It’s March in the NFL and that means one thing: the start of a new league season. With the start of a new league season also comes the start of free agency. It kicked off in a big way this year, as many star players found themselves in new homes. Even though we are really just getting started, I want to break down five teams who I think have done well, I have questions about or are just falling behind the curve.
Jacksonville Jaguars – I don’t think anyone can argue that Jacksonville has one of the most potent offenses in the league. If you would have uttered that five years ago, you would have been laughed at. This team is the real deal on that side of the ball. Blake Bortles should take another step forward, and if he can cut down on the interceptions, has two high end receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, a good tight end in Julius Thomas, and a competent backfield in TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory.
It wasn’t the Ivory move that has me seeing this team going in the right direction; it is rather the signings Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson that has me seeing them move in the right direction. This defense was among the worst in the league in 2015, especially against the pass, and is adding both a solid threat to get to the QB and a defensive back who can limit the damage being done. I am very excited to see how this helps in 2015.
Now, from a fantasy perspective, there COULD be some collateral damage. A lot of the fantasy success that the team achieved was a result of playing from behind, and needing to rely on the passing game to try to bring them closer. I think it was already difficult to imagine Bortles and Robinson exceeding what they did in 2015, but a better defense could limit their upside. That doesn’t mean they still can’t be amongst the best at their position. One player I really like in this team, evidenced by my love for him in our podcast on the AFC South, is Julius Thomas. I think this move potentially helps him, as if they don’t have to move the ball down the field all the time, he benefits from a mid-range game that he could dominate rather easily.
Tennessee Titans – It’s hard to ignore what this team has done in free agency, making a relatively big splash by trading for DeMarco Murray. This team was absolutely laughable in the running department last year. Murray didn’t look great last year, but there is some explanation behind that. First, he was leaving the best offensive line in football behind. Second, he was sharing time with two other backs, which is something he didn’t do in Dallas. Third, Chip Kelly. The man is simply in over his head in the professional ranks.
In addition to Murray, the team signed center Ben Jones and WR Rishard Matthews. While neither carry the name value of Murray, they are big upgrades at their respective positions. The assumption that the team will draft Laremy Tunsil at one and put him at the LT position upgrades the line to a pretty good one, and Matthews gives Green Beckham and Wright a better opportunity to operate.
Overall, I think this offseason thus far raises the fantasy value of everyone involved. Matthews was at best a number three guy in Miami, but in many cases was 4th or 5th. In Tennesse, he could be more. The team also has the amazing Delanie Walker, which gives Mariota a ton of options to work with. This all looks great on paper, and it needs to be tested on the field, but they are off to a great 2016 start.
Who I’m Not Sold On:
Houston Texans – Don’t get me wrong, I do like some of the moves. I think Lamar Miller is a good transition for this offense from Arian Foster/Alfred Blue/Jonathan Grimes. I think signing Jeff Allen made sense for the team too. The signing that I am not sure of is Brock Osweiler.
There are a few reasons for that. Denver wasn’t willing to give him what Houston was. They did said they gave him to best offer they could so that they could still build a strong team around him. If someone is THAT good, though, you would imagine the team would do whatever they would to keep him. I don’t think they viewed Brock that way, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I do either. I think he could develop into a good quarterback in the NFL, and he will have weapons in Houston. I’m just not sure he was worth the deal he got, and how much he will truly provide an upgrade. Yes, on paper, he is better than Brian Hoyer. I don’t disagree with that. However, Hoyer was scrappy and was able to get the job done for both the Browns and the Texans, making both teams look threatening when perhaps, on offense at least, they were not.
For Denver, there are way too many questions to answer right now. Do they go after Kaepernick or RG III, or draft Dak Prescott [I’m calling it now: either way they will be drafting him]. For Houston though, I don’t think it increases Hopkins value, as they still don’t have another receiver to make the defense honest. Jaelen Strong could be that guy once he is past his legal woes though. Lamar Miller should benefit from a team that is willing to let him roam free.
Cleveland Browns – It seems as if they have given up completely on 2016 before it even started. They had a positive cap situation, but still couldn’t get Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz or Tashaun Gipson to resign. So there goes 40% of the starting offensive line, the team’s leading receiver and potentially their best defensive player from 2015.
What did they do to replace them? NOTHING. They did not sign a single player to replace them, and many of the reasonable replacements are already off the market. Additionally, with Hue Jackson coming over, there was a considerable amount of buzz for guys like Pacman Jones, Marvin Jones or Mohammed Sanu coming to town, and none of that appears as if it will materialize.
This should come to no surprise to anyone who follows the NFL. The Browns are continuously amongst the worst at luring talent to play for the Mistake by the Lake. Their efforts result in the likes of Dwayne Bowe coming in. The Browns will do a few things this offseason. First, they will overpay some talent whose best days are behind them to come and “play”. Second, they will mismanage the draft, end up selecting [and destroying the future of] Carson Wentz, draft several offensive linemen and defensive players and totally forget they need to address the wide receiver position for who knows how many years in a row.
I still think Duke Johnson could have a good fantasy year under Hue Jackson, and Josh Gordon could as well if he returns and has his act together. I’m not sold on Barnidge, as it has been quite some time since a Cleveland Brown had two good fantasy years in a row.
I’m sure a lot will change in the weeks leading up to the draft, but as it stand right now, a few teams have definitely taken a step in the right direction, and then there is the Browns. The morale of the story, and potentially life: Don’t be like the Browns.