Hey Fantasy Freaks! Last week Operation Off-season took a look at the NFC. Let’s now move over to the AFC and check out the happenings there. Again, we’ll be looking at off-season moves as well as preview any draft picks a team has in the first three rounds.
On offense, the Ravens signed the fragile TE L.J. Smith from the Eagles. Have they given up on the under-achieving and aging TE Todd Heap? If L.J. can find a way to stay healthy, at the very least, Heap’s looks will certainly drop. The Ravens also re-signed little-used, third-year WR Marcus Maxwell. The Ravens RB situation also got some help when the Ravens signed Pro Bowl C Matt Birk from the Vikings after losing C Jason Brown to the Rams. The Ravens also have an offer sheet with WR Demetrius Williams.
The Ravens only notable loss on offense was QB Kyle Boller, who signed with St. Louis. QB Todd Bouman and FB Lorenzo Neal remain unsigned.
The Ravens have selections 26th, 57th and 88th in the draft. Look for them to be lined up for WRs, trying to land an explosive deep threat like Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey. They have to be concerned that their most consistent receiver, Derrick Mason, is 35 and not getting any younger.
The Bills arguably made the biggest splash in free agency when they signed WR Terrell Owens, who was given his outright release by the Cowboys. Owens will have to produce because the contract is just a one-year deal. While we have never been a big TO fan, this will definitely be a boost for WR Lee Evans and the anemic Bills offense. The Bills also signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as a backup for QB Trent Edwards, so they had better hope Edwards can stay healthy!
TE Robert Royal was a salary-cap casualty and has moved on to the Browns. QB J.P. Losman remains an unsigned free agent and is looking for work. Getting passed over for Fitzpatrick is not a good thing for Losman. RFA RB Fred Jackson is trying to renegotiate his contract and the Bills are said to be listening. RB Marshawn Lynch will miss the first three games of the 2009 season due to suspension, so the Bills had better get Jackson signed.
The Bills have the 11th, 42nd and 75th selections in the draft. Offensively, the Bills are exceptionally weak at the TE position. Look for them to use one of their top three selections on a TE like Brandon Pettigrew that can get downfield and score. Shawn Nelson and Jared Cook could also be targeted with their second or third pick. If the Bills can’t come to terms with Jackson, you can expect them to be looking for a running back as well.
The Bengals have been in “move one in/move one out” mode during the free agent period. They lost WR T.J. Houshmandzedeh to Seattle and then signed WR Laveranues Coles away for the Jets, a downgrade for the Bengals offense. As mentioned earlier, the Bengals lost QB Fitzpatrick but they signed J.T. O’Sullivan to replace him. QB Carson Palmer is expected to be back to 100% health so, barring injury, J.T. won’t see much action but works as the handcuff if you do take a chance on Palmer. RBs Cedric Benson and DeDe Dorsey have both re-signed with the Bengals with Benson being the likely Opening Day starter.
The Bengals continue to try to shop WR Chad Ocho Cinco, with the Raiders being the latest team in the rumor mill. They should have taken the two first-round draft choices they were offered last year, as his stock has hit rock bottom.
The Bengals have the 6th, 38th, 70th and 98th selection in the Draft. They are going to need all of them because they have issues throughout the roster. The re-signing of Benson shows commitment on the part of the Bengals, but counting on him for a full AND productive season is asking a lot. Look for the Bengals to use one of their early picks on a running back.
The Browns are a mess! Their only offensive signings have been TE Robert Royal (BUF) to replace TE Kellen Winslow and aging WR David Patten (NO).
Veteran WR Joe Jurevicius has been released and they lost RB Jason Wright to the Cardinals. WR Donte’Stallworth will see his career end if he is convicted of the DUI manslaughter charge he’s facing at an arraignment on April 23.
The Browns have the 5th, 36th and 50th selections in the Draft. Despite all their needs on offense, they have even more pressing needs on defense. If they were going to spend any of their top picks on offense, it would be on a WR first and a RB second. Has there ever been a team in the NFL that has not had a player selected during a standard 20 round Fantasy Draft? We doubt it, but the Browns are a prime candidate to have that dubious distinction this year if Braylon Edwards is moved.
The Broncos have been all over the map this off-season and are a mess! The trade of QB Jay Cutler has definitely been their most talked about and questioned move. Now that he is gone, Denver is left with their recent acquisitions of QB Kyle Orton (CHI) and Chris Simms (Ten) to battle for the starting job. Give Orton the nod at this point, but that’s not saying much. The QB situation is ugly and drops the fantasy stock of virtually every Bronco player. With WR Brandon Marshall recovering from hip surgery and facing another suspension (possibly eight games), the Broncos woes only get deeper. They did sign WR Jabar Gaffney away from the Patriot,s but that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. RBs Correll Buchhalter (PHI), J.J. Arrington (ARI) and LaMont Jordan (NE) have all joined an already-crowded but injury-riddled backfield. The RB position will be ever-changing and a dreaded “by committee” situation in Denver in 2009. Avoid this situation in your fantasy draft.
Broncos have been trying to trade TE Tony Scheffler, and that may happen on or before Draft Day. RBs Tatum Bell, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman all remain unsigned at this point. WRs Darrell Jackson and Edell Sheppard are also unsigned UFAs and will most likely not be back with the club in 2009.
The Broncos have the 12th, 18th, 48th, 79th and 84th selections in the first three rounds of the Draft. Look for them to actively pursue QB Mark Sanchez (USC), as he has played in the same offensive system as QB Matt Cassel. It’s been well-documented that head coach Josh McDaniels loves Cassel, and he may see Sanchez as the next best thing. The Broncos have serious issues on defense but with so many picks, look for them to try to get some value at the WR position as well.
The Texans have been relatively quiet from an offensive and fantasy football perspective during this off-season.
The Texans picked up QB Dan Orlovsky from the Lions and he will be the handcuff for QB Matt Schuab. They also re-signed WR David Anderson, who will continue to be their fourth receiver and work on special teams. The Texans continue to negotiate with TE Owen Daniels, who is trying to restructure his current deal that has one year left on it. With all the firepower and the way the Texans use the TE position, we find it hard to believe that Daniels would leave this situation. RB Cecil Sapp is also still negotiating a new contract.
The Texans cut veteran and oft-injured RB Ahman Green and that could be the end of line for him in the NFL. QB Sage Rosenfels was lured away by the Vikings and will have a good shot at being their starter in 2009.
The Texans have the 15th, 46th and 77th selections in the first three rounds of the draft. They need help on defense more than anything so their first couple of picks could be on that side of the ball. Later in the draft, look for them to try to land a big, speedy WR and a power back. The Texans were 30th in red zone scoring last year, so watch this situation. If they do land a power back, RB Steve Slaton’s numbers would be affected in 2009.
The biggest off-season news from Colts camp was the release of former super-stud WR Marvin Harrison. While it may not be the end of the line for Harrison just yet, the end is getting close. With guys like WR Joey Galloway (NE) and WR David Patten (CLE) getting contracts over the Marvelous One, the writing seems to be on the wall. The Colts continue to negotiate with RB Dominic Rhodes, who is a UFA. We’re surprised a deal hasn’t already been reached, given that Rhodes got little-to-no interest out in the open waters of free agency, and that the Indy offense seems to be a great fit for the 30-year-old RB.
The Colts hold the 27th, 61st and 92nd selections in the first three rounds of the draft. The makeup of the Colts offense, which relies heavily on three receiver sets, along with the loss of Harrison makes it likely that the Colts will take a WR with their first pick. They may even try to trade up to get a “cream of the crop” WR. In their current slot, they may look at Hakeem Nicks (NC) or Brian Robiskie (OSU) to fill the need. The Colts will then concentrate on defense for the next couple picks. After that, they will look for some value at the RB spot. If they don’t find it, they can always just re-sign Rhodes.
The team that likes to be known for “chopping wood” had a disastrous 2008 season. Their 2009 free-agent season has not been any better. The Jags only significant move this off-season has been the contract extension given to RB Maurice Jones-Drew. The contract is rather staggering and Jones-Drew is now the third-highest paid RB in the league. If the Jags don’t get some talent around him, it could be a long season for MJD, who is now the main man in Jacksonville.
While the Jaguars haven’t made many signings, they have certainly been busy handing out pink slips. WRs Jerry Porter (possibly the worst signing in the entire league last year), Matt Jones (can’t stay away from drugs) and Reggie Williams (in trouble with law) were all given their outright release. Veteran RB Fred Taylor was also released and has since landed in NE.
The Jaguars freed up a lot of cap space with some of the moves they have made. They hold the 8th, 39th and 72nd picks in the first three rounds of the draft. With Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker currently listed as the starting Jags’ wideouts, their need at WR could be more glaring than any other team in the league. The Jags would love to have WR Michael Crabtree fall to them in the first round, but don’t be surprised if they grab a QB like Sanchez with their first pick. From there, the Jags have pressing needs across the board and on both sides of the ball.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs made big news with the trade of QB Matt Cassel from the Patriots. The move drops 2008 starter QB Tyler Thigpen back to the sidelines as a backup. They have also signed WR Terrance Copper (Bal), WR C.J. Jones (NE) and veteran WR Bobby Engram (SEA). Of the three, Engram has the best shot at being fantasy relevant and is a candidate for 50-plus catches this season. He will be used as a possession/slot receiver and is a veteran presence for Cassel. Jones is a work in progress and Copper is a special-teams role-player.
The Chiefs released QB Damon Huard (SF), QB Quinn Gray (unsigned) and WR Will Franklin (claimed by Detroit from waivers).
The Chiefs have the 3rd and 67th selections in the first three rounds of the Draft. They managed just 10 QB sacks in 2008, the lowest total by any team since the NFL started tracking the stat. They will be all about defense and then the O-line in the draft. WR Engram could be in his last season, so if the Chiefs look to bring in any help on offense, they will look for value in a young playmaker at WR.
After a very busy off-season of “grocery shopping” in 2008, Miami GM Bill Parcels and the Dolphins have been very quiet this year. From a fantasy/offensive perspective, the Dolphins have not made a single move.
Miami may have steered clear of the free agent waters because of their wealth of draft choices. The Dolphins have the 25th, 44th, 56th and 87th selections in the first three rounds of the Draft. With Parcels at the helm, you know the Dolphins will want to add to their defense. That being said, they will also be looking for a home-run hitting WR. Greg Camarillo is coming off ACL surgery, Ted Ginn Jr. is heading into a make-or-break season in his third year, and Devon Bass was a pleasant surprise late last season. Still, none of those guys really put much fear into opposing defenses.
NEW YORK JETS
The Brett Favre experiment is over in New York, and the Jets are going to be hard pressed to challenge for a playoff spot in the tough AFC East. They certainly haven’t done anything in the off-season to help their cause. In fact, it has been more about who has left than who has been added.
WR Laveranues Coles signed with the Bengals, while disgruntled TE Chris Baker has moved on division-rival Patriots. After that, not much has happened with the Jets this off-season.
The Jets have the 17th, 52nd and 76th selections in the first three rounds of the Draft. They are going to need all those selections and more because the Jets have needs across the board. The QB, WR and TE position all need to be addressed, so look for the Jets to grab the best player at the positions of need as the draft moves forward.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots never seem to rebuild, just reload. That has certainly been the case again during this off-season. The Pats have brought in a couple of aging veterans in WR Joey Galloway and RB Fred Taylor. While both of these guys should help the Patriots, they will not have much value on your fantasy team. They also brought in TE Chris Baker and WR Greg Lewis. Both of these guys will be useful role-players for the Pats but will be “wait and see” from a Fantasy perspective.
The biggest move for the Patriots saw QB Matt Cassel and OLB Mike Vrabel go to the Chiefs for the 34th overall selection in this year’s draft. New England obviously thinks QB Tom Brady will be back at 100%, but that is still not a given. The Patriots also lost RB LaMont Jordan and WR Jabar Gaffney to Denver, which isn’t really losing a lot.
No team is in a better position for the draft than New England. They hold the 23rd, 34th, 47th, 58th, 89th and 97th selections in the first three rounds of the draft. In total, they have 12 picks. Since it’s highly unlikely that 12 rookies could make the team, look for the Patriots to be wheeling and dealing during Draft Weekend. The Patriots will look to the defense first, as they definitely have some issues on that side of the ball. When they do look to offense, RB and WR will be the two areas they address first. The Pat’s receiving corps, is aging and they seem to have lost faith in oft-injured RB Laurence Maroney, who has fallen to second on the Patriots depth chart behind RB Sammy Morris. The Patriots have said they are comfortable with backup QB Kevin O’Connell, but look for them to bring in a veteran QB during training camp.
For a team that has been so bad for so long, the Raiders don’t seem to be in any hurry to get better any time soon. Their only significant addition has been the signing of QB Jeff Garcia. The Raiders say that Garcia will be used strictly as a mentor and backup for QB JaMarcus Russell.
The Raiders cut ties with injury prone WR Ronald Curry, who if healthy could be a nice sleeper pick depending on where he lands for the 2009 season. Curry’s first workout spot is in Detroit. WR Ashley Lelie and WR Drew Carter both remain unsigned UFAs. RB Justin Fargas restructured his contract to stay in silver and black, but with RB Darren McFadden and RB Michael Bush in the mix you can expect to see a lot of RB-by=committee in Raider Land in 2009.
The Raiders hold the 7th, 40th and 71st selections in the first three rounds of the draft. They apparently still believe in Russell as their QB of the future, so look for them to take a WR with their first pick. Javon Walker is said to be healing nicely from ankle surgery but has been a total bust over the last two seasons, and that won’t change in 2009. WR Chaz Schilens and Johnnie Lee Higgins both showed some ability down the stretch last season but are more suited as role players. The Raiders would love to land WR Michael Crabtree in the seventh spot.
The Super Bowl Champs have remained relatively intact from an offense/fantasy perspective during the off-season. They have not made any significant additions to their offense.
They lost QB Byron Leftwich to Tampa Bay and re-signed QB Charlie Batch. The also lost WR Nate Washington to the Titans.
The Steelers hold the 32nd, 64th and 96th selections in the first three rounds of the Draft. Being as the Steelers are often picking from low each round on what seems a yearly basis, they usually grab the best player available. They did trade up seven places to get Super Bowl MVP WR Santonio Holmes in 2006. With the loss of Washington, they may do the same again this year. The Steelers have been publicly saying that they believe second year WR Limus Sweed can step in as the team’s #3 receiver, making the need to draft a WR somewhat less pressing. All things considered, look for the Steelers to grab an offensive lineman with their first-round pick.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chargers have been extremely quiet during the off-season. The biggest moves they have made to date are the restructuring of LaDainian Tomlinson’s contract and slapping the franchise tag on spark-plug RB Darren Sproles. Tomlinson has a new three-year deal, while Sproles is still trying to get a new contract. We expect Sproles to reach a deal with the Chargers and take some reps from Tomlinson in 2009. That being said, while Tomlinson won’t be the first overall selection in most fantasy leagues, he will be great value should he fall to someone in fifth or sixth position. LT2 is not done dazzling on the field or in fantasy circles just yet!
The Chargers have not lost anyone from an offensive/fantasy standpoint during the off-season. WR Malcom Floyd, who had four TDs on 27 catches in 2008, has been extended a second-round RFA tender but has yet to accept it and remains unsigned. The Chargers do want to get him under contract.
The Chargers have just the 16th and 78th selections in the first three rounds of the draft. There is still a lot of uncertainty at the RB spot for the Chargers. Rumors are swirling that the Chargers have their eye on RB Chris “Beanie” Wells (Ohio St) as their first-round pick. There is also talk that they may try to trade back and grab someone like RB Donald Brown (UConn). They do need to replace DE Igor Olshansky, but the Chargers are such a deep and talented team, they can afford to just take the best player on the board when their pick comes up.
The Titans have done some shuffling on both sides of the ball. They re-signed QB Kerry Collins, who should be the uncontested starter in ’09. They signed WR Nate Washington from the Steelers, WR Mark Jones from the Panthers and QB Patrick Ramsey from the Broncos. They have also put the franchise tag on TE Bo Scaife, who remains unsigned.
WR Justin McCariens remains unsigned and will probably not return to the team. WR Brandon Jones has signed with the 49ers, while QB Chris Simms signed with the Broncos.
The Titans have the 30th, 62nd and 94th selections in the first three rounds of the draft. They lost DT Albert Haynesworth to Washington, so that position will be the first area they want to address. Like so many teams, the Titans will look to get value at the WR position at some point in the draft. While they are a run-first team, Justin Gage is the only WR they have with any experience. The signing of Washington eases the need somewhat, but he is still a largely unproven commodity with some sleeper aura around him.
That’s it for the second half of our free agent review and mini-draft preview. Draft Weekend is less than two weeks away and we can’t wait!
With the first pick in the NFL 2009 Draft, the Detroit Lions select………stay tuned!
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