Free Agency: What We Saw on March 23-26, 2020
Vikings Sign Tajae Sharpe
After shipping star receiver Stefon Diggs off to the Buffalo Bills for a package of draft picks, one of Chad Beebe or Olabisi Johnson was left as the Vikings’ de facto #2 WR, which wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. Thus, rather than going out and signing any of Devin Funchess, Robby Anderson or Breshad Perriman (all of whom will be discussed later), they picked up former Titan Tajae Sharpe on a one-year deal. The 26-year-old UMass product had his best season as a pro in his rookie year of 2016, catching 41 passes for 522 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While a lack of actual production in Tennessee will turn many off (just 165 targets in 3 season, 16 more than Diggs had in 2018 alone), Sharpe has undeniable talent, with phenomenal hands that have resulted in just 4 drops as a pro, with none last season. Sharpe also had the 4th highest True Catch Rate (Receptions divided by Catchable Targets) in the NFL last season, further showing off his excellent hands and ability to make contested catches (60% contested catch rate). Combined with some metrics eerily similar to Diggs’ last season (Average Target Distance of 14.6 vs 15.0 for Diggs, 1.47 yards of separation per target vs 1.62 for Diggs), and it’s not hard to see how Sharpe could serve as a Diggs-lite of sorts for Minnesota.
I would be hesitant to trust him as much more than an upside WR3 going into 2020, considering even Diggs was only able to post a mid-WR2 season with his target share last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the 94 targets Diggs leaves behind trickle down to Kyle Rudolph and the ever-talented Irv Smith Jr., That said, the switch from offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to Gary Kubiak should mean more emphasis on the passing game (the Vikings were 30th in pass attempts last season, Kubiak has finished outside the Top 20 just thrice in 12 seasons as an OC), and perhaps Sharpe could push 100 targets. He’s definitely a name to keep an eye on in drafts, though please don’t pay a Diggs 2.0 price for him.
Jaguars Sign Tyler Eifert
I can almost guarantee there’s one word that comes to your mind when you think of Tyler Eifert. Injury. While that’s entirely fair (he played just 14 games from 2016-2018), it may surprise you to learn that Eifert played his first 16 game season in 2019. You probably didn’t realize this because, despite playing a full 16, Eifert was largely irrelevant for fantasy, finishing as the #21 TE and topping 8 points in non-PPR just once. The question now is how much of that is on Eifert, and how much is on the anemic 2019 Bengals offense? Eifert enters an interesting tight end situation in Jacksonville, where he’s likely the best tight end there immediately, but second-year tight end Josh Oliver was selected in the 3rd round of the 2019 Draft and has an intriguing mix of athleticism and receiving ability, albeit with severely lacking skills as a blocker, and he saw just 119 snaps in his rookie season. If healthy Eifert shouldn’t have much issue beating out the likes of James O’Shaughnessy though, and I’m skeptical that Oliver takes enough of a step forward in his second season to pose too much of a threat.
All that said, how much value being the starting tight end in Jacksonville is highly debatable, as the position group saw just 77 targets overall last season. That could just be because of the aforementioned lack of options at the position, or it could be indicative of their usage philosophy. Also not ideal for Eifert is the presence of D.J. Chark and Chris Conley, both big-bodied wide receivers who received plenty of looks in the red zone, with Chark, in particular, receiving more such targets than the Jags’ entire tight end group. This is especially problematic because Eifert has typically been even more touchdown-dependent for fantasy than most, with over half of his fantasy points in his two best fantasy seasons (2015 and 2016) coming from touchdowns alone. In years past Eifert would be an intriguing target for owners punting tight end, but with how much deeper the position appears going into 2020 compared to the past, there’s really not much reason to target Eifert outside of deeper leagues. Buying Eifert stock means you’re banking on:
- Him staying healthy
- The way the Jaguars target the tight end position fundamentally changing
- Gardner Minshew’s questionable ability to sustain a strong offense than can get Eifert the TD’s he needs to be relevant and that’s just a bit more risk than I’m willing to stomach when there are so many other options out there.
Jets sign Breshad Perriman
Letting Robby Anderson depart in free agency, the Jets then opted to replace their speedster with a remarkably similar player, former 1st round pick Breshad Perriman. Originally drafted in 2015, Perriman didn’t play a snap until 2016 and didn’t gain much traction in the NFL until last season, closing out 2019 with 25 catches for 506 yards and 5 TD’s in the Buccaneer’s last 5 games. This monster production, combined with his strong pedigree led to him scoring an $8M deal with New York, on a fairly low-risk one-year deal. As of right now, he’s probably the #2 WR in New York behind Jamison Crowder, though it’s likely the Jets target a wideout in a particularly deep draft class for them, which could push him further down the ladder. He has very little competition right now though for the role of primary deep threat, with Crowder far more suited for the slot and fellow underwhelming first-round receiver Josh Doctson likely not posing much of a threat.
All this considered, I have my doubts that Perriman will be able to contribute much more than Robby Anderson did in his time in New York, given his having to compete with Crowder, a potential high draft choice, Le’Veon Bell, and the surprisingly dynamic tight end duo of Chris Herndon IV and Ryan Griffin. Perriman also has his own injury history to contend with, having lost 29 games in 5 years to a variety of ailments, specifically related to his knee. Anderson did have a WR2 season back in 2017, though in the two years since has hovered in the low WR3-high WR4. If you really believe in Sam Darnold taking a big step forward this season, or if the Jets for some reason don’t draft another receiver, Perriman could be a solid late-round pick. Otherwise, though, he’s better off as a streamer for favorable matchups and will make more of a real-life impact than a fantasy one.
Packers sign Devin Funchess
One of the most contentious and fun debates of last years’ draft season was who would secure the coveted second receiver spot in Green Bay behind Davante Adams, providing huge late-round value and potentially winning leagues. Whether you planted your flag on Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, or any one of the other seemingly infinite amount of probably talented receivers in Green Bay it didn’t matter, because you were a loser. No one not named Davante topped 500 yards receiving, and the only other player to catch 5 TD’s was….. running back Jamaal Williams. By virtue of an 840 yard, 8 TD season in 2017, Funchess is the second receiver candidate this year with by far the most track record, though he’s otherwise largely underwhelmed relative to expectations. Disregarding the battle at WR, because there’s really no way for me to figure out in March who Matt LaFleur will trout out next to Adams come September, Aaron Rodgers is the big question for Funchess’ 2020 upside. Prior to 2018, the last time Aaron Rodgers had not had a season with a TD% lower than 5% since 2007 and has had two such seasons since. His yardage has declined at least somewhat since his prime as well, with his 250.1 per game being the third-lowest of his starting career, though his 277.6 in 2018 was his best since 2013. This relative decline in production (and not unrelated injury issues) has meant that he hasn’t been able to sustain two good fantasy receivers in one season like he did in his prime with various combos of Jordy/Cobb/Adams/Jennings/Jones, but we know he probably still can because he’s Aaron Freaking Rodgers. Thus, much of the risk in Funchess’ profile stems from this uncertainty.
Until we get an indication otherwise, I would assume Funchess should operate as the Packers’ #2. In this case, he has a ceiling of a WR1, with a floor probably in the WR3 range. The reality though is that the WR shuffle likely won’t be this simple. Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown are undeniably talented players coming into their third years, and they have experience in the offensive system. Even if the yardage isn’t there for Funchess though, he’s shown himself to be a red zone weapon, and a possibility that he once again pushes for 7 or 8 touchdowns, he should still at least be a solid streaming option at the very worst.
Panthers sign Robby Anderson
Still significant, though decidedly less so than their moving on from franchise quarterback Cam Newton is the Panthers signing of Robby Anderson to a 2 year, $20M contract. While the idea of a D.J. Moore-Robby Anderson-Curtis Samuel receiving duo is drool-worthy, remembering that the Panthers just made Teddy Bridgewater their starting quarterback while likely sour the idea a bit. Robby Anderson has been primarily a deep threat his entire career, having one of the highest average target depth’s in the NFL the last two seasons, Bridgewater is far from having a cannon for an arm, and is not really know for his ability in that department. This leads me to maybe believe this will be a better move for the real-life Panthers than for fantasy owners.
While it’s entirely possible Anderson can carve out a role purely on how talented of a receiver he is, Christian McCaffrey shouldn’t be losing many catches from last seasons total, and even with the loss of Greg Olsen, I doubt the Panthers will pass enough to give a proper workload to all three receivers. That said, if the rumblings that the Panthers may be looking to trade one of Samuel or Moore are true, that would be a huge boost to Anderson’s stock. Either way, I would be shocked to see him finish as more than a WR2 at absolute best, and I just can’t see him beating out his contemporaries in a meaningful enough way to be relied upon.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)