In today’s article, I wanted to give a recap of the quarterback and running back free agency signings that were made during the offseason. This will be a continuation of a two part series which started with the WR/TE’s in an article that was released on April 7th. As a PSA, please be sure to check out all of our new content at ffaffair.com.
In my article titled “Landing the Free Agent RB”, I discussed the preferred landing spots that Aaron Jones, Chris Carson and Mike Davis obtained , while also bemoaning the dip in production that both Kenyan Drake and Jamaal Williams will likely see with their moves to the Raiders and Lions respectively. Today’s piece will be a wrap up of the remaining RB free agency moves, as well as a quick overview of the QB transactions that occurred.
The quarterback free agency class was extremely thin and most teams in need of a QB either addressed that need through a trade or by obtaining the next hot prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. Out of the free agents, only three QB’s landed in spots that will provide at least an opportunity to start the season under center. These three signings are: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington 1 year $10 million); Andy Dalton (Bears 1 year $10 million); and Tyrod Taylor (Texans 1 year $5.5 million). Taylor’s playing time won’t completely depend on the fate of Deshaun Watson’s impending court case, as Deshaun previously stated that he would never play for the Houston Texans again. Additionally, the Texans drafted Davis Mills with their first pick of the 2021 Draft (a third rounder), so there could be some competition in camp as well (Hopefully Tyrod doesn’t need any medical treatment this year) Fitzpatrick is extremely intriguing to me as a potential low-end QB1 with a very skilled group of playmakers. Antonio Gibson, J.D. Mckissick, Terry McLaurin, the Sims brothers (Cam and Steven) and Logan Thomas all return to the team, with Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries added in free agency, as well as Dyami Brown being added in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft. The Bears signed Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick in the draft, so the question for Dalton will be whether or not the Bears allow him to start the season and be a mentor to Fields or simply start Fields in week one. In 2020, Mitch Trubisky finished outside of the top 20 fantasy QB’s, though that was sharing the position with Nick Foles. Even if Dalton gets an opportunity to start, it is hard to envision him as anything more than a low-end QB2.
The only other free agency signings that are of interest to me are Jacoby Brissett (Dolphins 1 year $5 million) and Joe Flacco (Eagles 1 year $3.5 million). While I do not anticipate an opportunity for either Brissett or Flacco to garner playing time, they are both second string options to extremely unproven starters(Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts).
Along with the running backs mentioned above, several more landed opportunities for touches during the 2021 campaign. Leonard Fournette (1 year $3.25), James White (1 year $2.462 million) and Marlon Mack (1 year $2 million) all returned to their prior teams. Although it is hard for me to envision Mack having a role, both Fournette and White will get their fair share of snaps in 2021. It would be surprising if Fournette doesn’t get the first shot at being the Bucs’ RB1 after the team’s Super Bowl run, while White should retain his passing downs role for the Patriots. Fournette should be viewed as RB2/high-end flex, while White will be relegated to a potential flex play.
In addition to these running backs returning to their 2020 homes, several free agents signed with new teams. These transactions included: Devontae Booker (Giants 2 year $5.5 million); Carlos Hyde (Jaguars 2 year $4.5 million); Mike Boone (Broncos 2 year $3.85 million); Phillip Lindsay (Texans 1 year $3.25 million); Cordarelle Patterson (Falcons 1 year $3 million); Mark Ingram (Texans 1 year $2.5 million); James Conner (Cardinals 1 year $1.75 million); Malcolm Brown (Dolphins 1 year $1.75 million); Giovani Bernard (Bucs 1 year $1.212 million); Damien Williams (Bears 1 year $1.125 million); Tevin Coleman (Jets 1 year $1.1 million); Matt Breida (Bills 1 year $1.055 million) and Kalen Ballage (Steelers 1 year $920k).
Out of the running backs with new homes, I am leaning towards Conner and Coleman having the most stable workloads. In 2020, Chase Edmonds only had 97 carries on the season (25 in week nine when Drake missed time due to injury). In the week nine game, Edmonds had 70 yards for a 2.8 yards/carry. Edmonds only had one more game with more than eight carries (11 vs Eagles in week 15). If Conner can stay healthy (a big if), he will likely have a legitimate shot for 10 plus carries/game. With Frank Gore still a free agent, Coleman’s primary competition for carries will be Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine, and newly acquired Michael Carter. I could possibly see Coleman getting around 15 carries/game.
While it is possible some of the balance of these running backs carve out a role for themselves, it will be unlikely to see them emerge as anything more than potential flex plays. Taking a dart throw, I would most closely monitor the Texans and Bills’ backfields for possible best opportunities for touches. David Johnson (147 carries for 691 yards) is the incumbent for the Texans, but both Ingram and Lindsay should compete for the Texans’ RB2 slot. Breida joins a crowded running back room for the Bills. In 2020, Zack Moss had 112 carries for 481 yards(4.3 YPC) and Devin Singletary had 156 carries for 687 yards(4.4 YPC). The duo combined for 52 catches on the season and I could easily see Breida (76 catches during his four year career) getting playing time in passing downs situations.
So there you have it-the 2021 free agency quarterback/running back recap. For those that prefer to draft one stud rb and then concentrate on WR/TE, murky backfield situations often provide an opportunity for low-end RB2/flex options. I changed to this philosophy, when available, in my “league of record” and I have made the playoffs in consecutive years in a highly competitive league.