The fantasy football season may be over, but for dynasty managers, the real work is just getting started. Team postmortems, rookie tape & analytics, and league overviews are all critical areas managers must assess and evaluate over the next few months. As the saying goes, “The draft starts in Mobile.” Now that the Senior Bowl is over, all eyes turn to the NFL draft.
However, one key aspect of the offseason occurs before the NFL draft. That would be the start of the new league year and NFL free agency. With rookie evaluation taking up so much of our time, NFL free agency is often neglected. But it is just as critical to the success of our dynasty rosters. Some players are talented enough to overcome any situation but could use an upgrade, DJ Moore, anyone, while others require the perfect scenario to be fantasy producers.
Those in the fantasy community often overlook team payrolls and salary cap situations. Shrewd managers will look at contract situations two, three, or even four years out to accurately project any player’s best buy and sell window. Don’t have time to pour over spreadsheets analyzing roster & workout bonuses and dead cap hits? No fear; in this off-season primer series, I have you covered. We will break down position by position and analyze the key free agents and some surprising moves that may occur due to team salary cap needs.
Potential Free Agents
Barkley is the cream of the crop for a very deep running back class. The former second-overall pick has not agreed to a new contract with the New York Giants, and as of this publication, things are trending in the wrong direction. The Giants have the decision to use the tag on either Saquon or quarterback Daniel Jones. The two sides are reportedly about $4 million AAV away from each other. Saquon could hit the open market and wind up on a team with plenty of extra cap room. The Chicago Bears would make much sense with over $100 million to spend this offseason.
Browns fans have loved the duo of Nick Chubb and Hunt for the last few seasons. Dynasty managers have been less thrilled with the two sharing the backfield. It is finally time for Hunt to regain a starting role in the league. Hunt will be almost 28 by the time the season kicks off and may be searching for one last big payday. He has been lightly used the past few seasons, with fewer than 500 carries over the past four seasons. He presents a great buying opportunity for any dynasty contender.
Williams had quite the breakout year in his second season away from Green Bay. The Lions running back scored an NFL-leading 17 rushing touchdowns this season. On top of that, every report out of Detroit has him pegged as a locker-room leader and the soul of the team. The Detroit Lions have an ascending offense, and Williams could be looking to stick it out for another year to see where this team goes. A re-signing would end the dynasty value for DeAndre Swift, as he will have played out his rookie contract without much meaningful production. I predict the Lions will re-sign Williams while drafting a running back on Day Two. Get out from Swift while you can.
The number of first-round running backs on this list should signal to NFL front offices that it isn’t a good investment. Penny was a first-round pick in 2018 who played last year on a one-year deal after Seattle declined his fifth-year option in 2021. He was immediately overshadowed by Chris Carson, who was drafted in the seventh round a year before Penny. Some NFL GM may fall in love with the idea of Penny as a reclamation project, but I would not expect much of a workload on his next team. He will be a depth piece in a rotational backfield at best.
Our final first-rounder on this list is coming off a career year where he led the NFL in rushing and finished as RB3 in PPR leagues. Jacobs couldn’t have timed his monster year better. Last offseason, the Raiders declined his fifth-year option, and now he will make them pay for it. Uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position in Vegas, but I fully expect them to work out a long-term deal with Jacobs. They are top five in the league in cap room, so they have some extra money to play with. Jacobs is a great dynasty buy right now if managers don’t believe he can repeat his performance.
Foreman was a lifesaver for fantasy managers last year after the Christian McCaffery trade. Could he parlay that performance into a successful 2023 campaign? Early reports coming out of Carolina are that the Panthers would love to keep Foreman around for 2023 and beyond. I would believe those reports and expect him back as a Panther next year. I expect them to draft a running back on Day Two to compete with Chuba Hubbard for touches.
The Chicago Bears have the most money to spend this offseason out of all 32 NFL clubs. Is re-signing Montgomery a no-brainer? Or could it mean that team may wait to see if any top-end talent hits the market? Given the cap room, Chicago will consider upgrading the position. We could see a cap casualty veteran as a Bear in 2023, which means Montgomery would be looking for a new home. He is talented enough that he will at least compete for the starting job wherever he lands.
Only one running back was selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be the only running back eligible for a fifth-year option. Based on playtime and a lack of pro bowls, the option would cost the Chiefs about $5.4 million to have him on the roster in 2024. Kansas City currently has $110 million in cap space for 2024, so they can afford to keep Edwards-Helaire on the roster. The main question is whether they deem that option worthy of picking up. Based on his low snap counts this season and lack of action in the Super Bowl, I doubt the Chiefs will exercise this option and let Edwards-Helaire enter free agency after the 2023 season.
A handful of running backs may become cap casualties during the 2023 off-season. There are no guarantees that any of these players will be cut, but their respective clubs can save some money by doing so. The most obvious candidate on this list is Cordarelle Patterson. Over the past few weeks, he has been used less and less in this Atlanta Falcons offense as we see rookie Tyler Allgeier take over the backfield. Atlanta is in a bit of a transition period and can be trying to cut contracts where possible.
The video of the Las Vegas fight broke earlier this week. This fight during Pro Bowl weekend last year involved Kamara and a few other NFL players. Fight is a generous word. It was more like a few professional athletes ganging up on one guy. There is still a court case, but things do not look good for Kamara. Regardless of the court case, if designated as a post-June 1st cut, his release can net the Saints almost $6 million on this year’s cap.
Cook is finally having surgery on his often-injured shoulder. This injury has plagued him for several years, but he has decided to wait until now to address it. This may be bad timing for Cook as he is another potential cap casualty. The Minnesota Vikings could save almost $8 million against the 2023 cap if Cook were released. However, Alexander Mattison is also a free agent, and letting Cook and Mattison go simultaneously could cause quite a dilemma for Minnesota.
Money is beginning to be a problem for the back-to-back AFC North champs. What makes this worse is that the Bengals haven’t even started the Higgins, Burrow, and Chase extensions. Higgins is the first of that trio to be eligible for an extension this summer, and the Bengals will need to find every penny they can to afford those three. These efforts to save could begin with Mixon this offseason. He is in the final year of his deal, and the team could save $7 million by letting him go now instead of letting 2023 play out.
The Wild West of Running Backs
As you can see from this article, several big-name running backs could be on the move this summer. This free agent class is one of the deepest we have ever seen; some big names are projected cap casualties. We also must not ignore how talented this 2023 draft class is. At least a dozen players in this year’s draft could provide starting-caliber talent to an NFL roster. This offseason will be one that the dynasty community will discuss for years to come.
How is this information actionable to dynasty managers? It all depends on how risk-averse you may be. A team with a solid foundation may pivot from a high-variance free agent running back into a more stable wide receiver or tight end. Just remember that you will be sacrificing some value for safety. A more risky manager may look to acquire some running backs on this list in a high-upside play that could propel you to a 2023 dynasty championship.
That may be a ton of information to digest, but dynasty managers must have a good feel for what the free agency landscape may look like for the 2023 season. You can secure some excellent depth for your 2023 fantasy football tile run by projecting free-agency movements before they occur. Stay up to date with everything by checking back to DynastyNerds frequently. Follow the hashtag #NerdsDesk on Twitter as my fellow reporters, and I break down the news in real time. Speed is the name of the game this offseason; make sure you have the resources to be the quickest in your league.
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I hope you enjoyed this piece in our Offseason Primer series. Be sure to check back often, as I will cover all fantasy-relevant positions. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!