive to fake football managers who punt on the running back position early.
Mike White signs with the Dolphins (2 years, up to $16 million)
This is a perfect “the season we clearly have high hopes for won’t be completely over if the starter misses games” backup plan for Miami. Mike White gave the Jets some of their best quarterback play (low bar to clear, to be sure) in spurts each of the last two seasons. There’s also some system familiarity after White played in another 49ers offshoot offense with the Jets.
We can now feel much better about the Dolphins' wide receivers if Tua Tagovailoa misses time. A stark contrast from last season.
Raheem Mostert re-signs with the Dolphins (2 years, $5.6M)
The Dolphins have made several shrewd moves at the opening of free agency and now, they bring back one of their own as the bell rings on Day 2. Raheem Mostert was the Dolphins' best runner last year and we know he has a long relationship with Mike McDaniel dating back to San Francisco. The cupboard was pretty bare at this position on the depth chart so a reunion makes all the sense in the world. I think Miami should be focused on making their run game into more of a dangerous counter-punch to their electric passing attack.
The Dolphins were one of the few landing spots where a new running back could come in and essentially take over near bell-cow duties. Bringing back Mostert might take them out of the free-agent mix but they could still be a strong landing spot for a rookie back. In the meantime, Mostert makes for a fine late-round dart throw as he’s likely to give you solid fill-in weeks, especially if they draft a rookie who isn’t ready to handle the full workload from Day 1.
Note: This was written prior to Wilson re-signing.
Jeff Wilson re-signs with the Dolphins (2 years, $8.2 million)
The Dolphins depth chart is much less of a blank canvas now. Miami retains its one/two punch in Mostert and Jeff Wilson. My read here is that Mostert is the more explosive overall runner but Wilson is a more trusted player on passing downs. If these two are the only backs on the roster, we'll get a murky committee backfield for the Dolphins for the entirety of the season. Wilson and Mostert can be a serviceable duo for Miami if they are uninterested in investing further resources into the position.
I'm now a little less bullish on the hypothetical rookie Miami may draft in April. Neither Wilson nor Mostert will be ranked as more than a mere mid to late-round pick.
Robert Woods signs with the Texans (2 years, $15.25 million)
I’m skeptical as to how much Robert Woods has left. He looked like a declining player on film to me even prior to tearing his ACL with the Rams in 2021. However, if Woods has anything left in the tank this signing makes so much sense for the Texans. Woods will give them a reliable receiver while grooming a young quarterback and he’ll be a fantastic blocker for a team likely installing a run-heavy Shanahan-style offense.
I don’t think Woods will move the needle much for fantasy on his own. I’m more curious if this opens up the door for a Brandin Cooks trade, and who trades for him.
Jawaan Taylor signs with the Chiefs (4 years, $80 million)
The Chiefs are taking a big gamble here on the offensive line. The team is moving on from Orlando Brown Jr. and signing former Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor to a big deal. Taylor has spent very little time as a left tackle, even dating back to college.
Taylor's basically NEVER played on the left.
Even in college it's 134 snaps out of 3 years of tackle play.
That's an interesting gamble. https://t.co/hCw2fSmlEH
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 13, 2023
That said, Taylor was a great pass-protector last season and obviously, that fits how the Chiefs want to play a bit more than Brown. It’s also worth noting Brown himself primarily played on the right before shifting to the left in his final year with Baltimore following injuries and then his entire stint with the Chiefs. It’s more than reasonable to give Andy Reid and co. the benefit of the doubt on this one.
The Chiefs managed to turn their offensive line from a weakness to a strength a few offseasons ago and this marks the dawn of yet another new era on that front. Despite some of the risk associated with this signing, I don’t think it will cause me to alter any potential fantasy ranks for Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce or any ancillary players in Kansas City.
Sam Darnold signs with the 49ers (1 year, $4.5 million)
We knew the 49ers were going to make some sort of veteran quarterback signing this offseason. Despite two intriguing young players in Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, injuries have forced them to be flexible with a possible backup plan. Sam Darnold was quite good for Carolina when he played last year. His 8.2 adjusted yards per attempt would have ranked fifth among full-time starters. Of course, that’s a dramatic outlier in terms of his career output but it was once again a reminder that when he’s in a good ecosystem, he can keep a ship afloat for a month or so.
In an ideal scenario, that is the absolute most the 49ers would ever ask of Darnold.
The best-case fantasy scenario is, we never see Darnold take a snap for this team because either Lance has finally broken out and/or Purdy gets healthy ASAP. However, if he does end up playing — few teams have had to dig deeper into the quarterback cupboard than the 49ers — Darnold wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for players like George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Recall, Darnold pummeled Christian McCaffrey with 15 targets in their first two games together on the Panthers in 2021.
Broncos spend big on blockers
The opening act of the Sean Payton era saw the Broncos go hard to improve the offensive line. Denver added right tackle Mike McGlinchey on a 5-year, $87.5 million deal with over $50 million guaranteed and guard Ben Powers on a 4-year, $52 million deal with $28.5 million guaranteed. I like the Powers move more than the McGlinchey signing.
Powers showed himself to be a powerful pulling guard in Baltimore and that will work well in Denver. People often overlook how much Payton consistently built through the offensive line and featured a strong running game In New Orleans just because Drew Brees was breaking all of those passing records. The Broncos also signed tight end Chris Manhertz, a pure blocking specialist. All of these moves seem like a signal that Payton wants to reinvigorate the Broncos run game while also improving the protection for Russell Wilson.
The Manhertz signing in conjunction with the offensive line moves is what's pointing me to Payton wanting to emphasize the rushing game in Denver. We know the Broncos are dealing with a complicated injury recovery to their star back Javonte Williams. I won't be surprised if they add a big-name veteran and/or a rookie in this year's draft to hold down the fort early in the season.
Jalen Ramsey traded to the Miami Dolphins
It’s crystal clear that the Miami Dolphins have an extremely high opinion about their current Super Bowl window, as their move for Mike White signaled. Jalen Ramsey may be a slightly diminished player from his peak play but the Dolphins got him for a mere third-round pick and depth tight end Hunter Long. Miami struggled in both man and zone coverage last season. Ramsey makes them better right away.
As Miami pushes their chips in for the next season or two, the Rams attempt to recoup assets in the aftermath of their “all-in” era. This was not the first and won’t be the last major LA move of this variety.
Stay tuned for more updates!