If you don’t love free agency — the rumors, speculation, and unbridled hope that comes out of it — are you even really a football fan? It’s one of my favorite times on the football calendar.
With the new league year set to kick off next week, we’ve spent this week previewing the skill position players set to hit the market, finishing up with tight ends and quarterbacks.
Unlike the lackluster running back group or exciting wide receiver crop, you’re not going to get too far deep into free agency at these two positions and find fantasy impact. So let's break these groups into some classifications that will help set realistic expectations.
The Crown Jewel
While Hunter Henry isn’t coming off his most explosive season, he was a steady presence and garnered a career-high 93 targets in 2020. Henry fits the mold that teams are looking for out of their tight spot in today’s NFL. You can line him up in the slot (16.4 routes per game in 2020) and feature him in the red zone. He handled almost 20 percent of the Chargers’ targets down there last season.
Henry can’t realistically command the type of per-year salary that George Kittle and Travis Kelce hold; those guys are just different. However, he can make a case to clear the $10.5 per year mark that Austin Hooper got in last year’s free agency run.
With teams like the Jaguars and Patriots near the league-leaders in cap space and sporting gaping holes at tight end, someone will be willing to throw cash at Henry. There are already more than enough whispers about Bill Belichick’s affection for this player and he’d be a huge help for the newly re-signed Cam Newton. Back in LA, Henry’s imminent departure will gear up the hype train for a hulking athlete in former XFL stud, Donald Parham.
Ideal second-contract buys
I’m personally much more bullish on Jonnu Smith than Gerald Everett but both of these players are good pursuits for teams. Tight end is a slow-burn position in the NFL. No one should be surprised when young, athletic specimens hit with their second team.
Smith has flashed plenty of receiving skills and has been a strong blocker. He just hasn’t been given much volume in Tennessee’s run-first offense. But he has plenty of ability and has produced. Literally, every team with a hole at tight end should make a call, especially since he doesn’t have the resume to break the bank. If he lands in the right spot, I’d be happy to rank him aggressively in fantasy.
Everett hasn’t quite popped as much as Smith and is not the same level of blocker. Still, he’s worth getting excited about if he lands in a spot where he won’t have to share TE1 duties as he did in LA with Tyler Higbee.
The Faces of Yesteryear
It seems like there’s a near-zero percent chance that Rob Gronkowski plays anywhere but Tampa Bay next season. Never say never, of course, but that seems to be the situation with Gronk and his quarterback. Expect him to head back there on another short-term deal ... and be excited about it! Gronk only brought more juice to the table as time went on last season.
Jared Cook finally started to show his age a bit last season but could still give some assistance to a contender as a pure receiver. Kyle Rudolph would provide a team more two-way ability than Cook at this stage, but might offer a bit less fantasy zeal. It would take them landing in the perfect spot for us to get crazy hyped.
Possible Hidden Gems
Mo-Alie Cox has a basketball background and a sprinkling of good games at the NFL level. He fits into the same mold as Jonnu Smith and Gerald Everett where you’re looking for him to grow with more experience on his next deal. I’d like to see him back in Indianapolis with Carson Wentz.
Arnold is essentially a lesser version, just since we’ve since less from him. He played wide receiver in college.
Just Come Save Fantasy Teams
If I was an NFL team hunting for my next multi-year answer at quarterback, I’m not kidding myself to think I’ll find him in this free agency period.
That includes Jameis Winston.
We know who he is at this point. His mistakes will always come, and they will be a back-breaker. That said, he can definitely pump up the production of an offense. Winston should be doing all he can to get back to New Orleans and compete for a starting gig on an offense that sports two all-stars in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a much more attractive option if you’re looking for a 2021 starter. He’s playing the best football of his career despite his advanced age. You’ll get some level of that juice-pumping into an offense’s production that Winston brings, without the low end of the variance scale.
Fitzpatrick would be the best quarterback Allen Robinson has ever played with in his life. Just saying, Chicago.
The 2020 season started out as a pure disaster for the Cowboys and Andy Dalton. However, once he returned from an injury and COVID absence, he did stabilize their floundering offense. He’s a perfect bridge guy but best suited as a pure backup.
Backups Who Won’t Destroy Your Outlook
In an ideal world, none of these guys would see the field in 2021. Of course, the NFL is rarely operating in that world. Taylor and Smith would be solid bridge quarterbacks who could help skill position players we care about on a team with a QB hole. But their best impact would be made preferably in mentoring and leadership roles.