Free-agency movement can be a blessing or a curse. This is true for NFL players and fantasy investors alike. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a talented player needs to take his game to the next level; other times, we find out just how difficult it can be to transition to new schemes and different teammates.
Here we’ll attempt to read between the lines of all the new wide receiver contracts for 2018 and determine the fantasy-football ramifications.
Sammy Watkins (Rams to Chiefs): 3 Years, $48 Million
The Chiefs surprised many by handing Watkins one of free agency’s largest non-quarterback contracts. The deal includes $30 million in guaranteed money and places Watkins in the company of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandin Cooks as the only wide receivers making at least $16 million per season.
Watkins should help form one of the league’s most-explosive offenses with the potentially-electrifying Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. After ranking among the league’s top 25 receivers in yards per route run in 2015 and 2016, Watkins slipped to 68th last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Of course, getting traded to a new team in early August isn’t exactly the greatest way to build chemistry with a quarterback, and Watkins was accordingly one of just four receivers with fewer than four catchable targets 20-plus yards downfield (min. 15 targets).
Early reports from camp indicate the Chiefs have moved their new toy all over the field. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce figure to remain the focal points of the offense, but Watkins wasn’t handed a top-five contract to merely run clear-out routes. 2018 certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Andy Reid enabled more than one viable fantasy wide receiver, and the overall uncertainty about the team’s target distribution makes Watkins a high-upside value at his current ADP.
Andy Reid's WR1/WR2 PPR rank with D-Jax + Maclin
2009 – WR11 and WR35
2010 – WR14 and WR22
2011 – WR28 and WR30
2012 – WR22 and WR60
Hill and Watkins current ADP: WR15 and WR29
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 25, 2018
Paul Richardson (Seahawks to Redskins): 5 Years, $40 Million
Other than Alex Smith, Washington’s biggest offseason move was making Richardson one of just 20 receivers with a contract value of at least $40 million. However, only Randall Cobb earned fewer practical guarantees in his contract among that cohort.
Richardson made his mark in Seattle as one of the league’s premier contested-catch artists, though it remains to be seen how well that skill set will mesh with Smith. Despite posting career-best numbers in nearly every passing stat in 2017, including attempts down the field, Smith still ranked 40th out of 41 qualified passers in percentage of passes thrown into tight coverage. Meanwhile, Richardson posted below-average game speed past 20 yards downfield, according to airyards.com, indicating he’s not exactly the same type of deep threat as Hill (or Desean Jackson).
Even though Richardson figures to start in two-wide sets, he’ll battle Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and Chris Thompson for targets, and remember: D-Jax averaged only 6.1 targets per game from 2014 to 2016 as Jay Gruden’s field stretcher. While Richardon’s big-play ability presents upside at his current ADP outside the top 50 wide receivers, the likelihood of him posting consistent weekly production is low, which renders him a better investment in best-ball or DFS formats than traditional redraft leagues.
Michael Crabtree (Raiders to Ravens): 3 Years, $21 Million
The Ravens originally offered Ryan Grant a multi-year contract, but later rescinded the offer
to sign Crabtree after Grant failed his physical. They’re able to move on from Crabtree after just one year, but his $13 million in guaranteed money indicates a No. 1 role is likely in store for 2018 at the very least.
Early reports out of Ravens camp have painted Crabtree as the next big thing, especially in the red zone. While carrying an entire passing game might be a lot to ask, Crabtree has been one of the league’s premier touchdown scorers in recent seasons.
WRs with 8+ receiving TDs in each of the past three seasons:
Crabtree 👀 pic.twitter.com/OHmC9FCg3P
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 25, 2018
Crabtree’s competition for red-zone targets consists of undersized free-agent wideouts John Brown and Willie Snead, as well as a pair of rookie tight ends, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. The larger concern is the overall direction of the offense. Flacco hasn’t thrown more than five touchdowns to a receiver in a single season since 2014, while the Ravens featured the running game, led by Alex Collins, during the second half of 2017. Electrifying rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson doesn’t figure to start right away, but his presence could further shift the offense’s run-first mentality and ultimately negatively impact Crabtree.
Allen Robinson (Jaguars to Bears): 3 Years, $42 Million
The Bears made A-Rob one of just 12 receivers with the potential to make $14 million per season. The soon to be 25-year old is poised to work as the No. 1 wideout and featured red zone threat in an unproven, but promising, new-look offense.
The ceiling is certainly tantalizing: A-Rob is one of just five receivers to score at least 14 touchdowns in a season since he entered the league in 2014. Still, Robinson must prove he’s the same player upon returning from a torn ACL, and his integration into the offense doesn’t come with concerns, including:
- A-Rob averaged 151 targets per season in 2015-2016, but Nagy and Reid’s No. 1 receiver averaged 102 targets from 2013 to 2017 (Nagy was the quarterbacks coach from 2013 to 2016).
- Trubisky’s preferred pecking order is still a mystery with a brand-new set of receivers. As noted by Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Trubisky’s go-to guys the last two seasons have been primary slot receivers in Kendall Wright and Ryan Switzer.
- Which version of Robinson are the Bears getting? After ranking eighth and 13th in 2015 in PPR points per game and yards per route run, respectively, A-Rob dropped to 33rd and 65th and 33rd in 2016 (min. 25% of team’s snaps).
Donte Moncrief (Colts to Jaguars): 1 Year, $9.6 Million
Marqise Lee is expected to be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver, but Moncrief’s fully guaranteed deal makes him the frontrunner for No. 2 duties in a crowded receiving room. Moncrief has historically dominated in the red zone, and he averaged 0.48 touchdowns per game with Andrew Luck under center. Of course, Blake Bortles shouldn’t be confused for Luck, and Moncrief ranked outside of the top 80 wide receivers in yards per route run in each of the past two seasons. Nonetheless, Moncrief possesses the most size and proven scoring ability in an offense that could have a breathtaking amount of red-zone opportunities up for grabs with A-Rob and Marcedes Lewis no longer around.
Allen Robinson ranked 4th among all WRs in red-zone targets from 2015-2016
JAX WRs size and career receiving TDs
Lee: 6'0" 192 lbs – 8 TDs
Moncrief: 6'2" 221 – 18 TDs 👀
Cole: 6'1" 194 – 3 TDs
Westbrook: 6'0" 178 – 1 TD
Mickens: 5'11" 170 – 2 TDs
Chark: 6'3" 199 – 0 TDs
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 31, 2018
Jordy Nelson (Packers to Raiders): 2 Years, $14.2 Million
The Raiders can move on from Nelson after just one season, but $13 million in guaranteed money indicates a starting role is in the cards for this season. There’s certainly an argument that Nelson is washed — his next game with 80 receiving yards will be his first since 2016 — but he did post above-average game speed from 10-20 yards in 2017, according to airyards.com. Opportunity should be plentiful with Crabtree’s average of 130.1 targets over the past three seasons up for grabs, in addition to a potential suspension for Martavis Bryant. Still, Jon Gruden seems poised to feature Amari Cooper in an offense that low-key has more questions than answers under center.
Taylor Gabriel (Falcons to Bears): 4 Years, $26 Million
Gabriel worked as no better than the Falcons’ third receiver behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu for each of the past two seasons, yet managed to land a staggering $14 million in guaranteed money (the Bears have an out after next season). The undersized 5-foot-7, 170-pounder is a true burner and registered faster game speed than ex-Nagy field-stretcher Tyreek Hill in 2017. He’s not strictly a slot receiver as his size might suggest, and Malcolm Butler can vouch for Gabriel’s route-running ability. Speed kills, but Gabriel has never surpassed 100 receiving yards in a game — nor thrived without Kyle Shanahan calling plays:
- With Shanahan (29 games): 122 targets, 71 receptions, 1,200 yards, 7 touchdowns, 16.9 yards per reception
- Without Shanahan (29 games): 99 targets, 61 receptions, 619 yards, 1 touchdown, 10.2 yards per reception
Danny Amendola (Patriots to Dolphins): 2 Years, $12 Million
Amendola will be 33 in November and has missed at least one game in all but two of his nine professional campaigns. There’s no doubt he formed a productive and efficient bond with Tom Brady over the years, but Amendola has never gained over 700 yards or scored more than four touchdowns in a season. He was initially expected to work as the Dolphins’ No. 4 receiver and provide good locker-room vibes upon signing what amounted to a one-year, $6 million contract, though early camp reports indicate he may be in the driver’s seat for the starting slot job over fellow free-agent addition Albert Wilson. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins will continue to devote 140-plus targets a season to their slot receiver with Jarvis Landry out of the picture.
Albert Wilson (Chiefs to Dolphins): 3 Years, $24 Million
The Dolphins agreed to hand Wilson the fifth-most guaranteed money among free-agent wideouts to apparently work behind DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Amendola. Head coach Adam Gase said Wilson won’t strictly be confined to the slot even though Wilson flashed Landry-esque skills there in 2017. Wilson also led the league in average separation when targeted last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats, and he ranked second among receivers in average yards after the catch (7.8). It’s anyone’s guess as to who might lead the Dolphins in targets, but it’s fair to question the upside of anyone involved in a Gase-led offense without Peyton Manning under center.
- Gase with Manning (2013-2014): 34.0 points per game, 315.8 passing and 114.3 rushing yards per game, 21 games with 30-plus points, 10 games with 40-plus points
- Gase without Manning (2015-2017): 20.4 points per game, 222.9 passing and 105.5 rushing yards per game, 10 games with 30-plus points, 0 games with 40-plus points
Allen Hurns (Jaguars to Cowboys): 2 Years, $12 Million
The Cowboys’ projected No. 1 receiver earned just $2.5 million in guaranteed money. There’s no rhyme or reason to the team’s wide-receiver pecking order as of this writing (Tavon Austin???), but Hurns is one of just 11 receivers over the past three years to tally a season with at least 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns. He’s positioned to work as the team’s top red-zone threat now that Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who combined to score 22 of Dak Prescott‘s 45 career passing touchdowns, are no longer on the team. While Prescott retains fantasy value thanks to his unique rushing ability, there’s the very real possibility of him morphing into a human handoff machine in the Cowboys’ notoriously run-heavy offense.
Cameron Meredith (Bears to Saints): 2 Years, $9.5 Million
Bears general manager Ryan Pace declined to place a second-round tender on Meredith or match the Saints’ contract offer sheet, allowing him escape to New Orleans and team up with one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Drew Brees. Meredith was a popular preseason breakout candidate in 2017 after posting a 66-888-4 line in 14 games with Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, and Jay Cutler under center in 2016, but a torn ACL in the preseason prematurely ended his season. Head coach Sean Payton has indicated Meredith is ahead of schedule in his recovery, putting the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder on track to start between Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. in the old Marques Colston “big slot” role. A versatile receiver capable of lining up all over the field, Meredith ranked 11th in yards per route run in 2016 and consistently displayed pristine route-running ability.
Cam Meredith is about to BALL in NOLA pic.twitter.com/MaUPLpWH2h
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 6, 2018
John Brown (Cardinals to Ravens): 1 Year, $5 Million
Smokey has dealt with soft-tissue injuries stemming from his sickle cell trait for parts of each of the past three seasons, but he’s set to work as Baltimore’s field stretcher and No. 2 receiver as long as he’s healthy after landing a mostly-guaranteed one-year deal. While the speedster has reportedly balled out in the early parts of training camp, Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are a noticeable downgrade from Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians. Flacco has averaged the fourth-fewest yards per attempt among 34 quarterbacks with at least 150 career starts since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Brown ranked 54th and 24th in yards per route run in 2014 and 2015, respectively, before falling to 68th in 2016 and 85th in 2017.
Jaron Brown (Cardinals to Seahawks): 2 Years, $5.5 Million
Brown has played 16 games in four of his five seasons but is yet to gain over 500 yards or score five touchdowns. The Seahawks didn’t exactly break the bank for the Cardinals’ former No. 3 receiver, although the team’s receiving room is wide open aside from Doug Baldwin (who is expected to miss the entire preseason with a knee injury). Brown is theoretically a superior red-zone option to Tyler Lockett in an offense looking to replace both Richardson and Jimmy Graham, though it remains to be seen if he can beat out the likes of Brandon Marshall and Tanner McEvoy for a role in three-wide sets. It’s also unclear if the great Russell Wilson can overcome another putrid offensive line and new run-first offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Brian Schottenheimer PPG rank by year as an OC
The Seahawks average rank under Russell Wilson: 10th
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 25, 2018
Willie Snead (Saints to Ravens): 2 Years, $7 Million
The Ravens’ revamped receiving room also features the Saints’ former slot receiver, who spent the better part of 2017 in Payton’s doghouse after being suspended for PEDs during the first three games of the season. Snead averaged a 70.5-939.5-3.5 line in 2015-2016, but it’s tough to see him commanding 100 or more targets as the likely No. 3 option at best in run-first offense. Flacco hasn’t enabled multiple top-25 PPR receivers in a single season since 2010, and the offense’s red-zone opportunities figure to go towards Crabtree or the team’s pair of rookie tight ends.
Ryan Grant (Redskins to Ravens Colts): 1 Year, $5 Million
The Ravens rescinded their four-year $29-million contract to Grant due to a failed physical even though the 27-year-old hasn’t missed a game during his four-year career. This decision was coincidentally made in light of the Raiders releasing Crabtree. Grant boasts an improved outlook with a potentially healthy Luck under center, and he enters an offense with mostly question marks at receiver other than T.Y. Hilton. Still, Grant offers limited upside considering he’s never surpassed 100 yards in a game and has scored just six career touchdowns.
- Marqise Lee (Jaguars): 4 Years, $34 Million – Lee has finished the past two seasons as the WR44 and WR40 in PPR scoring. While he’s probably the favorite to lead the Jaguars in targets, Moncrief is slated to make more money in 2017, and the presence of second-year wideouts Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole along with rookie D.J. Chark cloud the situation.
- Brandin Cooks (Rams): 5 Years, $81 Million – Cooks is one of five receivers making at least $16 million per season, and also just one of five receivers to total at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons. He’s had nearly an entire offseason to build chemistry with Jared Goff and was a faster and more efficient version of Watkins in 2017.
- Jarvis Landry (Browns): 5 Years, $75.5 Million – The Browns handed Landry the position’s fourth-most valuable contract, but their plethora of options in the passing game (assuming Josh Gordon is good to go) combined with Tyrod Taylor‘s dual-threat ability indicates Landry’s rookie-year 84-758-5 line is probably a fairer expectation than his 105-1,093-5.6 average over the past three seasons.
- Stefon Diggs (Vikings): 5 Years, $72 Million – The Vikings locked down their playoff hero for the foreseeable future, and Diggs could benefit from the addition of Kirk Cousins. PFF’s second-highest-rated wide receiver from last season could easily wind up out-targeting Adam Thielen if he stays healthy.
Minimally Guaranteed Contracts
Several players were signed to minimally-guaranteed contracts and could feasibly be released prior to Week 1. Players signed to deals with fewer that $1,000,000 in guaranteed salary include:
- Brice Butler (Cardinals) – Butler opened as the Cardinals’ starter in two-wide sets in camp. He’s 6-foot-3 with field-stretching ability, and he ranked 11th among wide receivers with 2.14 yards per route run in 2017(min. 20 targets).
- Brandon Marshall (Seahawks) – Pete Carroll wouldn’t guarantee Marshall a roster spot, and the 34-year old appeared #washed in 2017. Still, Marshall isn’t much smaller than Graham, who commanded the third-most red-zone targets in the league from 2016 to 2017.
- Eric Decker (Patriots) – Decker has plenty of experience in the slot to help deal with Julian Edelman‘s four-game suspension. Decker also offers superior size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) and production (11-plus TDs in three different seasons since 2012) over fellow slot hopeful Philip Dorsett.
- Kendall Wright (Vikings) – Neither Wright nor former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell are likely to carve out a fantasy-relevant role, but the No. 3 receiver job in Minnesota is worth monitoring considering Wright would likely push Thielen out of the slot.
Pictured above: Sammy Watkins
Photo credit: Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports