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JML’s Free Agency Stock Market Corner: Quarterbacks and Tight Ends

Jan Michael Larkin

Welcome to the third and final installment of JML’s 2017 Free Agency Stock Market Corner!  As in the previous two installments, I will be discussing which players I think are most likely to gain or lose value as a result of movement in the upcoming offseason in order to identify who to target on the waiver wire and in trades.

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Now, this piece will be a bit different than the previous two because the free agency classes for QBs and TEs are not nearly as robust as those for WRs and RBs.  As a result, I’ve only identified five relevant quarterbacks and three relevant tight ends (rather than ten of each), and even then I had to stretch the definition of “free agent” a bit in some cases.  I’ve also allowed myself to speculate a bit more wildly than usual about relatively unlikely outcomes (otherwise there just wouldn’t be much to say about some of these players).

 

Quarterbacks

Let’s start with the QBs.  But before we look at the players themselves, let’s take a look at the likely market for QBs in 2017 and what roles specific teams are looking to fill.

 

Potential Landing Spots:

Cleveland Browns: This entry is fairly self-evident, as the Browns have been in need of a quarterback since Will Smith was still the Fresh Prince.  They are loaded with picks in the upcoming draft so it seems likely they will look for a quarterback there, but with the rookie QB pickings relatively slim this year they could look to free agency either for a backup or someone to provide starter competition.  Cleveland is not a particularly fantasy-friendly destination for anyone, but least of all for quarterbacks.  Anyone who lands here may as well be radioactive until further notice.

Chicago Bears: Between the poor performance and injuries of their franchise QB Jay Cutler and the suspension of their franchise WR Alshon Jeffery (and the likely subsequent departures of both), the Bears are a team whose offense looks to be running exclusively through Jordan Howard.  They will spend the offseason trying to figure out their passing game, and their search will likely start with a quarterback.  Unless their pass-catchers also receive a major upgrade, however, Chicago is to be considered a poor destination for any free agent quarterback.  Stay away.

Houston Texans: The Texans are indisputably the gem of the potential landing spots.  They have playmakers everywhere on the field except at quarterback, and any QB who landed there would have DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, and Will Fuller at their disposal.  They are good enough to be leading their division despite some of the worst quarterback play in recent memory, so it’s not hard to imagine that they would be among the favorites for a Super Bowl with an improvement under center.  Houston is extremely limited by Osweiler’s massive contract, however, and aren’t yet looking for their next “QB of the future”, so they would probably be looking for a quality veteran who they could get at a discount.

New York Jets: Bryce Petty has played fairly competently in limited action but has certainly done nothing to win the starting job outright, and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith will likely both be gone soon, which means that the Jets will be on the hunt for a QB (again).  With Fitzpatrick they showed a willingness to put their team in the hands of a veteran QB rather than go full rebuild, and if they decide to go that route there are several free agents on my list that could land in New York.  New York’s offense isn’t particularly explosive but they have quality veterans in Marshall and Decker and a talented youngster in Enunwa, so becoming a Jet could marginally boost the stock of any free agent QB.

San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco just can’t catch a break.  It looked for a minute there like Kaepernick might have the old spark back, but a few short weeks later and it’s clear that a big part of the 49ers offseason plans will be searching for a quarterback.  Given the state of their team they will most likely look to do a complete rebuild around a draft pick either this year or next, but there remains some chance that they could be active in free agency.  Like with Cleveland and Chicago, avoid any quarterback that lands here.

 

Free Agents (in ascending order by age at the start of the 2017 season):

Now on to the players.  Not all of those listed are technically free agents at the moment, but it is within the realm of reasonable possibility that any of them could have a new home in 2017 and gain or lose value in the process.

Note: All QB valuations assume a 10-14 man league with one starting QB and standard scoring. Buy/Sell pick values are also based on the author’s own relatively shallow league (10 teams 9 starters), so they may not sync with reasonable value in deeper leagues (but player values relative to one another should still be accurate).

 

Mike Glennon (27)

History:  As a rookie for the Buccaneers in 2013, Glennon threw for 2,608 yards and nineteen touchdowns and played well enough to be named to the All-Rookie team as well as be named the unofficial “quarterback of the future” by his coach.  Glennon continued to play fairly well in 2014 but was embroiled in a battle for the starting spot with Josh McCown, and in the meantime the team struggled.  This led to the Bucs drafting of Jameis Winston with the top overall pick, and Glennon subsequently being buried as a backup for the past two seasons.

Speculation:  The Bucs reportedly turned down numerous trade offers for Glennon as recently as 2014, and while he has done nothing to gain value sitting on the bench I don’t believe he’s done anything to lose it, either.  Glennon doesn’t appear to be the next Aaron Rodgers or anything, but he will be cheap enough and has enough proven ability to produce that he could be an attractive option for a rebuilding team who needs someone to either backup or start over a rookie QB as they develop.

Buy if: you believe that he will be signed by a team that gives him a chance to prove himself and that his performance his rookie year was a sign of better things to come, and if he’s free on the wire and you have a spare roster spot.

Sell if: you believe he is just another career backup and will never even be streaming startable, or if you can get the 18th pick or better.

Hold if: you believe that he will be signed by a team that gives him a chance to prove himself and that his performance his rookie year was a sign of better things to come.

 

Colin Kaepernick (29)

History: Oh say can you see… just kidding, not gonna get into that.  Joking aside, Kaepernick’s recent anthem antics have made it easy to forget that he was once a highly prized young quarterback.  In 2012 he took over the reigns of the 49ers offense from veteran Alex Smith and nearly led them to a Super Bowl, and in 2014 he signed a contract potentially worth up to $114,000,000.  Poor performance led to a restructuring of that contract earlier this year, however, and after a string of bad performances and a benching it has become clear that Kaepernick is not the 49ers QB of the future.

Speculation:  As recently as week nine of this season Kaepernick threw for 398 yards- the guy can still play.  Quarterbacks under the age of thirty with a proven ability to produce are rare, and the anthem fiasco means he will likely come at a discount, so I would be surprised if Kaepernick didn’t land on a team where he at least gets a chance to compete for the starting job.  Ideal for fantasy owners would be if he lands somewhere that operates a relatively simple scheme where he can rely on his arm strength and athleticism more than his offensive acumen.  That aside, he will most likely end up going to the Browns because of course he will because they are the Browns (sorry).  But no matter where he goes, I can’t see him ever being anything more than a streaming starter in deeper leagues.

Buy if: you think that he will be signed by a team who will utilize his athleticism effectively and give him a decent fantasy floor, and you have a spare roster spot.

Sell if: you think he was a medium-talent fluke who would need an ideal situation to thrive and will not get one, or if you can get the 18th pick or better.

Hold if: you want a lottery ticket that could pay off as decent QB depth next season.

 

Kirk Cousins (29)

History: After taking over for RGIII towards the end of the 2014 season and performing well, Cousins was named the Redskins’ starter for 2015 and responded by throwing for 4,166 yards and twenty-nine TDs as well as running for five.  After the season the Redskins had the option to either commit to Cousins and sign him long-term or slap the franchise tag on him, and they chose to do the latter.  This essentially forced Cousins to prove it again and play for a contract this season, and all he’s done since then is throw for 4,045 yards and twenty-three TDs in only thirteen games.

Speculation: Cousins played under the franchise tag this season, which will make him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.  If history is any indication, he will flirt with other teams to drive his price up but ultimately there is no way the Redskins let go of a QB of his age and talent.  A potentially savvy move if the Cousins owner in your league is a bit of a Taco would be to try and convince them that Cousins will leave in free agency and end up going to a bad team (as most of the time teams in search of a QB are bad teams), and so they should sell before he leaves the green pastures of Washington and his value plummets.  In my opinion it is a virtual certainty that Cousins will remain a Redskin, and with a gunslinging attitude and weapons like Reed, Crowder, and Doctson, he will likely provide excellent QB1 play with weekly top five upside for the foreseeable future.

Buy if: you either don’t have a top ten QB or are currently relying on a QB over the age of thirty-five, or if the owner will sell for the 14th pick or lower.

Sell if: you have another young franchise QB (Carr, Winston, Mariota, Prescott) and prefer them to Cousins, or if you can get the 8th pick or better.

Hold if: he is the best QB on your roster or you are currently relying on a QB over the age of thirty-five.

 

Jay Cutler (33)

History: Cutler was a first-round pick out of Vanderbilt all the way back in 2006 who wowed NFL scouts with a cannon of an arm.  In his second year as a starter he threw for 4,526 yard and twenty-five TDs, and appeared to be a young talent on the rise.  After being shipped to Chicago in 2009 he had good years and bad years, his best coming under OC Adam Gase when he had the twin towers of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as targets.  He is known as turnover-prone, and for good reason, as he averages more than one interception thrown per game.  He is also known as a gunslinger, and his 234 passing yards-per-game puts him just inside the top twenty-five all time.  After struggling with injuries the past few seasons Cutler was extremely unimpressive in his first five starts this year, averaging 212 yards and less than one touchdown per game, and now appears to be on his way out.

Speculation:  It has become a virtual certainty that Cutler will not be a Chicago Bear next season.  Between a coaching staff and a fanbase that has soured on him, a weak supporting cast of teammates about to lose it’s best weapon in Alshon Jeffery, and the 57% chance of being shot on the streets of Chicago on any given day, I am of the opinion that a move will be for the better for Smokin’ Jay.  He is far too talented not to be picked up by another team, and if that team has a decent offense and a true WR1 then Cutler immediately gains upside as a low-to-midrange QB1. Though he is turnover-prone, Cutler’s “throwing out of bounds is for bitches” attitude also routinely leads to a high volume of passes that inflate his yardage and TD numbers and consequently his fantasy points.  If he is given quality receivers to throw to, he could represent a high quality backup QB for next season (with upside) who is almost certainly still available on the wire.

Buy if: you believe he will land in a solid offense because he is too old for a rebuilding offense to be interested in him, he is free on the wire, and you’ve got a spare roster spot.

Sell if: you believe his best days are behind him and he will put up middling numbers in another city until he retires, or if you can get the 18th pick or better.

Hold if: you believe he will land in a solid offense because he is too old for a rebuilding offense to be interested in him, and you’ve got a spare roster spot.

 

Tony Romo (36)

History: During his ten seasons as an NFL starter, Romo has often looked like a world beater, lighting up the stat sheet and picking apart defenses.  During the playoffs, however, Romo has had extremely limited success, and it was likely that fact (combined with a recurring back injury and outstanding play from Dak Prescott) that led to him being officially replaced as the Cowboys starter midway through this season.  Romo may still have a year or two left in his prime, however, and it is worth noting that last time he played a full season with a full supporting cast, he threw for just shy of five thousand yards (4,903).

Speculation:  Technically Romo is signed with the Cowboys through 2019, but given the nature of his current situation it is extremely likely he will either be cut or traded for peanuts before the start of next season, and so he earns his place on this list.  There are several ways Romo could take the easy way out at this point.  He could take a pay cut and stay with the Cowboys as a sort of inspirational talisman/backup through the last few years of his prime and possibly win a ring or two, or he could even just retire and nobody would blame him.  I think he still has the hunger to play, though, and he would represent a significant improvement to many teams at the QB position.  Teams that consider him seriously as anything other than a backup will be those who have already built a supporting cast and have their biggest weakness at QB, since Romo is obviously too old to rebuild around.

All of this leads me to the Houston Texans, who could stand to benefit most from signing Romo- he wouldn’t demand a long-term contract or as much money as his talent should realistically demand, so it isn’t out of the question that they could roster both him and the human albatross Brock Osweiler.  Romo may be willing to take a paycut at this point in his career for the chance to lead a team to a Super Bowl, and you could also easily argue that Houston is one competent QB away from being a Super Bowl contender.  They have elite playmakers at WR and RB in DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller, a field-stretching speed demon WR2 in Will Fuller, and a solid if unspectacular offensive line when healthy.  By all appearances it is the staggeringly bad play of QB Brock Osweiler that has held them back, and Romo has proven repeatedly that he is more than capable of borderline-elite play when he has a strong supporting cast.  The Texans have a window right now where the rest of their roster is Super Bowl contender quality, and they won’t want to miss out on it because of one bad player.  Don’t be surprised if Houston gives Romo a call in 2017, and don’t sleep on him if they do.

In a similar vein, there have been rumors that the Broncos may have interest in Romo if he is available.  With a solid supporting cast featuring Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Romo could experience success there similar to that which he could experience in Houston.

Buy if: you think he will be signed by the Texans or Broncos and provide 2-3 seasons of QB1 production similar to his best seasons in Dallas, or if the owner will sell for the 24th pick or lower.

Sell if: you think the recurring back injury was the death knell for Romo’s career and he will never return to prime form, or if you can get the 18th pick or better.

Hold if: you think he will be signed by the Texans and provide 2-3 seasons of QB1 production similar to his best seasons in Dallas.

 

Tight Ends

Finally we have arguably the thinnest class of 2017 free agents, the TEs.  But before we look at the players themselves, let’s take a look at the likely market for TEs in 2017 and what roles specific teams are looking to fill.

 

Potential Landing Spots:

Miami Dolphins: Offensive coordinator Adam Gates has a history of effectively using tight ends, but this season got very little production from perpetually-hobbled and soon-to-be-departed tight end Jordan Cameron.  It seems likely that the Dolphins could be on the lookout for a tight end in the offseason, and considering how long it takes for TEs to develop they could be active in free agency.  Given Jordan Cameron’s struggles and the abundance of mouths to feed in the offense it is hard to have high hopes for any TE that lands in Miami, but the presence of Gase at least grants upside.

New England Patriots: Obviously, the Patriots TE conversation starts with Gronk.  The future Hall of Famer has been a fixture on the New England injury report for several years now, and this is cause for worry.  Belichick is fond of the TE position and has been extremely effective employing both single and double TE formations, so between that and Gronk’s health it is in the Patriots best interest to have a minimum of two quality TEs signed (including Gronk).  The Pats did just that this past offseason by acquiring Martellus Bennett, and he has paid them back to the tune of 614 yards and five touchdowns so far, with more likely to come as the starter in Gronk’s absence.  While a godsend this season, Bennett’s production will come back to bite the Pats in the offseason in the form of a demand for more money.  Now, as I mentioned in the running back section when discussing LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots aren’t really fond of paying large sums of money to people who aren’t named Brady.  As a result, Bennett will be off the Patriots and they will be in the market for another new TE to back up and play alongside The Gronk.  History tells us they will go bargain shopping and turn a former journeyman into a world beater, as Darth Hoodie seems to have mystical scouting powers of which us mere mortals can only dream.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns appear on this list essentially by default- they are weak at virtually every offensive position not played by Joe Thomas or Corey Coleman, and so they are a potential landing spot for virtually anyone.  Their current TE is thirty-one year old Gary Barnidge, who has been mediocre his whole career with the exception of a fluke season last year, so it makes sense that they would want to move on to someone younger (especially considering their nigh-perpetual rebuilding state).  This draft has several quality TE prospects so it seems more likely that they will select one there and let him play behind Barnidge next season and develop, but the Browns are not completely out of the question as players in the free agent market.  Landing in Cleveland would be a nightmare in both real life and fantasy football for our free agent TEs, however, so if any of them suffer the misfortune of signing there consider making them a fixture on your “do not draft” list.

 

Free Agents (in ascending order by age at the start of the 2017 season):

Now on to the players.  Unfortunately, excluding readers in very deep leagues or those that require two starting TEs, few if any of these players are likely to be better next year than the option you have currently lined up.

 

Mychal Rivera (27)

History: A sixth round draft pick by the Raiders in 2013, Rivera was originally meant to be their TE of the future.  He started ten games in 2014 and put up 534 yards and four touchdowns, but, unsatisfied with his blocking, the Raiders drafted TE Clive Walford in the third round of the 2015 draft.  The Raiders then attempted to trade Rivera but found no buyers, and in 2017 he will become an unrestricted free agent.

Speculation: Though it is obviously not an objective or even particularly useful metric, Rivera has passed the JanMichaelLarkin Eye Test in the Raiders games I’ve watched this year.  He has a quiet knack for getting open and twenty-seven is still young enough (at the TE position) that it is likely he is not even done developing.  He is not an elite talent so his worth will be tied to his landing spot, but I feel he has the pass-catching ability and the youth to represent decent upside as a dynasty asset.  A particularly juicy landing spot for Rivera would be New England in the event of a Bennett departure, and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched considering Belichick’s propensity for taking apparently average players and nurturing their previously hidden talent.

Buy if: you don’t have any “developmental” TEs (think Henry, Hooper, Higbee), and he is free on the waiver wire and you have a spare roster spot.

Sell if: you don’t think he has the talent to become a feature TE and will never be week-to-week startable, or if you can get the 18th pick or better.

Hold if: he is your only “developmental” TE and there is not a superior one on the waiver wire (Henry, Hooper, or Higbee).

 

Jermaine Gresham (29)

History: Though he has put up as many as 737 yards in a season, Gresham is primarily known as an elite blocking TE.  He gained this reputation while playing for five years in Cincinnati, during which time he also averaged thirty-eight yards and a third of a touchdown per game, making him just barely startable in deeper leagues.  He then moved to Arizona and his receiving numbers dropped, though he continues to receive praise for his blocking.

Speculation: Gresham’s production has dipped significantly since joining the Cardinals last season, most likely because his arrival coincided with the emergence of red zone target hog David Johnson.  Tight end is a bit more touchdown-dependent than other positions, so playing in an offense with DJ more than likely suppresses Gresham’s production.  His blocking ability guarantees that some team will be happy to have him next year, but the state of that team’s passing offense and how they decide to use Gresham will determine if he has the potential to hold any value.  It is worth noting that the average peak production age for a TE is twenty-nine, which means that David Johnson may be preventing Gresham from demonstrating his ability during the best years of his career.  If he lands in the right place with the right offense he could turn out to be a replacement-level starter.

Buy if: you need TE depth and you believe he will move to another team and become a replacement-level starter, and he is free on the waiver wire and you have a spare roster spot.

Sell if: if you believe that a blocking TE is all he is, or if you can get an 18th pick or better.

Hold if: you need TE depth and you believe he will move to another team and become a replacement-level starter.

 

Martellus Bennett (30)

History: Martellus Bennett has been an above-average journeyman TE for several years now.  In his recent stint with the Bears he averaged fifty yards and a third of a touchdown per game over three seasons, and he was signed this past offseason by the Patriots as a backup/partner-in-crime for Rob Gronkowski.  Bennett has actually started nine of thirteen games so far due to Gronk’s health problems, and has produced at arguably the highest level of his career with 614 yards and five touchdowns in thirteen games (and only nine starts).

Speculation: To what I’m sure will be the sorrow of Patriots fans, Black Unicorn will almost certainly depart in the offseason.  The Patriots won’t want to pay him what his production demands and will amicably part ways, and Bennett will immediately become the most sought-after TE on the market (not that this is saying much).  High production leads to big contracts, and so (much like I mentioned with Alshon Jeffery) whoever signs Bennett will likely be forced to feature him.  This could theoretically increase his value, although he would require a pretty friendly landing spot to get quarterback play anywhere close to the level of what he’s getting now.

Buy if: you think some team will see Bennett’s work with the Patriots and make him a focal point of the offense, or if the owner will sell for a 20th pick or less.

Sell if: you think Bennett has been the beneficiary of the “Brady Bump” in production and next season he will return to his mildly-above-average form, or if you can get the 16th pick or better.

Hold if: you think some team will see Bennett’s work with the Patriots and make him a focal point of the offense.

 

And that’s it!  Thanks for tuning in, folks, and I hope you enjoyed my three-part breakdown of the free agent class of 2017.

 

About the author

Jan Michael Larkin

Jan Michael Larkin

By law, can only be in one quadrant at once.

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