Monday, March 3, 2008

The scoop on the NFL's free-agent frenzy

The NFL's annual free-agent blitz has been in full swing for the past few days, with lots of vets getting kicked to the curb and even more guys cashing in with new multi-million deals. It can get a little dizzying trying to keep track of all the moves, so we've sifted through the transactions so far and examined a few notable relocations (and one big re-signing) and their effects on fantasy football:

• RB Michael Turner to Falcons: Turner's been on everybody's radar the past few seasons as the unofficial "best backup in the league" and a popular handcuff to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, but he's rarely made much of a fantasy impact becuase his carries were so sporadic. Now he gets his chance to show off in Atlanta, where he'll only have to compete with Jerious Norwood for playing time - a talented player, for sure, but no LT2.

It's unclear how this situation will unfold: Turner, though listed just an inch shorter than Norwood at 5-10, has a considerable weight advantage (more than 30 pounds) and seems to be more of a power runner to Norwood's speed game. He's always been productive in limited playing time (5.5 yards a carry in his career), but Atlanta obviously plans to give him a good chunk of the carries after committing $34.5 million to him over six years.

Norwood is explosive, though, in his own right (6.2 yards a carry in two seasons), as he showed while playing second fiddle to the since-released Warrick Dunn. Turner will likely be getting more touches and would thus be the more useful fantasy player, but it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. New Falcons coach Mike Smith comes over from Jacksonville, where the Jaguars wrote the book on the modern two-back system with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both of those guys have been consistent fantasy producers while sharing time, and Turner and Norwood might do the same.

• Patriots re-sign WR Randy Moss: Good news for Moss and Tom Brady owners, bad for the rest of the league. In fact, it's the best possible news for Moss' value, as he had his greatest season playing for the near-perfect Pats as part of a record-busting duo. The prospect of Wes Welker being New England's top WR wasn't appealing for anybody involved, but now you can sleep easily and consider Moss and Brady both top-notch options at their respective positions again next year. As he said Monday on his official Web site, Moss has "unfinished business to take care of" in 2008 - music to your ears if you've got him in a keeper league.

• WR Donte' Stallworth to Browns: This move probably doesn't change Stallworth's value too much: he's still an inconsistent deep threat who's usually good for two or three outstanding fantasy weeks, depending on the situation, and a lot of clunkers. But it certainly helps recently re-signed Derek Anderson (or that young backup they've got, what's his name again?) to have another target, and it might even create more openings for Braylon Edwards and Kevin Winslow.

• WR Bernard Berrian to Vikings: We know the kid's got speed, but he moves from one ugly QB situation to another with the shift from Chicago to Minnesota. He's clearly the Vikings' No. 1 receiver right now, but that doesn't mean a whole lot with Tarvaris Jackson "throwing" him the ball, at least the Jackson of 2007. I have a hard time seeing him surpassing his 951 yards/five TDs from last season unless the QB play in Minnesota improves drastically. That means he's still a fantasy No. 3 WR that you play when the matchup suits you.

• TE Alge Crumpler to Titans: It wasn't long ago our buddy Algernon was a top-five tight end option, but his reputation took a hit during last year's train wreck of a season in the ATL. He did manage 444 receiving yards and five TDs, but he also butted heads with Bobby Petrino and was bothered by bad knees before being released - never a good sign. If Crumpler can hold up, however, he'll be a definite upgrade over what Tennessee had as red-zone options. He should also be accustomed to QB Vince Young's playmaking style after enjoying his best seasons when paired with Michael Vick. He's no longer an upper-tier TE, but assuming his knees are OK, I'd still put him toward the bottom of a growing pool of second-tier TEs with contemporaries Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap and others.

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