You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

2023 NFL Free Agency Fantasy Tracker: How high will Tony Pollard be drafted with Ezekiel Elliott leaving the Dallas Cowboys?

Yahoo Sports 3/15/2023 Matt Harmon

Keep it locked right here as Matt Harmon breaks down every fantasy-relevant deal done during NFL free agency.

Ezekiel Elliott to be released by the Cowboys

We’ll file this one under “not surprising but still significant.” Ezekiel Elliott seemingly entered the “fantasy nuisance” chapter in the lifestyle of a fantasy football running back a few seasons ago. But we should not forget what a dominant and fun player he was at his early-career peak. He was rewarded for that elite-level player with a massive contract that finally became untenable for Dallas.

The running back market has moved slowly in free agency and it may be due to teams waiting out some big-name cut candidates like Elliott. Despite what some folks think, Zeke is not completely done as a quality NFL back. He’s a rock-solid pass-protector and dynamite short-yardage back. There will always be a place in the league for guys like that who still have some juice left. I expect Eliott to be signed as a secondary committee back at some point.

Fantasy spin: The big winner here is, obviously, Tony Pollard who didn’t need too much more steam after a breakout season in 2022. Expect a full-blown competition from all of your favorite and least favorite fantasy analysts to see who can declare themselves the biggest Pollard Bro this offseason. Even if we have some Mike McCarthy concerns, the Cowboys will be a good offense and Pollard is an electric run-and-pass game player. Those guys go in or near the first round in fake football.

As for Elliott, there’s a diet version of “this year’s Jamaal Williams” somewhere in his range of outcomes but that feels like a stretch. It would take the perfect landing spot and issues with the presumed RB1 on his next team to get that to happen. We have not seen the last of Elliott as a fantasy contributor just the last of him as a clear-cut difference-maker.

JuJu Smith-Schuster signs with the Patriots (3 years $33 million)

It appears the Patriots preferred JuJu Smith-Schuster to Jakobi Meyers based on the latter’s reaction to the former getting the exact same deal he received from the Raiders. I don’t agree with their assessment. Meyers is a better man-coverage beater and works better outside. That said, JuJu can be a fine replacement in the slot. He also brings an added element of physicality and is a better blocker. Perhaps that’s what New England valued more.

New England has badly needed a facelift in the receiver room for years. This is essentially just swapping out one guy for another. So expect the Patriots to make more moves this offseason for a receiver who can win and get open on the perimeter. That guy is still not currently on the roster.

Fantasy spin: Outside of his 2018 season, JuJu has never been able to command and sustain a high target share because of his limitations as a player. That was reinforced in Kansas City last year and isn’t likely to change in a far worse offensive ecosystem, even if Mac Jones rebounds with real coaching. He will fit somewhere on the low to mid-range WR3/flex radar assuming the Patriots don’t make another big receiver addition.

Allen Lazard signs with the Jets (4 years, $44 million)

Obviously, we know why the Jets made this move. This is part of their plan to entice Aaron Rodgers and surround him with some player he and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have some rapport with. That said, I’m not going to be one of the people that bash this Allen Lazard signing.

Lazard has his deficiencies - he is not at all separator - but brings size, strong hands in tight coverage and absolute pristine blocking to the equation. The size and blocking ability add a different dimension to the table than that of current Jets receivers, Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. The Packers deployed him almost like a move-tight end at times. He’ll essentially just take Corey Davis’ spot on the roster, as he’s likely a cut candidate.

Fantasy spin: Lazard’s signing is a better real-life move for the Jets than a fantasy needle-mover. He will help out as a blocker for an offense that wants to run the ball well but I still expect him to be the WR3 in the pecking order on this team.

Hayden Hurst signs with the Panthers (3 years, $21.8 million

The Panthers have gaping holes at tight end and wide receiver. Signing Hayden Hurst is their first move to shore up two of their leakiest positions. Hurst had a nice year with the Bengals in 2022 and the Panthers bring him in on a modest deal. He’s a passable starting tight end for a team that will be playing a rookie quarterback this season after trading for the first overall pick.

Fantasy spin: It would be a shock if Hurst commands enough volume to be a weekly fantasy factor. However, he should be a trusted target for whoever Carolina drafts at quarterback given the state of their receiver room. Hurst is more of a TE2 in best-ball pick than anything else at this stage.

Samaje Perine signs with the Broncos (2 years, $7.5 million)

The Broncos moves on Day 1 (see below) of the free agency negotiation period signaled they wanted to be a strong rushing and perhaps even run-heavy team. The issue was that their young ascending running back is rehabbing and coming back from a serious and complicated knee injury. It was clear they needed someone to hold the fort down until Javonte Williams is ready.

It looks that guy is going to be Samaje Perine, who had a darn fine year with the Bengals last year. Perine has long been a solid NFL back who was unfairly maligned after a slow start with a dreaded Washington team. Over the last two years, Perine has run well with the Bengals and has been a superior asset on passing downs than Joe Mixon. He can give the Broncos some good weeks as a fill-in.

Fantasy spin: There’s a chance the Broncos bring in a rookie back and he usurps Perine as the RB2. However, that seems like a stretch given they paid Perine decent money. Given that Perine has two-way ability in the run-and-pass game, he could be a high-snap player in the first few weeks of the season. He might end up a September steal in the late rounds of the draft, especially for teams that punt on running back.

David Montgomery signs the Lions (3 years, $18 million)

It seems wrong that the Lions won’t have Jamaal Williams on the team next season but that’s what this David Montgomery signing indicates. Montgomery is a solid if unspectacular back who is a capable early-down banger and passing-down player. Williams doesn’t offer much of the latter ability and perhaps that’s part of why the Lions were willing to sacrifice his influence as a culture guy. Montgomery lands in a great spot with a top-tier offensive line and overall ecosystem. I think he’s drawn way too much criticism as a player in the last few years and should be able to exploit this new, far superior setting.

Fantasy spin: Montgomery is going to be a tough player to rank. I can see his ADP sliding all over draft boards in the summer. One thing is clear, this current Lions staff just does not think D’Andre Swift is as a good or useful as fantasy players believe. Montgomery’s ability in the passing game as a blocker and solid receiver is a further threat to Swift’s work.

Michael Thomas re-signs with Saints (1-year, $10 million deal with a max value of $15 million)

I anticipated a divorce between Michael Thomas and the Saints but it sounds like the Derek Carr signing partially changed the course. Thomas didn’t separate at his usual level in his three 2022 games but he still ran good short routes and was awesome as a contested-catch receiver. He also brings size to the table that Saints star Chris Olave and interesting speedster Rashid Shaheed do not. A full-time move to the slot as a power player might be best for his future. Of course, all of this analysis is contingent on Thomas staying on the field, something that’s been a monumental hurdle the last few years.

Fantasy spin: I don’t expect Thomas to threaten Olave’s standing as the best player on this offense, the top-volume sponge. But the target tree is wide open after Olave. He could be a red-zone threat for Carr and Co. if he’s healthy. Depending on how his summer goes, I don’t hare drafting him as a WR4-5.

Jimmy Garoppolo signs with the Raiders (3 years, $67.5 million)

The Raiders were always going to find it difficult to straight-upgrade on Derek Carr this offseason. I don’t think you’ll find a long list of folks ready to argue Jimmy Garoppolo accomplishes that goal. However, I’m not sure that’s all that matters here.

They’re getting Garoppolo in the building at a mere $24.3 million APY salary, much less than the Saints are paying Carr this year. Despite the big theoretical guarantees, the Raiders can get out of this deal at any point over the next two offseasons. The Raiders have 12 picks in the NFL Draft after shipping off Darren Waller. Don't rule them out as a trade-up team even after this move.

Getting Garoppolo was probably the best-case realistic scenario to field a quality starting quarterback in 2023 and it doesn’t rule them out of pursuing a top draft pick next or even this year. Say what you want about Jimmy G but he has been an efficient passer his entire career when on the field. He was certainly elevated by his circumstances in San Francisco but the Raiders have an excellent run game, three high-end pass catchers and a coach who is familiar with Garoppolo.

Fantasy spin

The biggest question in Garoppolo’s game is and has always been his lack of ability and/or willingness to push the ball down the field. The Raiders' top three receiving options can work the short and intermediate middle of the field areas Jimmy G loves to throw to. Davante Adams posted career-high yards per reception last year and there’s no doubt that goes down with this quarterback but he can still dominate closer to the line of scrimmage. Overall, I consider this move a win for the Raiders' fantasy assets, relative to possible post-Carr alternatives.

Jakobi Meyers signs with the Raiders (3-year, $33M)

The Patriots have thrown a ton of resources at their pass-catching corps over the last four years and yet Jakobi Meyers has emerged from each campaign as their best receiver. He was also the best wide receiver on this year’s free agent market by a country mile.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Women's | Men's]

I have been a big fan of Meyers’ game for years now and believe he’s shown the ability to win inside and outside. That’s an important note considering the current Raiders coaching staff’s treatment of Hunter Renfrow. They viewed him as a slot-only option and played special teamer Mack Hollins over him in two-receiver sets. It’s likely Josh McDaniels (who coached Meyers for three seasons in New England) holds Meyers in higher regard as a full-time No. 2 receiver. Renfrow could be on the trade market, as well, thought I consider that less likely with Darren Waller out of the door.

Meyers specializes in running in-breaking routes like the slant and dig. Those are some of Jimmy Garoppolo’s best and preferred throws. The Raiders have stacked together a nice complementary receiver corps around Jimmy G for 2023 and a young quarterback in future years.

Fantasy spin

It’s going to be slightly difficult to parse out the target tree in Las Vegas - although the Waller trade clears things up. We can probably pencil in Davante Adams for his usual 28-32% target share but the rest is going to be quite wide open. I’d currently expect Meyers to finish second behind Adams, clearing Renfrow. Meyers is such a good player and fits so nicely with Garoppolo that I'm willing to push him into the "every-week flex" territory, especially since he can play outside. Renfrow looks like more of a bench player after this move.

Darren Waller traded to the New York Giants

It made sense that one of Hunter Renfrow or Darren Waller could be on the move after the Meyers signing. It turned out to be the tight end. The Giants part with the 100th overall pick in this year’s draft, the selection they received from Kansas City in the Kadarius Toney trade.

The Giants were desperately in need of high-end pass-catching talent this offseason. There were no true No. 1 receivers available on the free agent market so they opt for a dynamic, oversized, move tight end. Waller brings pre-snap alignment flexibility to a creative offensive coaching staff and for now, would be the easy favorite to be New York's lead receiver.

Waller has missed considerable time over the last two seasons and will turn 31 in September. So there is some risk here but this is one of the few ways the Giants could accomplish what should have been their No. 1 goal this offseason and they didn’t pay a premium. Love this trade for the Giants.

Fantasy spin

If Waller stays healthy, he can be a big piece in restoring the tight end middle class in fantasy. Daniel Jones was competent last year and the offense can take another step with legitimate pass-catchers. Waller will fight to be a top-five ranked tight end and is a desirable fantasy draft pick this summer.

Back in Las Vegas, this trade helps clear up the target pecking order for new addition, Jakobi Meyers. This also might pave the way for Hunter Renfrow to stay on the team and Davante Adams to remain an elite-ranked wideout in fantasy. This passing game just got much easier to project. Expect the Raiders to look for a more traditional in-line tight end in the draft.

DJ Moore traded to the Chicago Bears

The Bears had been signaling all along that they wanted to trade the No. 1 pick prior to free agency so they could establish their offseason plan. It was obvious they wanted a big-time player back in whatever deal surfaced.

That’s exactly what they got:

The Panthers preferred to include a 2025 first-rounder in the package they sent to the Bears. General manager Ryan Poles insisted on wide receiver DJ Moore and reportedly didn’t budge. Carolina bent and sent Moore to Chicago to complete the deal.

Moore has been a productive player for the Panthers since he was drafted in 2018 and is a massive upgrade over what Chicago rolled out in 2022. In my opinion, Moore is not at the same level as some of the top receivers we saw dealt last offseason. He is a very good, but not elite, No. 1 wide receiver. I view Moore as one tier down (at least) from where I would have ranked an A.J. Brown or Stefon Diggs type of player prior to their trades, but Moore is for sure a top-20 player at the position regardless.

That still counts as a home run for the Bears. Moore has demonstrated the ability to win as a vertical X-receiver and flanker who can move into the slot for 30 to 40 percent of his snaps too. That’s valuable to a team that’s still trying to figure out what type of passing game works best around Justin Fields. The Bears quarterback is a big-game hunter, which would fit Moore's former role, but Fields desperately needs a quick-separation layup target, which would fit Moore's latter one.

While Moore isn’t at the same level of player as A.J. Brown, this does feel extremely reminiscent of the Eagles' trade for the Titans receiver last year. It’s hard to remember now after a Super Bowl run but there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Jalen Hurts entering last season. Giving him a high-end No. 1 receiver who could beat man coverage was the best way to get a real evaluation of their quarterback. They got that and much more in 2022.

The Bears likely won’t offer Fields a 1B receiver (ala DeVonta Smith) or an elite-caliber offensive line like the Eagles gave Hurts but the trade for Moore should allow for a fair scope of their quarterback. With Moore at the top of the depth chart, they at least field a serious and perhaps quite solid receiver room for the first time in his career.

Fantasy spin

Historically, it’s always tricky to project massive leaps in passing volume from offenses and with how Fields broke out as a rusher last year, the Bears are likely to remain run-heavy as long as he’s under center. However, the 2022 Eagles were a great reminder to leave your imagination open to an environment outkicking efficiency expectations when new talent arrives.

Fields is still unproven as a pure passer so it’s difficult to say the move to Chicago was a win for Moore’s fantasy value. However, if Fields is considered the best passer Moore has been paired with by the end of this season, that would not be a shock. Overall, I think I’d project Moore for around 1,000 yards and 5-7 touchdowns. That’s not bad at all, but keep in mind that’s right around his career averages to this point.

Overall, I think Moore going to Chicago is a bigger stock-up for Fields in fantasy than it is for the receiver himself.

Rashaad Penny agrees to terms with the Eagles

The Eagles seem likely to lose Miles Sanders in free agency and moved to get a cheaper early-down banger back in Rashaad Penny. The former first-rounder has been absolutely electric in spurts over the last two years. He even led the NFL in yards after contact per rush last season. Of course, that “in spurts” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. We know the deal with Penny’s injury history. He’s a huge risk to miss time with serious maladies. However, he’s an excellent fit behind their mauling offensive line and the Eagles did get an A+ grade for their training staff in the NFLPA survey. Overall, you have to like this signing for the Eagles even if Penny does eventually get banged up again. He should burn bright even if he doesn’t burn long.

Fantasy spin: I’m betting this won’t be the Eagles’ only move at the running back position this offseason. When he’s on the field, Penny should inherit a juicy workload. The Eagles will retain most of their offensive line and while Jalen Hurts is a huge threat a the goal line, Sanders saw 26 carries inside the 10-yard line. As long as he’s going late - injured guys who have hurt peoples’ feelings like this almost always do - he would make a great fantasy pick for however long he plays. Penny will be extra attractive to fake football managers who punt on the running back position early.

Mike White signs with the Dolphins (2 years, up to $16 million)

This is a perfect “the season we clearly have high hopes for won’t be completely over if the starter misses games” backup plan for Miami. Mike White gave the Jets some of their best quarterback play (low bar to clear, to be sure) in spurts each of the last two seasons. There’s also some system familiarity after White played in another 49ers offshoot offense with the Jets.

Fantasy spin

We can now feel much better about the Dolphins' wide receivers if Tua Tagovailoa misses time. A stark contrast from last season.

Raheem Mostert re-signs with the Dolphins (2 years, $5.6M)

The Dolphins have made several shrewd moves at the opening of free agency and now, they bring back one of their own as the bell rings on Day 2. Raheem Mostert was the Dolphins' best runner last year and we know he has a long relationship with Mike McDaniel dating back to San Francisco. The cupboard was pretty bare at this position on the depth chart so a reunion makes all the sense in the world. I think Miami should be focused on making their run game into more of a dangerous counter-punch to their electric passing attack.

Fantasy spin

The Dolphins were one of the few landing spots where a new running back could come in and essentially take over near bell-cow duties. Bringing back Mostert might take them out of the free-agent mix but they could still be a strong landing spot for a rookie back. In the meantime, Mostert makes for a fine late-round dart throw as he’s likely to give you solid fill-in weeks, especially if they draft a rookie who isn’t ready to handle the full workload from Day 1.

Note: This was written prior to Wilson re-signing.

Jeff Wilson re-signs with the Dolphins (2 years, $8.2 million)

The Dolphins depth chart is much less of a blank canvas now. Miami retains its one/two punch in Mostert and Jeff Wilson. My read here is that Mostert is the more explosive overall runner but Wilson is a more trusted player on passing downs. If these two are the only backs on the roster, we'll get a murky committee backfield for the Dolphins for the entirety of the season. Wilson and Mostert can be a serviceable duo for Miami if they are uninterested in investing further resources into the position. 

Fantasy spin

I'm now a little less bullish on the hypothetical rookie Miami may draft in April. Neither Wilson nor Mostert will be ranked as more than a mere mid to late-round pick.

Robert Woods signs with the Texans (2 years, $15.25 million)

I’m skeptical as to how much Robert Woods has left. He looked like a declining player on film to me even prior to tearing his ACL with the Rams in 2021. However, if Woods has anything left in the tank this signing makes so much sense for the Texans. Woods will give them a reliable receiver while grooming a young quarterback and he’ll be a fantastic blocker for a team likely installing a run-heavy Shanahan-style offense.

Fantasy spin

I don’t think Woods will move the needle much for fantasy on his own. I’m more curious if this opens up the door for a Brandin Cooks trade, and who trades for him.

Jawaan Taylor signs with the Chiefs (4 years, $80 million)

The Chiefs are taking a big gamble here on the offensive line. The team is moving on from Orlando Brown Jr. and signing former Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor to a big deal. Taylor has spent very little time as a left tackle, even dating back to college.

That said, Taylor was a great pass-protector last season and obviously, that fits how the Chiefs want to play a bit more than Brown. It’s also worth noting Brown himself primarily played on the right before shifting to the left in his final year with Baltimore following injuries and then his entire stint with the Chiefs. It’s more than reasonable to give Andy Reid and co. the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Fantasy spin

The Chiefs managed to turn their offensive line from a weakness to a strength a few offseasons ago and this marks the dawn of yet another new era on that front. Despite some of the risk associated with this signing, I don’t think it will cause me to alter any potential fantasy ranks for Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce or any ancillary players in Kansas City.

Sam Darnold signs with the 49ers (1 year, $4.5 million)

We knew the 49ers were going to make some sort of veteran quarterback signing this offseason. Despite two intriguing young players in Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, injuries have forced them to be flexible with a possible backup plan. Sam Darnold was quite good for Carolina when he played last year. His 8.2 adjusted yards per attempt would have ranked fifth among full-time starters. Of course, that’s a dramatic outlier in terms of his career output but it was once again a reminder that when he’s in a good ecosystem, he can keep a ship afloat for a month or so.

In an ideal scenario, that is the absolute most the 49ers would ever ask of Darnold.

Fantasy spin

The best-case fantasy scenario is, we never see Darnold take a snap for this team because either Lance has finally broken out and/or Purdy gets healthy ASAP. However, if he does end up playing — few teams have had to dig deeper into the quarterback cupboard than the 49ers — Darnold wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for players like George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Recall, Darnold pummeled Christian McCaffrey with 15 targets in their first two games together on the Panthers in 2021.

Broncos spend big on blockers

The opening act of the Sean Payton era saw the Broncos go hard to improve the offensive line. Denver added right tackle Mike McGlinchey on a 5-year, $87.5 million deal with over $50 million guaranteed and guard Ben Powers on a 4-year, $52 million deal with $28.5 million guaranteed. I like the Powers move more than the McGlinchey signing.

Powers showed himself to be a powerful pulling guard in Baltimore and that will work well in Denver. People often overlook how much Payton consistently built through the offensive line and featured a strong running game In New Orleans just because Drew Brees was breaking all of those passing records. The Broncos also signed tight end Chris Manhertz, a pure blocking specialist. All of these moves seem like a signal that Payton wants to reinvigorate the Broncos run game while also improving the protection for Russell Wilson

Fantasy spin

The Manhertz signing in conjunction with the offensive line moves is what's pointing me to Payton wanting to emphasize the rushing game in Denver. We know the Broncos are dealing with a complicated injury recovery to their star back Javonte Williams. I won't be surprised if they add a big-name veteran and/or a rookie in this year's draft to hold down the fort early in the season.

Jalen Ramsey traded to the Miami Dolphins

It’s crystal clear that the Miami Dolphins have an extremely high opinion about their current Super Bowl window, as their move for Mike White signaled. Jalen Ramsey may be a slightly diminished player from his peak play but the Dolphins got him for a mere third-round pick and depth tight end Hunter Long. Miami struggled in both man and zone coverage last season. Ramsey makes them better right away.

As Miami pushes their chips in for the next season or two, the Rams attempt to recoup assets in the aftermath of their “all-in” era. This was not the first and won’t be the last major LA move of this variety.

Stay tuned for more updates!

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon