“There is no offseason” has become one of the NFL’s most well-worn clichés. And what makes a cliché a cliché? They may be tiresome, but they’re truer than true. So commonplace there’s no point in being reminded of their existence.
We’re the better part of seven months away from the next real, tangible football game, but the Combine has the NFL’s perpetual motion machine revved back up less three weeks after the Super Bowl. Time of year, “real games” and — shudder — baseball be damned.
The NFL’s OINO — offseason in name only — is littered with one commodifiable, streamlined and inexplicably popular event after the other. After the Combine comes free agency. After free agency comes the draft. After the draft comes OTAs, minicamp, training camp, preseason....you get the idea.
Players getting on scales and GMs tendering restricted free agents contracts shouldn’t create so much excitement, but so is the colossus that the NFL has become. They taught us to like the offseason, now we can’t live without it.
None of that changes the fact that very little of consequence has happened since Tony Romo closed out Week 17 with his 19th and final interception of 2012, but we’ve still been gifted enough new information to make some early informed guesses about 2013. So, without further ado, here are four players who have seen their fantasy value go up this offseason, and four who have seen it go down.
Gained: Michael Vick
“Kept” may be a more apt term in this instance, as though Vick’s value certainly isn’t on the upswing, it’s no longer in the downward — perhaps death — spiral it was last season.
Chip Kelly’s arrival won’t fix the fact that Vick is a soon-to-be 33-year-old man who is no longer the athletic oracle he once was. But it will put Vick in a better position to succeed, and make his legs part of the plan, as opposed to the back-up plan one coach after another has bafflingly made them.
Vick has run plenty in his career, but rarely by design. It’s a cruel twist of fate that he’s only now — “now” being 33 with his best years long behind him — uniting with a man who should have a coherent plan as to how to marry his running prowess to his throwing ability, but as they say, “better late than never.”
Kelly has been coy on his plans for the Eagles offense. Speaking at the Combine Thursday, he claimed thusly: "I really, truly do not care what it looks like as long as it scores points." But we know better. He’s going to run — a lot — but the threat of the pass will be ever present. It will be lightning paced, and though it’s unlikely to directly mimic Kelly’s Two Minutes or Less Oregon juggernaut, it should be a more fully-realized version of the spread-option attack teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Redskins toyed with last season.
Even though he’s lost a step — or three — that’s still an offense tailor made for Vick’s skill-set, and one that should stabilize his fantasy value after injuries and turnovers nearly destroyed it.
As for the “open competition” Dennis Dixon believes he’s walking into and Kelly has hinted Nick Foles will be a part of? There are $3.5 million reasons Vick is going to come out on top without much of a fight.
Lost: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s “open competition” with Tarvaris Jackson may never come to pass — just ask T-Jax’s guaranteed salary — but Fitzpatrick’s days of being the centerpiece of the Bills offense are long gone.
Out is coddling co-conspirator Chan Gailey, and in is hard-nosed rookie coach Doug Marrone. Like Marrone, Gailey actually favored a balanced approach during his time in Buffalo, but fell in love with his weak-armed, erratic quarterback for season-killing stretches at a time. Gailey ignored the run game at all the wrong junctures, dialing up torrents of Fitzpatrick passes that would inevitably produce an interception.
Marrone will almost certainly look for Fitzpatrick’s long-term replacement in the draft, and could settle on a player he knows well: Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. Marrone, of course, coached Nassib his entire college career. Who do you think Marrone will trust more? A 30-year-old turnover machine with a history of falling apart down the stretch? Or a quarterback he’s been grooming for the job for four years?
Fitz might get one last opportunity to start fast in 2013, but the offense will not be on his back, while his annual fade will not be tolerated.
Gained: Jay Cutler
You might not think of Chicago — America’s second city — as the wilderness, but for Jay Cutler, that’s exactly what it’s been for much of his four seasons since moving on from Mike Shanahan. That’s because the Chicago Bears focused on one thing and one thing only during the Lovie Smith era: Defense.
Offensive niceties such as “two good wide receivers” and “an offensive line that keeps you from getting knocked on your butt every other play” were never very high on the to-do list. All you need to know about Cutler’s Chicago offensive coordinators is that the first was Norval Turner’s younger brother, the second (Mike Martz) called plays like Cutler was being protected by five Walter Joneses and the third (Mike Tice) was so overmatched he wasn’t even allowed to oversee the passing game.
Now Cutler finally has a head coach who’s offensively minded, and one with an impressive track record to boot. That means Cutler won’t be adjusting to a new boss or system every other season, and that the head man might be a little more sympathetic to his most important player’s needs. Personnel — not play-callers — is what brings home the offensive bacon at the end of the day, and Chicago’s still isn’t talented enough. But no longer an afterthought, you can bet it’s spruced up a bit in 2013, and that means a player with a QB1 skill-set might finally find his way out of the QB2 forest.
Lost: Cecil Shorts
Cecil Shorts is the real deal. Deposed GM Gene Smith’s last great small-school find, Shorts is quick off the line, explosive after the catch and a big play waiting to happen. But he has two very serious things working against him.
The first is his head. Not his smarts — Shorts proved to be an intelligent route runner during his breakout 2012 — but his literal brain. His year was cut short after he suffered his second concussion in three games in Week 16. That’s a scary development for a player who checks in at 6-foot-0, 193 pounds if he stands on his tippy toes and soaks himself in water.
The other is who will supposedly be throwing him the ball in 2013. Shorts did damage with Blaine Gabbert under center last season, but he did much more of it with Chad Henne. With Jacksonville’s new braintrust committed to giving Gabbert — a player who’s completed just 53.8 of his 691 career passes, posted a 21:17 TD:INT ratio and averaged an impossibly bad 5.6 yards per pass attempt — another chance, Shorts’ upside will be capped. He’ll still be a WR3 with room to grow, but with the right quarterback, Shorts could be an every-week WR2 with WR1 upside. Shorts is a gifted, intriguing young player, but he needs to get his mind and quarterback right before he can be trusted for the long haul.