2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview : New England Patriots

Free agency has a major impact on fantasy football. We’re a long way from the 2018 league year, but for dynasty team owners — especially those who’ve missed the playoffs — it’s never too early to start thinking about how player values could change.

I’m going to take a look at the New England Patriots fantasy-relevant free agents. I will also look at some players who may not be long for the team. After a look at the free agents and possible cut candidates, I’ll circle back and do some more player or position-specific analysis.

Free Agents information and cap numbers are courtesy of OverTheCap.

As it stands, the Patriots currently have $16,454,238 in projected cap space heading into the new year, assuming a team salary cap figure of $178 million.

FREE AGENTS

PLAYER POSITION TYPE 2017 SALARY
Rex Burkhead RB UFA

        $3,150,000

Matt Slater WR UFA

        $1,800,000

Danny Amendola WR UFA

        $1,700,000

Dion Lewis RB UFA

        $1,500,000

Brandon Bolden RB UFA

            $775,000

CUT CANDIDATES

PLAYER POSITION DEAD MONEY CAP SAVING
Martellus Bennett TE $                     – $6,412,500
Dwayne Allen TE $                     – $5,000,000
Mike Gillislee RB $                     – $2,400,000
Phillip Dorsett WR $                     – $1,544,373

After reportedly asking his agent to dissaude teams from claiming him after he was released by the Packers, the Patriots went ahead and claimed Martellus Bennett in November. He did practically nothing in the two games he actually played. He saw six targets and caught six balls for 53 yards. He may take the decision out of the Patriots hands and retire this offseason.

Another tight end on the chopping block could be Dwayne Allen. Acquired to work behind Rob Gronkowski, Allen was a limited contributor on offense. He played in all 16 games but didn’t reel in a catch until Week 10. The season ended with a further nine receptions for just 86 yards and one touchdown.

Mike Gillislee started out extremely hot in 2017, rushing for three TDs in his Week 1 debut. He followed this up with another score a week later. But then he didn’t find the paint again until Week 16. He was a healthy scratch for seven games. Gillislee offered little in terms of production that Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead couldn’t replicate when they took the field, especially in the passing game. He had just one reception in 2017.

Like Allen, Phillip Dorsett was acquired through trade from the Colts just prior to the season. He caught 12 passes for 194 scoreless yards. He is well on his way to bust status after being a first-round draft pick by the Colts in 2015.

NEEDS

RB, TE, WR(?)

SUMMARY

With both Lewis and Burkhead heading for free agency, the Patriots may be forced to make a tough decision. That is, of course, assuming that both cannot be persuaded to take team-friendly deals. If they were to pick one, my guess would be Lewis. Since joining the team, he has  been huge for the offense, as evinced by the difference in production in games when he is absent.

patriots

Lewis and Burkhead are true three-down players. Lewis finished 2018 with 896 rushing yards and six TDs, with a further 214 receiving yards and three more receiving TDs. Burkhead tallied 264 yards on the ground (five TDs), with another 254 through the air and three more scores. They also both played at least 65 snaps on special teams. In short, they are ideal Patriots players, and the team would be keen to keep both around. If it comes down to cost, however, Burkhead could be the one in another uniform next season.

If the Patriots do release Gillislee and are looking for a one-dimensional short area rusher, someone like Jeremy Hill could appeal to them. Despite a lost 2017, Hill has the fifth-most rushing TDs since entering the league in 2014. The RotoViz Screener shows some of his comparable players during this span.

hill

Another Bengal that makes a lot of sense for the Patriots is Tyler Eifert. With neither Bennett nor Allen worth much to the team, the prospect of wheeling out Gronkowski and Eifert at the same time is a tantalizing one. Despite rarely appearing healthy, Eifert has been one of the most dominant red-zone receivers since 2013. Between 2013 and 2016, 17 of his 20 red-zone receptions resulted in scores. He is also likely to be looking for a short-term deal to prove he can remain healthy.

If the Patriots say goodbye to Dorsett and are unable to convince Danny Amendola to sign another contract in which he takes a pay cut, their WR corps could stand some reinforcements. It should be noted, of course, that Amendola had his best season with the Patriots once you consider the playoffs.1

amendola

Admittedly, Julian Edelman is expected to return after missing 2017. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan are still under contract. I’d be stunned if the Patriots didn’t look at someone like Terrelle Pryor, if he could be had cheaply. They’d surely consider former Jets WR Eric Decker, if only because Bill Belichick loves to taunt his former team. But, as I’m sure Matt Kelley would expect and appreciate, the most Patriots signing of all time would be Jeff Janis. Janis has had little opportunity to shine with the Packers, mostly being limited to special teams duties. The potential loss of Lewis or Burkhead would allow Janis to plug this gap, all the while picking up the Patriots scheme on offense. He certainly wouldn’t be expensive.

Given the moves we’ve seen from the Patriots in the past, all of the above suggestions are plausible. It should never be discounted how much some players want to win, rather than get top dollar. Coming to the Patriots and earning a ring can help a player in his later contract dealings. If they make any of the moves above, then all of the affected players should at least be considered viable options for your fantasy teams in 2018.

  1. Amendola has a playoff game with 70 or more receiving yards in four of his five seasons with the team.  (back)