In roughly one month, the new league season officially begins.
While watching sexy men run in compression shorts so tight the pictures could be used for health class is the best part of the early offseason, the effects of the combine won’t be tangibly felt in the Dynasty marketplace until the NFL draft in late April.
The opening of free agency, however, will bring a whirlwind of trades, contract terminations, and new faces in new places.
Tennessee finalizing deal for Eagles RB DeMarco Murray, league sources tell ESPN. Trade expected to be complete for new league year Weds— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2016
For a team-by-team breakdown of free agency for all 32 franchises, check out Charles Kleinheksel’s articles from earlier this month.
One team needs closer scrutiny, for their roster is far more in flux than others, and it’s not all because of impending free agency.
Not only is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not shy about contemplating retirement, but nearly all of the familiar offensive playmakers from the last two seasons are in career limbo.
Le’Veon Bell is an unrestricted free agent, though the team is expected to use the franchise tag on him. After being suspended for the beginning of each of the last two seasons, in addition to potentially needing groin surgery, it’s no sure thing his time in Pittsburgh will continue. DeAngelo Williams is also a free agent, which makes any potential acquisition the team makes at the position very intriguing.
From a Dynasty perspective, further injury, another suspension, a holdout, or a change of teams, would likely cause Bell’s value to free fall from where it currently is, in the middle to end of the first round in a startup. A significant free agent acquisition or substantial draft-capital investment into the position would also damage his value, though neither of those things seem likely to be, coupled with franchise tagging him.
If Williams signs a deal early in free agency, try to trade him to the league-mate that has the player Williams would be backing up. If Williams waits long into the offseason to sign a deal (think Arian Foster last year), his value will be near zero, and he will likely be dropped during rookie drafts in May. He is the type of player that moving this time of year for any draft pick would be helpful to open roster space, if you’re lucky enough to find someone to pay for him.
There’s certainly an argument that Bell doesn’t help the offense enough to warrant paying him what he would command at open market in a new contract, despite being arguably the best running back in football over the last three seasons:
Even if the contention that he is worth that kind of salary cap commitment is convincing, there’s no reason the team can’t franchise tag him for the next several seasons, and let him go when they feel it’s no longer worth it. That may eventually cause Bell to hold out, which would really force the Steelers’ hand, but that doesn’t appear in the range of outcomes, at least for this year.
Alternatively, the case for continuing to give Martavis Bryant a chance to contribute, despite missing 27 games in the last three seasons, is compelling:
The wide receiver phenom claims that he has not smoked weed in eight months, which is up to the reader to believe. Owner Art Rooney claims the team isn’t counting on him, and he has a long way to go before being reinstated.
Following his suspension eleven months ago, a comparison against Josh Gordon‘s value after his second season-long suspension suggested Bryant’s value would fall (well) below startup pick 100, and stay there for at least a year.
This touches on a theme in these articles of not holding assets for long periods of time with little to no chance of them gaining in value (for example, a 2019 first round pick). The reasoning is, the asset can always be reacquired later for the same price, and it’s more useful if turned into volatile assets in the present, with a chance to both contribute to team output and gain value.
In Bryant’s case his value has, at best, stagnated since the suspension, despite no further negative news:
Price check on Martavis Bryant @DynastyTrades— 14TeamMocker (@14TeamMocker) February 7, 2017
This is something seen in the stock market as well, where sharp drops in value tend to drift lower for a period before finding a bottom and recovering, despite the reason for decline being that initial news:
One catalyst to Bryant’s value is the way his suspension affected his contract, giving the Steelers little incentive to not give him another shot, should he be reinstated by the ever-fickle
Bryant will miss the entire 2016 season. (…) his contract this year is void, which adds an extra year on to his rookie deal. Now, the Pittsburgh Steelers will control Bryant through the 2018 season.
As for that other problematic wide receiver, the moral compass, and football managerial-strategy extraordinaires that are the Steelers beat writers, suggest Antonio Brown should be traded. With one year left on his contract, Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cites both age, and “silly, look-at-me antics.”
Two in three of their fans somehow agree with this, because of course they do:
How realistic is it that Brown isn’t on the Steelers in 2017, or even 2018? That’s very difficult to say, but his value would rightfully plummet with any change of scenery. His place in the first round of startup drafts is in peril just by way of turning 30 years old in and of itself, but there is nothing to suggest any sort of injury or performance decline is imminent.
While he doesn’t have the injury red flags Jordy Nelson did (does), and his career is in an echelon of its own in terms of historically consistent top-tier production, investing in or holding Brown at this point is a proposition nearly guaranteed to rapidly depreciate your Dynasty team’s assets. Much like Nelson this year, the value that Brown brings to your weekly lineup will have to be weighed against this guaranteed, though difficult to time, value loss.
Should Bryant or Brown falter, move on from the team, or get injured, the beneficiary is likely to be 2016 revelation Eli Rogers.
Playing the second-most snaps on the team last season behind Brown, Rogers contributed a respectable 48 catches, 594 yards, and three TDs to the Steelers offense over 13 games. While that won’t win any fantasy titles, it’s a very promising season for an undersized, undrafted free agent who turned 24 in December and had never played an NFL snap before Week 1.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates both have two cheap years left on their contracts, but they were both outsnapped by future Hall-of-Famer Cobi Hamilton and showed nothing to indicate the Steelers should be relying on them in their future plans.
Markus Wheaton is also an unrestricted free agent, recovering from labrum surgery performed at the beginning of January.
The one player I have been aggressively investing in from this offense since the trading window reopened last month is Ladarius Green.
After being active for five games, and only playing 50 percent of the snaps in one of them, Green’s long-time potential is at risk of never being fulfilled. Turning 27 at the end of May, he still only has one 16 game campaign and only one 30+ catch campaign in his career.
For a fourth round pick in the 2012 draft who has amassed fewer than 100 catches and 1,400 yards in what is already a five-year career, the anti-hope naysayers have been right on Green for a long, long time, and the truthers have been holding the bag for years and years.
Following an incredibly disappointing first season, bookended by lingering concussion rumors and concerns, the Steelers probably won’t release the player they’ve already invested $6m in between 2016 salary and signing bonus. They would have to eat $3.6m of the $5m they owe him this season if released, making carrying him on the roster – at least through August – seem intuitive.
Fifth-round sophomore Jesse James was unremarkable in Green’s stead, failing to post even 40 catches or 400 receiving yards, despite playing 855 snaps, the most by any RB, WR, or TE on the team not named Brown.
For I’m-about-ready-to-give-up prices, acquiring Green is a cheap way to have a chance at a (very realistic) possible huge windfall. On a team with so many question marks, his role seems assured, albeit dependent on health.
One thing that isn’t in doubt, at least barring Roethlisberger’s return, is their passing prowess. Fourth in passing TDs, fifth in passing yards, and tenth in passing attempts last year, this team will almost assuredly once again play a key role in fantasy leagues next season.