Fantasy football impact of early NFL free agency moves

Wednesday March 12th, 2014

Joique Bell earned a three-year deal after running for 650 yards and eight TDs as Reggie Bush's backup in 2013.
Simon Bruty/SI

The NFL free agent and trade market opened for business on Tuesday, and many teams wasted no time in making everything from minor roster tweaks to big moves that will have an effect on fantasy football draft boards in five months. Let's take a look at fantasy implications from the first day of what promises to be an active offseason.

2014 free agent tracker: Grading every prominent signing

Joique Bell agrees to three-year deal with Lions: Bell had a strong year as Reggie Bush's backup in 2013, running for 650 yards and eight touchdowns, and adding 53 receptions for 547 yards. He was an automatic starter for his owners in the two games Bush missed, and was worth flex consideration even when Bush was healthy. Bell will reprise that role this year, and while that means he likely will not be a fantasy star, he still will have plenty of value. Jim Schwartz is out as head coach in favor of Jim Caldwell, and the Lions also have a new offensive coordinator in Joe Lombardi, the former quarterbacks coach in New Orleans. Given the success the Saints have had with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas as receivers, both Bell and Bush could have even bigger seasons catching the ball out of the backfield than they did last year.

Rashad Jennings signs with Giants: If the Raiders were going to re-sign either Jennings or Darren McFadden, it seemed more likely that they'd go with the durable, reliable Jennings over the fragile McFadden. Given that, it perhaps isn't a surprise that they opted for McFadden over Jennings. The latter instead agreed to a deal with the Giants and could immediately find himself atop the depth chart. The Giants and many fantasy owners expected David Wilson to elevate to stardom last year, but he instead became one of the biggest busts of the year. Jennings had another solid year for the Raiders, running for 733 yards, catching 36 passes for 292 yards, and hitting paydirt six times. Andre Brown may not be back in New York, and Wilson is recovering from offseason neck surgery that could force him to miss time in the regular season. Jennings could be in line for his first significant stretch as a starter next year, and that could make him an RB2. He certainly carries that upside into the 2014 season.

Raiders surprise most everyone by re-signing Darren McFadden to a one-year deal: After McFadden disappointed the Raiders yet again by playing just 10 games last year, it appeared that the team would finally cut ties with the frustratingly injury-prone running back after six years. Instead, they let the aforementioned Jennings go and brought back McFadden on a one-year deal. It's hard to get excited about this marriage that has likely burned about 90 percent of fantasy owners at some point over the last six seasons. McFadden has never played in more than 13 games in any season of his career, and has run for more than 800 yards just once. It's not just a case of McFadden not getting enough carries to rack up the yardage, either. In three of his six seasons, he has averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry. He also managed just 17 receptions in his 10 games last year. McFadden shouldn't be considered anything more than an RB4, at best, heading into next season.

BANKS: Raiders resign McFadden but lose three important free agents; more snaps

Ahmad Bradshaw stays in Indianapolis on a one-year deal: The Colts already had Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard under contract, so it seems a bit curious that they'd immediately re-up Bradshaw on the first day of free agency. However, Richardson suffered through a nightmare 2013 season, and Ballard is coming off a torn ACL. If nothing else, the steady Bradshaw provides some needed stability in the backfield and brings a healthy dose of competition to the backfield. His presence could limit the bounce-back ceiling for both Richardson and Ballard, but Bradshaw himself may not make much of an impact in fantasy leagues.

Toby Gerhart signs three-year contract with Jaguars: Jacksonville wasted little time in signing Gerhart, which likely signals that Maurice Jones-Drew has played his last game as a Jaguar. If that is indeed the case, Gerhart could be in line for starter's touches next year. He gave owners a few whiffs of his game while backing up Adrian Peterson over the last four years, running for 1,305 yards on 276 career carries. He started eight games in place of Peterson during his time of Minnesota, and averaged just shy of 100 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches per game in those contests. He'll have RB2 upside if he ends up as the starter in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, early rumblings have the Jets among the most interested teams in signing the veteran Jones-Drew.

GALLERY: NFL familiar faces in new places

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