Nick Mensio

Free Agency Update

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Show Me The $$: Contract Years

Saturday, August 17, 2013

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This is our first real look at what the 2014 free-agent class might have to offer. Keep in mind many of these guys will get franchise-tagged next February or sign in-season extensions. The contract-year phenomenon isn’t as prevalent in the NFL as it is in the other three major pro sports, but we’ve seen middling talent land big deals based on timely production. A couple of the players listed below will inevitably capitalize on their contract-year status and land multi-year deals next spring. In fantasy, identifying those players for your team could help win a title.

Contract-Year Quarterbacks

Jay Cutler – Bears – 2013 Salary: $8.47M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 14

New coach Marc Trestman is installing a quick-hitting West Coast offense, and he’s been impressed with Cutler’s ability to pick up the system. Cutler has one of the top arms in the league, but checking down and throwing with anticipation instead of forcing balls into tight coverage must be a priority. He’s shaping up as a high-end QB2 who will be able to start for your fantasy squad in some weeks.

Josh Freeman – Bucs – 2013 Salary: $8.43M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 20

Coach Greg Schiano has been leery of throwing all of his eggs into Freeman’s basket, but the reality is he gives the team a much better shot to win games than raw third-round rookie Mike Glennon. The Bucs want to see Freeman take the next step in his development before handing him a massive new contract. Freeman has shown flashes of stardom, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent.

Michael Vick – Eagles – 2013 Salary: $3.5M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 21

Vick is the overwhelming favorite to win the Eagles' starting job, ahead of Nick Foles. Although his accuracy has always been a question mark, Vick's ball location has been pinpoint through two preseason games, completing 13 of his 15 throws. If he keeps the job and continues to display improved touch in real games, Vick could approach mid-range QB1 statistics under run-heavy, up-tempo coach Chip Kelly.

Chad Henne – Jaguars – 2013 Salary: $2.625M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 34

Blaine Gabbert started the preseason opener and was named the starter for the second contest, but he and Henne are fully expected to split the first-team load this exhibition season. Henne has been the superior passer in practice, and he made the Jaguars’ offense at least watchable for parts of last season.

Contract-Year Running Backs

Maurice Jones-Drew – Jaguars – 2013 Salary: $4.95M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 17

Coming off a Lisfranc fracture, Jones-Drew has missed just one training camp practice to date. The 28-year-old looks to be fully healthy, and he’s the focal point of the Jaguars’ offense. MJD still has a ton of wear on his tires; we could see him returning to RB1 form just as easily as seeing his decline rip into high gear.

Darren McFadden – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $5.856M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 19

McFadden plays on easily the least talented team in the league, and the Raiders are going to be trailing on the scoreboard regularly. DMC has more value in PPR formats simply because he’s probably the team’s best pass catcher. The Raiders are going to be dinking and dunking with Matt Flynn under center. We’ll see if McFadden can hold up for all 16 games, then find his way out of Oakland after the season.

Ahmad Bradshaw – Colts – 2013 Salary: $1.1M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 30

Bradshaw (foot) hasn’t done much of anything since being signed by the Colts in June, but he was finally activated off the active/PUP list Monday. The good news for Bradshaw is that he’s far and away the best back on the roster, and he’s proven he can play all three downs. Bradshaw is capable of posting quality RB2 numbers in the Colts’ West Coast offense.

Rashard Mendenhall – Cardinals – 2013 Salary: $2M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 33

Mendenhall inked a one-year deal to try and rehab his value, but we just can't see him putting up anything more than RB2/Flex numbers behind a porous offensive line in coach Bruce Arians’ high-volume passing attack. He’s being overdrafted in fantasy circles. Mendenhall is already battling tendinitis in his surgically-repaired knee. He’s a poor bet to play 16 games.

Andre Brown – Giants – 2013 Salary: $2.023M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 34

We expect Brown to open the season in a timeshare with David Wilson, but Wilson’s game-breaking talent should win the coaching staff over quickly. Brown would then be limited to short-yardage and occasional goal-line work. He may score a handful of touchdowns, but he’s going to struggle for reliable weekly fantasy value.

Ben Tate – Texans – 2013 Salary: $575K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 36

Tate is arguably the top handcuff in fantasy, primarily due to Arian Foster’s extreme workload and worn-down body. Foster has been “day-to-day” with calf and back issues for the past two-plus months. He’s a prime candidate to break down in 2013. Tate also hasn’t been able to stay on the field in his young career, but he’s been getting plenty of first-team reps in camp. He needs to stay healthy. Tate could be coveted on the free-agent market in 2014

Toby Gerhart – Vikings – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 61

Gerhart hasn’t shown much of anything since being a second-round pick in the 2010 draft, but he does offer some value on third downs and is the top backup to the No. 1 fantasy footballer on the planet.

Isaac Redman – Steelers – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 73

Le’Veon Bell is going to handle a three-down workload, but Redman is currently penciled in as his backup and could even see some work on third downs. Even if he does find his way into the starting lineup for whatever reason, Redman lacks the skills to be anything more than a weak flex option.

Marcel Reece – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $1.423M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 77

Reece will open the season at fullback, but there’s a chance he could serve as the occasional third-down back while also splitting out wide. He didn’t embarrass himself when given the opportunity to carry a majority of the load with Darren McFadden hurt last year. Reece might be worth a look in PPR leagues.

Donald Brown – Colts – 2013 Salary: $1.075M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 79

Former first-round pick Brown is squarely on the roster bubble in Indy; he’s no higher than the No. 3 back and is battling Delone Carter for the job. He’s far off the fantasy radar right now, and is a certified Bill Polian draft bust.

James Starks – Packers – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A

Starks is off the fantasy radar at the moment, but things can change in a flash. Many of the Packers’ backs have an injury history, and that includes Starks. Per the coaching staff, Starks has been a different player this summer. He’s been running “extremely hard” and “violent.” Starks could be a trade candidate as an early-down bruiser.

LeGarrette Blount – Patriots – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A

Blount ripped apart the Eagles in the preseason opener, but we can’t take those numbers seriously. Eagle defenders were slow and took bad angles all night. Blount is competing with Brandon Bolden to be the early-down backup to Stevan Ridley, so whoever wins the battle would hold a bit of fantasy value. Bolden is more talented, but Blount seems to have a decent chance to overtake him.

Rashad Jennings – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A

Jennings was pitiful when given an opportunity to be the lead dog in Jacksonville last season, but he’s been the Raiders’ “clear-cut” No. 2 behind Darren McFadden this summer. Even if McFadden gets hurt, we wouldn’t expect Jennings to see a ton of carries. He’d split the load with intriguing rookie Latavius Murray and hybrid weapon Marcel Reece.

Jonathan Dwyer – Steelers – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A

Dwyer is no higher than third on the depth chart, and he’s in danger of being cut due to his inflated salary. If he sticks in Pittsburgh, he’ll see nothing more than an occasional short-yardage carry.

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Nick Mensio is a football writer for The 2014 NFL season marks his third with Rotoworld. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.
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