It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas -- in March. Besides the fact I get that whole gift-opening feeling again on my birthday (March 9), it's also when free-spending NFL teams are in a giving mood to wrap up free agents with big contracts and new uniforms.
This past weekend was like those ridiculous day-after-Thanksgiving sales kicking off the holiday shopping season. While fantasy football owners need to wait until late summer drafts to unwrap our new rosters, the past six days have really shaken up our shopping lists. Several big-name players have changed teams, so let's play catchup.
Daunte Culpepper, Vikings to Dolphins. Culpepper was a big-time bust before his season-ending knee injury last season, struggling with his accuracy and decision making without Randy Moss. By showing some patience with rehabbing his knee, learning from offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and relying on a good set of receivers behind an improved line, there's no reason Culpepper can't rebound into 2004 form.
Expect Culpepper to click best with Chris Chambers in the red zone. Meanwhile, Randy McMichael and Marty Booker will make more big plays in the middle of the field. With Ricky Williams already an all-but-goner, Ronnie Brown's value has shot up. With Brown's receiving skills and running ability both feeding off Culpepper, it's not a reach to now consider the second-year back as a late first-round pick.
Drew Brees, Chargers to Saints. His arrival is a big, easy development for Joe Horn, Donte' Stallworth, Deuce McAllister and Zachary Hilton. Their values all should go up with much steadier QB play in contrast to Aaron Brooks. In the same vein, the values of LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and the rest of San Diego's offensive skill players will take a bit of a hit while Philip Rivers gets settled. Expect Brees to put up Charger-like numbers in New Orleans -- efficient but not consistently gaudy.
Jon Kitna, Bengals to Lions. Kitna steps into the role that Jeff Garcia was in last season -- veteran insurance if Joey Harrington can't get the job done (again). With Mike Martz now coordinating Detroit's offense and the team's deep backfield and receiving corps, once again there is good fantasy potential for any QB who gets the most snaps. Don't count out Kitna, especially with Harrington wanting out.
Jeff Garcia, Lions to Eagles. Philly couldn't afford to go into another season with Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon as Donovan McNabb's only backups, and Garcia's grasp of the West Coast offense will actually make him a viable producer in a pinch if McNabb goes down again. Remember, however, that while both D.M. and J.G. don't need to deal with T.O. the person anymore, not having T.O. the receiver will curb their combined statistical potential.
Edgerrin James, Colts to Cardinals. Expect James' rushing yardage to go down. In addition to James running behind a weaker line, Arizona will need to throw more than Indy because it will trail in more games than Indy. James, however, should be in position to score more as his new team's clear-cut best red-zone threat. A greater number of red-zone TDs will lead to more Neil Rackers extra points and fewer Rackers three-pointers. James also will take away catches and yardage from both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Quarterback Kurt Warner will be the biggest fantasy beneficiary of James. He'll sacrifice some yardage for more TDs and fewer interceptions. That comes with having a reliable dump-off option when he's under pressure and another way to move the ball closer to the goal line.
Chester Taylor, Ravens to Vikings. Fantasy owners have avoided Minnesota's backfield like a minefield in recent seasons, dancing around Michael Bennett, Mewelde Moore, Onterrio Smith, Moe Williams and others. Taylor should help put an end to that as the potentially explosive, every-down back the Vikings have been seeking. Second-year back Ciatrick Fason may steal some goal-line touches, but Taylor will rack up big-time yardage from scrimmage with enough TDs to project as a solid No. 2 fantasy back.
Mike Anderson, Broncos to Ravens. Anderson steps into Taylor's old role as a reserve behind re-signed Jamal Lewis, only that he's a straight-ahead power guy in contrast to Taylor's speed and shiftiness. Anderson might end up playing some fullback, however. Expect Lewis to continue to get the primary goal-line looks. At this point, with Musa Smith still a Raven, Anderson can't even be considered Lewis' primary backup.
David Givens, Patriots to Titans. Givens got lost in the gaggle of wide receivers and tight ends in New England, so it made sense that he took a deal to shoot to the top of the depth chart in Tennessee. Givens' combination of size, speed and hands will make him the team's go-to guy like Derrick Mason was in '04. Drew Bennett will settle back into his more comfortable No. 2 role.
As long as Steve McNair is tabbed the team's QB for '06 and neither the Bennett-leaning Billy Volek nor a rookie goes in as the starter, Givens shoots up from a reserve fantasy receiver to a starting No. 2.
Brandon Lloyd, 49ers to Redskins. Lloyd was getting frustrated with Alex Smith in San Francisco and with not getting enough looks. He still might not get as many looks as he wants. But as the No. 2 opposite Santana Moss, the looks he gets will be very favorable to make big plays as defenses will do everything they can to take away Moss. Lloyd should easily surpass his previous career bests (48 receptions, 733 yards, six TDs) to be a No. 2 fantasy receiver.
Antwaan Randle El, Steelers to Redskins. Randle El didn't have much fantasy value as a receiver in Pittsburgh, and he won't have too much in Washington. Moss, Lloyd and H-back Chris Cooley all figure to be busier in the passing game. Expect offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who worked with Dante Hall in Kansas City, to use Randle El like Hall in Washington -- an explosive slot option in three- and four-receiver sets. Also like Hall, Randle El will have his best chances to make plays in the return game.
Joe Jurevicius, Seahawks to Browns. Cleveland's stud receiver--in-waiting is second-year man Braylon Edwards. Jurevicius has the ideal frame and experience to offset Edwards' youthful explosiveness. He'll be an ideal possession security blanket for second-year QB Charlie Frye. Expect Edwards to rebound well from his injury while Jurevicius takes the pressure off, making both ideal sleeper receivers.
Antonio Bryant, Browns to 49ers. Bryant, like Lloyd, is a big-time talent who just needs to keep his head on straight to succeed. He just broke out with his first 1,000-yard season with the Browns but now will need to adjust to a new system with a new young quarterback in Smith. That keeps him as a No. 3 fantasy wideout at best.
Ryan Longwell, Packers to Vikings. Longwell, like longtime Packer Darren Sharper last season, has crossed over to the team's bitter NFC North rivals. That also means he won't need to kick in bitter cold as often, trading Lambeau Field for the friendly confines of the Metrodome. Considering Longwell was very accurate on the frozen tundra, he'll execute at a fine clip in Minnesota. With Taylor and the Vikes' new-look offense under Brad Childress, Longwell should return to being one of fantasy's top dozen kickers.
Wait, wait, there's one more. . . .
Terrell Owens, Eagles to. . . . Cowboys? It's funny that the news of Owens' release and Dallas' release of similarly yap-happy wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson came across the wires at almost the same time Tuesday afternoon. Coincidence? I think not. It's been known that Bill Parcells may be the one coach who will be able to shape up T.O. -- to the point that T.O. can produce and contribute to a winning team in the short term. If Owens officially rides as a Cowboy for 2006, he's the classic high-risk, high-reward pick to draft as high as the third round.
Ronnie Brown a late first-round pick? T.O. a 3rd rounder? Hmmmm...