Fantasy Analysis of NFL Free Agency: Quarterbacks

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Free Agency 2020 has been wild and has shaken up the league. This guide will examine the fantasy implications of all the biggest signings.

This is the first of a four-part series examining the winners and losers of free agency before the NFL draft. Obviously with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, NFL free agency has undergone some drastic changes. Even though every other major sport suspended operations, the NFL decided to go ahead and let free agency proceed. This is also the time when most fantasy football fans start to re-engage and game plan for their upcoming seasons. I will highlight the players and teams that will be most affected by these free agency signings.

Quarterbacks

The engine that drives every NFL offense is the quarterback position. Although other skill positions have gone through important transitions, quarterback remains king. The 2020 offseason has lived up to the hype with a multitude of trades, cuts, and stunning signings.  I will use three categories to designate signings: winners, losers, and neutral. Players are designated neutral because the jury is still out on how this will impact their season, positively or negatively.

Winners

Just like Mike Singletary, we want winners. Even if a quarterback has been average at best, a change of scenery, coaching, and personnel can change an entire player’s legacy. If I were to tell you at this time last year that Tom Brady would be in Tampa, Phillip Rivers in Indy, and Jameis Winston and Cam Newton would be on the unemployment line, you would have laughed in my face. But here we are in this brave new world, and the repercussions of these signings will alter the landscape of the NFL power structure for years to come.

Kyler Murray

The second-year pro won offensive rookie of the year, passing for 3722 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. Many expected the world from Murray last year, and although over-drafted, he still typically produced at low-end QB1 level. The biggest trade this offseason was the Texans sending DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for David Johnson. The Cardinals wide receiver corps last year was woefully inconsistent and lackluster, with the ageless Larry Fitzgerald leading the way. The addition of the 27-year-old Hopkins gives Murray the WR1 that this offseason desperately needed. Murray should be in the QB1 c0nversation this year and could be a nice value based on current ADP.

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Josh Allen

Allen showed great improvement over his rookie campaign last year, leading the Bills to the playoffs and a very close first playoff win since 1995. Allen threw 3089 yards and doubled his touchdown total from the previous season. He did this with a receiver corps led by Cole Beasley and John Brown. The Bills made a free agency splash when they acquired Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. While Diggs has flashed amazing potential in years past, he must stay healthy, something he has rarely done. With his big arm and ability to ad-lib on the run, Allen and Diggs could flourish with big-play potential. Allen’s running ability made him a useful QB option last year. This new weapon could make him a strong QB1 heading into this season.

Dak Prescott

Dak’s 2019 did not start out with the bang many fantasy owners were hoping, struggling in the first 7 games. This sluggish start included failing to reach 300 yards passing in 5 out of 7 contests. When the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper at the end of October, Dak received the perfect complement to a talented, but young, receiving corps. In the next 9 games, Prescott passed 300 yards five times, with an 18:4 touchdown to interception ratio, ending the year on a tear.  The Cowboys re-signed the Alabama product to a 5 year/100 million dollar contract in the offseason. This signing, combined with coaching change from Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy, may help Prescott produce his best season yet.

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Drew Brees

Brees resigned with the Saints on a two-year extension this offseason, giving the Super Bowl one more shot heading in 2020. Last year was a relative disappointment for the HOF QB, suffering his first major injury, and missing major regular-season action. Returning from injury, he played at his usual high level, but lack of offensive options hamstrung the offense in some games.

In their opening-round playoff loss to Minnesota, Brees struggled mightily. With a hobbled Alvin Kamara and a lack of playmakers outside of Michael Thomas, the Saints offense sputtered all game. The addition of free-agent signing Emmanuel Sanders will give Brees his best 1-2 WR combination of his career. Combined with a healthy Alvin Kamara and intact offensive line, Brees should still have at least one more season of fantasy excellence. With his current ADP as the 11th QB drafted, he should be extreme value in redraft leagues.

Tom Brady

Brady saying goodbye to New England, after 19 years and 6 Super Bowl wins, was this off season’s stunner. By signing in Tampa Bay, Brady will be looking at a huge upgrade with his new wide receiver corps. The duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will give Brady two top-end pass catchers. The talented but underachieving tight end duo, O.J. Howard and C. Brate, adds to how potent this offense could be. The challenge will be to see how they all mesh in a shortened offseason. If the Bucs can improve their offensive line and show even a competent rushing attack, Brady could return to QB1 status at a discount, as the 15th QB drafted currently in fantasy.

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Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield had a year to forget after his breakout rookie campaign in 2018. Many fantasy owners expected the world of the young quarterback. And when Odell Beckham Jr. was added in a trade last offseason, the hype was through the roof. This hype caused many owners to draft Mayfield as a top 5 QB last year. However, it was evident very early that this Browns team was in trouble.  As the year progressed, it only got uglier, culminating in the firing of head coach Freddie Kitchens and another losing season.

The Browns front office moved quickly to replace Kitchens with a more proven offensive mind, hiring Kevin Stefanski as their next head coach. The addition of top free agent tight end Austin Hooper from Atlanta will help stabilize the passing game. Hooper will give Mayfield a safety valve that should help move the chains. There are still many questions that have to be answered by Mayfield. Last season he visibly regressed as a passer and lacked confidence. But with all the weapons at his disposal, Mayfield has the potential to rebound in 2020.

Gardner Minshew

The mustached man returns this season for an encore to a relatively surprising run as the starting Jaguars quarterback. When Nick Foles went down to injury, Minshew stepped in and played relatively well for an unheralded rookie. After Foles returned and was ineffective in 3 losses, Minshew was given back the starting job. Minshew led the Jags to a 2-2 to finish the season.

This offseason, after a front-office restructure, Foles has been traded to the Bears and it appears that Minshew will be given his shot at the starter. The Jaguars still have work to do in the draft, adding weapons and improving their offensive line, but there is room for optimism going forward. Minshew showed early on great chemistry with young wide receiver DJ Chark. He will have to add to this chemistry and lean on the bruising Leonard Fournette to be successful this year. If the Jaguars can keep adding pieces offensively, Minshew could be a low-end QB1. As the 26th QB according to ADP, Minshew is a sneaky value late in drafts.

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Losers

Deshaun Watson

One of the most exciting new wave quarterbacks over the past few years includes 3rd year Clemson product Deshaun Watson. Watson was lucky enough to start his career with a bona fide superstar in DeAndre Hopkins, and they both prospered from this connection. That connection was canceled this offseason when coach/general manager Bill O’Brien decided to deal the All-Pro to the Cardinals, for the services of David Johnson.  BOB also added oft-injured WR Brandin Cooks to the mix by sending a second-round pick to the Rams.

Instead of having a true number one wideout, Watson now has a collection of wide receivers with the same skillset. The combined forces of Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Randall Cobb, and Keke Coutee will not scare opposing defenses. While David Johnson might have something left in the tank, the Texans still have a lot of work to do in this upcoming draft. Watson can still make plays with his legs, but he will struggle to find time in the pocket behind a suspect offensive line. Currently, Watson is the 5th QB off the board. For me, there are still too many questions to take the young signal-caller that high in upcoming drafts.

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Jared Goff

Last season, the Rams seemed to be the new hotness in the NFL, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance. Well, the Super Bowl hangover hit hard as they faltered from the start, finishing with a 9-7 record. It was very apparent the offense was struggling last year, not able to trust in Todd Gurley‘s ailing knees. Although Goff led the NFL in attempts last season, that is rarely a sign that things are going as planned offensively. Major changes had to be made due to an overabundance of bloated high money contracts.

Gurley was traded to the Falcons and oft-injured Cooks was sent to the Texans this offseason.  The Rams will have to rely on a pair of young, unproven backs to lead the rushing attack in 2020. Goff won’t have the same dangerous weapons around him, and more pressure will fall on the duo of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. The offensive line also struggled mightily at times last year. The Rams need an injection of youth in the upcoming draft or Goff will again be under duress. Unless Sean McVay has some more tricks up his sleeves, I would steer clear of Goff next season.

Kirk Cousins

The Vikings’ gunslinger had an efficient 2019 season, finishing with over 3,500 yards passing while posting a very efficient 26/6 touchdown to interception ratio. The concern heading into 2020 starts with a trend from last year of how the passing game is being utilized under head coach Mike Zimmer. The reins were drawn in last year, as Cousins was the 24th ranked passer, according to pass attempts. Cousins also lost one of his top two targets when Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills for a second-round pick this offseason.

While Adam Thielen isn’t too shabby as a leading target, Cousins will have to rely on a largely unproven collection of youth. Cousins will have some help in an aging Kyle Rudolph and second-year pro Irv Smith Jr.  While Smith Jr. showed growth, he will need to vastly improve upon the 36 catches posted in his rookie campaign. The loss of a top weapon, combined with a conservative game plan, will cap Cousins’ upside this year.

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Sam Darnold

The young NY Jets signal-caller acquitted himself well in his sophomore year even after it got off to a late start.  While showing growth at times, his struggles continued mightily even with the addition of dual-threat RB Leveon Bell. Every time he seemed to be finding his way in Adam Gase’s offense, he would take another step backward. Entering this season, Darnold already lost one of his two top targets, when Robby Anderson signed with the Carolina Panthers.

While Darnold still has a few reliable targets, losing the speedster Anderson will put an even greater burden on the young QB. Entering year three, Darnold must improve or he will be considered another young flop at QB.  If you own Darnold in dynasty, it’s best to hold onto the young QB and hope he can find his groove. In redraft, I would look elsewhere, as he sits far outside QB1 status and barely in the QB2 range for super-flex leagues.

Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky was not high on many fantasy owners’ wish lists heading into last year.  However, he did show flashes in 2018 with some monster games under his belt. Well, the wheels fell off that wagon last year, as he visibly regressed in both decision making and accuracy. Too many times he was woefully inaccurate.  By midseason, it was clear the Bears would have to make significant changes. This offseason, the Bears did just that by trading for everyone’s favorite back up QB, Nick Foles. If it ends up being a true quarterback competition, Trubisky could be left holding a clipboard in 2020.

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Neutral

Phillip Rivers

After 16 years with the Chargers, Rivers chose to sign with the Colts this free agency. The 38-year-old may still have some life left in his sidearm, but this feels like a lateral move. While Rivers has a proven commodity in T.Y. Hilton as his WR1, the rest of the cast is young and unproven. Having Rivers under center is an upgrade for the Colts, but Rivers leaves a fertile fantasy situation behind with the Chargers. It will be interesting to see him work in a Frank Reich offense, but Rivers remains a back end QB1 this season.

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Cam Newton/ Jameis Winston

One of the biggest stories of this free agency has been the availability of these two, young signal-callers. Newton was released after Teddy Bridgewater was signed to take over for the new regime in Carolina. Winston will not be coming back to Tampa after they made the biggest splash by signing Tom Brady. Both of their futures will remain unclear until after the dust settles from next week’s draft. If Winston can land in the right system he can still put up QB1 numbers depending on volume and surrounding cast. Newton has fought injuries but he is still only 30 years old. If he can return healthy Newton can be a steal in redraft leagues. Both of these young quarterbacks are still worth holding onto in dynasty based on where they will end up signing.

Summary

There was a ton of free agency movement this offseason, especially at the quarterback position. These signings will have a massive trickle-down effect on their new teams and the league. While the NFL Draft will further shake up the league most teams are already taking shape for 2020.

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