Now that the dust has settled on the annual money grab that is NFL Free Agency, it’s time to take a step back and see how it affects IDP leagues. As is often the case, the biggest headlines on ESPN don’t have much impact on the IDP world (I’m looking at you Revis), but there are some significant change that took place. Whether you are in a dynasty league and taking stock of your current roster, or you’re just addicted to IDP and want to adjust your way-too-early 2014 rankings, here is what you need to know:
DeMarcus Ware – Along with Revis, Ware was the biggest defensive name to change teams during Free Agency. A lot of the attention paid to Ware was due to his reputation and the fact that he went to the defending AFC Champion Broncos, rather than his level of play last year. Ware’s 2013 season was injury plagued, as he missed the first three games of his 9-year career, and was banged up in others where he did suit up. He put up career-worst marks in all major stat categories, and wasn’t the force of nature that had racked up nearly 14 sacks per season prior to 2013. I don’t think the Broncos or fantasy owners can expect Ware to return to his previous heights, but he is in the position to succeed, especially in big-play leagues. Lining up opposite a hopefully healthy Von Miller should be mutually beneficial to Ware and Miller’s sack totals, as opposing teams will struggle to double team both monsters. In terms of tackles, Denver D-Linemen have been near the bottom of the league for the last few years, and I wouldn’t expect that to change even with the addition of Ware. Overall, his value remains similar to what it was heading into last season, however his production will be more sack-dependent than it was in the past.
Jared Allen – If Ware’s 2013 season was disappointing, Allen’s was just unremarkable. His overall stat line was very similar to his 2012 totals, but he did not appear to be the game-changer that his owners rely on him to be. His intra-divisional move to Da Bears is interesting, and it should provide a slight uptick in his value. Allen’s best years in Minnesota came when he was surrounded by dominant interior linemen who made it difficult for teams to double team him effectively. Chicago may not have anyone that can approach a Williams in his prime, but the addition of Lamarr Houston should help Allen get back to the 15-sack level. Teams may also be wary of running in Houston’s direction, so the tackles might be there for Allen if he can make them.
Lamarr Houston – Any time a player leaves the Raiders, it’s typically good for their value. Houston is no exception, and he’ll benefit from the presence of Jared Allen as much as Allen will benefit from Houston. Both DEs will be IDP starters next season, and their stat lines will differ primarily in how teams choose to attack them. Allen profiles more as the true pass-rusher, while Houston is one of the premiere run-stopping DEs in the game right now. I can easily see Houston keep increasing his sack total at the expense of his tackles, making him more appealing in big-play leagues than he was in Oakland, and putting both Allen and Houston in the DL8-12 range for 2014.
Michael Johnson – If you owned Johnson in a big-play league in 2013, you likely will never own him again. Coming off an 11.5 sack 2012 season, and surrounded by the beasts up front for Cincy, it looked like a year where he could get up into the upper echelon of DEs. Instead, Geno Atkins went down, and offenses keyed on Johnson, who was limited to just 3.5 sacks. Now in Tampa, Johnson is once again surrounded by what looks like an above average front four. It will be interesting to see how Lovie Smith uses Johnson in conjunction with Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, but I would expect a similar stat line for him in 2014, with his sacks getting back towards double digits.
Julius Peppers/Justin Tuck – I’m lumping these guys together because they will be in very similar situations in 2014 from an IDP perspective. If you’re in a league with IDP first-timers, they will likely recognize these names and draft them as starting DLs. Don’t fall into that trap. Both carry more value in big-play leagues, but I’m not sold on either of them finding a fountain of youth in their new locations. If I had to pick between them, I’d probably choose Peppers in big-play leagues and Tuck in more tackle-heavy, but I’d be shocked if I had either ended up on one of my teams next year.
D’Qwell Jackson – I hated this signing when it happened, and after having time to reflect, I hate it even more. Nothing against D’Qwell, but Jerrell Freeman has been my boy for the last two years, and this move does nothing but hurt IDP values. The Colts will now have two experienced MLBs roaming the middle of the field, both capable of dropping into coverage as well as rushing the passer on stunts, but neither will likely put up consistent numbers. For now I would rank both Jackson and Freeman as low-ceiling LB2s heading into 2014.
Karlos Dansby – Stepping into Jackson’s spot in Cleveland, Dansby will be an interesting player in 2014 drafts. He put up great numbers last year, but that was somewhat attributed to a career-high 4 interceptions and 2 touchdowns, as well as an insanely unsustainable 93% solo tackle percentage, all of which should regress. However, being that he’s playing in Cleveland and will turn 33 during the season, he may be underrated based on his situation. I won’t target Dansby in summer drafts, but if he falls to me in the low LB2 range, I’m pulling the trigger without hesitation.
Wesley Woodyard – Another one of my favorites heading into 2013, and one of my biggest misses, Woodyard moves from the Mile High City to Music City. The Titans LB situation is constantly changing, and last year’s top performer, Moise Fokou, likely won’t crack the starting lineup in 2014. Among the available options, I still like Woodyard the most, but this is likely a stay-away situation next year, and I would not draft any Titans LB as a starter.
Brandon Spikes – With news that 2013 rookie sensation Kiko Alonso will be sliding over to the weak side, Spikes is in an intriguing situation. He will almost certainly be a two-down player, but the Bills had faced the 5th most rushing attempts last year, which bodes well for Spikes. This move might have the biggest impact on Donta Hightower, who takes over as the undisputed MLB in New England.
Jairus Byrd – Given that the Saints started 2013 with Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and rookie Kenny Vaccaro fighting for two safety spots, it’s telling that they had to dip into free agency for 2014. While they were typically solid IDP producers, the Saints’ safeties have been sieves in pass defense. Enter Byrd, who should team with Vaccaro to create one of the most dynamic duos in the league at their position. Byrd was both injured and unhappy last year, but now that he’s happy and rich(er), he should resume his position on the DB Must Start list. He’ll lose tackles to Vaccaro, but he more than makes up for it in pass defense, so this is a great landing spot for him in big-play leagues.
T.J. Ward – Ward parlayed a Pro Bowl year in Cleveland to a big contract with Denver. Now that’s how you cash in! Ward plays like a linebacker, so he’ll maintain his tackle numbers and possible improve on them, seeing as the Broncos don’t have a true 120-tackle threat at the LB position. Denver will face a considerably higher volume of passes than Cleveland did last year, so it will be interesting to see if Ward is used more in coverage, or as yet another pass rusher to add to the Broncos’ already impressive stable.
Antoine Bethea – Nooooo! A great signing for the Niners is terrible news for Bethea’s owners. His consistency and tackling ability were two of the biggest benefits to having Bethea on your team, and those are both likely gone now that he’ll be playing behind Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and the rest of the San Fran front seven, let alone battery-mate Eric Reid. The only upside here is that Bethea will likely be given the freedom to gamble a bit more, which should lead to more big plays.
Donte Whitner – We complete the DB-shuffle with Whitner, who will replace Ward in Cleveland. I’ve never been a big fan of Whitner as a safety in coverage, but he should be able to rack up a ton of tackles and a couple of big plays in 2014. If Dansby starts to show his age, Whitner could conceivably lead the team in tackles, so I would have no problem drafting him late as my starting DB.