We often compare dynasty fantasy football to the stock market, and for a good reason. Buy low. Sell high. Be the first to predict the next move successfully, and beat others to the punch. As each NFL season comes to a close, we’re left with a wide range of possibilities and free agency pipe dreams that would lead our rosters to long-term success. One way to do that: predicting roster moves and identifying the beneficiaries from these moves before their acquisition cost triples. Where can NFL teams save some money with cuts or trades, and if they do, who are the guys to buy? These are some of my favorite questions to consider prior to the start of NFL free agency on March 18.
The Cut: Sammy Watkins
Yes, yes, I know. He is a clear cut after his statements that he may not return to the field for 2020, but hear me out. Regardless of Watkins’ intentions, it would make perfect sense for Kansas City to move on. Watkins secured a 3-year/$48,000,000 deal with the Chiefs just before the 2018 NFL season. Since that time, Watkins has been active in 75% of regular-season games — an impressive “feet” considering his injury history.
He exploded onto the scene in Week 1 of 2019 by posting 198 receiving yards and three touchdowns … only to manage 475 yards and one score in the thirteen games he played following. Watkins has collected $34 million over the same two seasons that Tyreek Hill has accumulated roughly $7.2 million, while hardly pulling half the load.
Also notable, Demarcus Robinson is an unrestricted free agent in the 2020 NFL season. Robinson has been with the Chiefs since 2016, played two seasons with Patrick Mahomes, and has never surpassed 449 receiving yards despite playing a full sixteen games each season.
Watkins carries the highest 2020 cap hit among all wideouts in the NFL and is an easy cut given his lack of consistent production. Considering his hefty price tag, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Chiefs move on to make room for Patrick Mahomes’ soon-to-be record-breaking deal.
The Savings: $14,000,000
The Guy To Buy: Mecole Hardman.
Hardman’s value spiked in the 2019 off-season when rumors once again spread about a domestic abuse scandal involving WR Tyreek Hill. Once it became clear that Hill wouldn’t miss time, Hardman was long-forgotten. When he wasn’t snagging snaps on offense, he was making his presence felt on special teams. Hardman was a fireball in the return game, ranking fifth in yards per return and had the second-most all-purpose yards of any returner in the NFL (only behind Miles Sanders). He’s fast, and if you get him into open space, he looks like Tyreek Lite.
Using the RotoViz AYA App, we see that Mecole Hardman was the most efficient receiver for Patrick Mahomes in 2019 in terms of adjusted yards per attempt. In the 2019 season, Hardman ranked first among all wideouts in yards per target, yards per reception, yards after the catch per reception and third in fantasy points per touch. He’s a ticking time bomb, and the time to buy him is now.
The Cut: Albert Wilson
Wilson scored himself a nice deal with the Dolphins in 2018, having earned $14,500,000 over the last two NFL seasons during which he’s totaled just 742 receiving yds. Among wideouts ranking top-15 in 2020 cap hit, Wilson ranks dead last in percentage of targets, yards, and team points scored per game.
The Savings: $9,500,000
The Guy To Buy: It’s too soon to tell.
Anticlimactic, but my point is more so a reminder that if Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to the Dolphins in 2020, there’s a significant opportunity there for DeVante Parker and future acquisitions to make a splash. Parker is one of the more interesting dynasty prospects this off-season. He’s a former first-round pick coming off a career year, mega-contract extension and his first WR1 finish in fantasy football ever. He ranked ninth among wideouts in fantasy points per touch (3.42) and tied for the second-most 40-plus yard receptions (7).
With Fitzpatrick under center and his health intact, we saw Parker’s talent come to fruition to provide many fantasy owners a true league-winner. Despite all of that, Parker hasn’t been on many “buy” lists. Perhaps it’s due to questions about the future of the offense or the believability that his breakout came five years into his career. Regardless, he’s worth a glance.
Honorable mention goes to 2019 undrafted rookie Preston Williams. His first season ended prematurely after tearing his ACL in Week 9 versus the New York Jets. It was devastating for the young wideout, who was on a 16-game pace for 856 receiving yards and six touchdowns prior to the injury. He averaged more fantasy points per game in 2019 than Marquise Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Brandin Cooks and Robby Anderson.
Reports seem to indicate that he’s ahead of his rehab schedule and buying him at the “ACL discount” could bring a nice return. With the Dolphins in full-rebuild, they’d be wise to ditch the contract, save the money and allocate it on the future of the franchise. You’d probably be wise to invest in it too.
The Cut: Todd Gurley
The Rams broke the bank to give Todd Gurley a 4-year/$57.5 million dollar contract … and it hasn’t quite paid off. Gurley set the stage for running back contracts just prior to being diagnosed with arthritis in his knee, which limited his usage to 16.9 touches per game in 2019. This cut might be unlikely, but given his decline in usage, decreased production, and the rumors swirling, it’s something to be considered.
Using the RotoViz Player Stat Explorer, we see that Todd Gurley saw more games as an RB3 or worse in 2019 than he had as an RB2 or worse in the two seasons prior … combined. Among RBs ranking top 25 in 2020 cap hit, Gurley has the second-highest price tag in terms of dollars per yard at $13,510.34 in 2019. It’s obviously bound to be high, given the load of his contract, but considering his reduced workload, is it worth it? Even though Gurley will carry $12.6 million in dead cap regardless of whether he’s with the team, the Rams are still in a spot to save $4.6 million. It’s not much, but given that he produced just 18% of the team’s yards in 2019, compared to his previous average of 30% in prior seasons, it’s interesting.
Ian Rapoport discussed that “all options are on the table,” for the 2020 NFL Season, only further confirming the sentiment that the Rams may not be as committed to Gurley as his price tag would dictate.
The Savings: $4,650,000
The Guy To Buy: Darrell Henderson
Darrell Henderson was one of the more surprising picks of the 2019 NFL draft. The Rams traded up in the third round to snag the young back out of Memphis, fresh off a 2,200 scrimmage yard season where he scored 25 touchdowns. NFL fans weren’t sure what to make of the decision, considering the sizable deal Los Angeles had just cut with their franchise RB in the year prior.
Henderson recorded just 43 total touches in his rookie season, while still managing to showcase his explosiveness with big plays and evaded tackles.
The Rams are in need of cap space wherever they can find it, as they still need to find some cash for Jalen Ramsey, who they acquired for two first-round picks. Do they want to pay Cooper Kupp? He’s coming up on free agency, too. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Los Angeles, and if they realize that Gurley isn’t one of them, there’s a massive opportunity for the next man up in Sean McVay’s system.
The Cut: Kyle Rudolph
When the Vikings signed Kyle Rudolph to an extension last offseason, there was disappointment in the Irv Smith Jr. camp … until we saw the contract details. Rudolph has been a valuable asset in Minnesota since being drafted, but the structure of his deal made it clear that the Vikings were looking for some flexibility. Perhaps they hoped to provide their rookie tight end a year of development.
Rudolph’s usage in 2019 also tells an interesting story. He saw an average of 3.0 targets and 22.9 receiving yards per game — his lowest averages since his rookie season in 2011. He ran 339 routes this season (compared to Smith’s 305) — his fewest routes run since 2014 when he played just eight games due to a sports hernia injury. For a player on a team in desperate need of some cap space, this isn’t the trend you like to see.
The Savings: $3,650,000
The Guy to Buy: Irv Smith Jr.
Tight end is one of the most difficult positions to accommodate in the NFL given the need to expand route trees and also learn blocking schemes. This makes it all the more impressive that rookie Irv Smith Jr. managed to nearly mirror his veteran counterpart’s production in his first year on the field. He quietly saw an equal number of targets and managed just 56 fewer receiving yards, all the while seeing 181 fewer snaps.
One could easily argue that it’s risky to rely on a pass-catcher in Minnesota for fantasy production considering their lack of passing volume. Though they had the third-fewest passing attempts in the NFL in 2019, it’s worth noting that they targeted the tight end position at the ninth-highest rate among all teams at 23.9%. Their scheme is run-heavy, but that’s all the better for Smith, who’s arguably the better run-blocker between the two TEs. Proficient blocking is a great way to stay on the field.
Smith Jr. hasn’t shown the fantasy community much of a reason to buy in statistically, but his potential opportunity if the Vikings were to unload Rudolph’s contract makes him an asset to buy before it’s too late. The Vikings currently project to have just $736,556 in available cap space for 2020. Moving on from Rudolph is a start.