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FR: Preseason suspensions

Each year, we compile a list of players who will be suspended going into Week One and compare the importance of those suspensions. We’ll do this using our Football Relativity scale, with the 10 level holding the most significant suspension and the 1 level marking the least significant. We’ll start a new post once the season starts.

10 – Vikings DT Kevin Williams and Saints DE Will Smith (2 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – For three years, the StarCaps case lingered over four players. It lingered so long that two of them – NT Pat Williams and DE Charles Grant – aren’t even in the league right now. But the league finally settled and gave the Williams Wall, Smith, and Grant two-game suspensions with additional fines of two game checks. That’s a blow to both the Vikings and Saints, who lose top DL starters, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.

9 – none

8 – Bengals OG Bobbie Williams (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Williams, who had started all but 3 games at right guard for the Bengals over the last seven years, has become one of the league’s better run-blocking guards. But he will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension. It’s a huge blow to the Bengals, who lack consistency on the offensive line around Williams.

7 – none

6 – none

5 – Redskins CB Phillip Buchanan (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Buchanon, who re-signed with the Redskins this offseason, will be benched for four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. He started five games last year and played all 16. The Redskins will likely rely on him as their third corner, so given that important role he’s a loss for the first quarter of the season.

4 – Titans FB Ahmard Hall (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Hall, the Titans’ starting fullback, said he failed a test for performance enhancers because of a medicine he took to remain awake. Regardless, he will miss the first quarter of the season. The suspension didn’t just cost the Titans Hall; it also cost them a draft pick, since they traded for Quinn Johnson to replace him. It’ll be interesting to see if Hall can overtake Johnson and seize his job back once he returns.

3 – Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor (5 games) – In a controversial suspension, Pryor entered the supplemental draft with the knowledge that his college suspension of five games would be carried over to the NFL. It certainly impedes Pryor’s development, since he is raw and missed most of training camp, but it was the deal he had to make to get into the NFL in 2011. (Pryor is appealing, so the suspension could be reduced.)

2 – none

1 – Ravens WR David Reed (1 game for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Reed, a second-year player who is the Ravens’ primary kickoff returner, drew a one-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. He’ll miss the opener against the Steelers, which is a blow to the Ravens in a key rivalry game.

We did not include the following unsigned players in the comparison: LB Eric Alexander (four games), LB Eric Barton (four games), OT Robert Brewster (four games), LB Vinny Ciurciu (four games), LB Harry Coleman (one game), LB Brandon Lang (four games), FB Reagan Maui’a (three games), RB Dominic Rhodes (at least one year)

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Wild-card Saturday thoughts

Let’s reflect on a upset-filled Saturday of wild-card games to open the NFL playoffs.

Seahawks 41, Saints 36
*Matt Hasselbeck isn’t an elite quarterback, especially not at this point in his career, but he showed Saturday that he can still get incredibly hot and carry a team. His four-TD performance featured some beautiful deep throws to Brandon Stokley, Mike Williams, and Cameron Morrah, and he only turned the ball over once against a Saints defense that will give up yards for turnover opportunities. That performance allowed the Seahawks to overcome a 10-point deficit and build a lead.
*Once the Seahawks built a lead, Marshawn Lynch put the game away with an incredible 67-yard touchdown run on which he broke six tackles and eluded a couple others. That run showed Lynch at his best, after a career in which he was good, not great, in Buffalo, and simply mediocre for the Seahawks. But Lynch showed up incredibly at a crucial time with this run.
*Raheem Brock came up big for the Seahawks again. His solid season turned into a good one with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Rams in a win-or-else Week 17 game, and Brock showed up big again with a sack and a forced fumble to help the Seahawks turn the game around in the second quarter.
*S Roman Harper was the goat for the Saints. He got suckered on two big plays, John Carlson’s second TD catch and on Stokley’s big TD catch. He’s not the only defensive player who struggled, but he didn’t help the cause.
*The Saints’ inability to run the ball effectively really stung them in this game. Julius Jones had 59 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had a key fumble and didn’t make yards that weren’t blocked for him. Missing Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, among others, came back to bite the Saints.
*I’m so glad that we got Mike Mayock as the color analyst for the game instead of blowhard Joe Theismann, who butchered the Jets/Bengals playoff game last year. Mayock isn’t flashy, but he sees the game well and stays away from the grand pronouncements that Theismann makes whether or not they’re true. Now that Mayock, who is the NFL Network draft expert, does Notre Dame games on NBC, the Peacock network actually has a great option for a No. 2 team that they don’t need at any time all year. And for that, we are thankful.

Nick Folk celebrates his game-winning field goal

Jets 17, Saints 16
*The key to this game kind of flew under the radar, but it happened on two third-down plays in the second half. Peyton Manning made the “right” decision at the line, based on the defense, by calling running plays, but Dominic Rhodes was stuffed on a third-and-1 and a third-and-7. As a result, the Colts got two field goals and trailed 14-13 instead of getting a touchdown in either spot. Manning is significantly better than either Rhodes or Joseph Addai, and we believe Manning should have taken the game into his own hands on at least one of those plays, instead of simply making the “right” play call.
*The Jets have to be encouraged by their running game, which controlled the ball throughout the second half. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and Shonn Greene ran for 70 yards. The Jets’ running game isn’t as unstoppable as it was in last year’s playoffs, and the Colts’ defense is so banged up and inexperience at linebacker that the Jets should have gouged it, but the trend is still a huge plus for Gang Green.
*Antonio Cromartie could have been the goat for the Jets, after giving up a long touchdown play to Pierre Garcon along with several other big catches, but his two kickoff returns in the second half were monstrous. His 41-yard return to start the second half helped to set up the Jets’ first touchdown, and his 47-yard return in the game’s final minute keyed the drive for the game-winning field goal.
*The Colts were not that talented in this game, after losing key skill-position players and a raft of secondary players. The question is whether the Colts can add talent and, as importantly, depth in time to rally in 2011. If not, we could be seeing the denouement of a great decade in Indianapolis.

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Pick ‘Em – Wild-card round

As we get to the playoffs, we won’t just make our picks – we’ll engage in a little preja vu by talking about how we expect games to go and by predicting final scores for each playoff game. We also have a few bonus college picks below.

Pierre Garcon vs. the Jets in last year's AFC title game

New Orleans at Seattle – As the first losing team to enter the playoffs, the 7-9 Seahawks are massive underdogs against the Saints, and with good reason. Seattle’s offense is pretty punchless – only 14 passing touchdowns all year, and not much of a running game despite the addition of Marshawn Lynch at midseason. Seattle’s big win against San Diego was a direct result of two Leon Washington return touchdowns, and it was only at Chicago that Seattle’s offense showed enough punch to beat a good team. The fact that Matt Hasselbeck may miss the game only makes that worse, because it’s hard to imagine Charlie Whitehurst playing acceptably as he did last week. Defensively, the Seahawks have shown a propensity to fall apart, which is why each and every one of their losses was by two touchdowns or more. So Seattle comes by its losing record honestly, and it’s far easier to foresee them with another double-digit loss to New Orleans, despite having home field advantage and a vocal 12th man. The Saints aren’t the powerhouse they were last year, because Drew Brees has been a bit more turnover prone and the defense has been less prone to cause those key turnovers. But Brees and the Saints D are still very good. The big question mark for the Saints is the running game, especially now that both Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are out for the playoffs. That lack of a running game may cost the Saints, but not in round one. Seattle’s 10th loss will fit its season-long pattern of big-time deficits. Pick: New Orleans 28, Seattle 10

N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis – The Colts looked incredibly fallible just a month ago, but as their running game got healthy with the return of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown and the renaissance of Dominic Rhodes, and as the defense got key LBs Gary Brackett and Clint Session back, the reports of the Colts’ demise now seem at least a bit premature. This is still not a classic Colts team – they’re missing too many players like Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Jerraud Powers, Melvin Bullitt, and of course Bob Sanders. But Peyton Manning still has dangerous weapons in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, while Jacob Tamme and Blair White have become reliable performers. That should allow Manning to pick apart the Jets’ defense, which has not been nearly as dominant in 2010 as it was in 2009. The Jets must blitz to create pressure, and few quarterbacks are better than Manning at picking apart the blitz. In that matchup, we favor the Colts. On the other side of the ball, the Jets’ offense has sputtered lately. While the Jets have a higher-flying passing game than last year thanks largely to Santonio Holmes, who has a terrific playoff pedigree, the running game behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene has been too ordinary. The Colts aren’t the biggest defense, but they are good enough to quell the 2010 version of the Jets’ running game. So the game will hinge on whether Mark Sanchez can make enough big passing plays to keep up with Manning. And while Sanchez has been OK in big spots in his young career, he can’t keep up with Manning in this matchup. The Colts won this matchup in last year’s playoffs, and this year the result will be similar. Pick: Indianapolis 30, N.Y. Jets 20

 

Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick

 

Baltimore at Kansas City – The Ravens are a dangerous team, because they have so many good pieces. Ray Rice is one of the league’s best running backs, both carrying and catching the ball, and he’s capable of carrying an offense by himself. But often, he doesn’t have to, because Joe Flacco finds veteran targets Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Todd Heap. And on defense, the Ravens can pressure the quarterback with Terrell Suggs, stop the run with Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis, and force turnovers with Ed Reed. But the Ravens have been vulnerable to the pass all season, and that’s where Sunday’s matchup gets interesting. The Chiefs have a surprisingly good passing game, thanks to stud wideout Dwayne Bowe and QB Matt Cassel, who made fewer critical errors than any quarterback not named Tom Brady this year. Our sense is that Bowe will burn the Ravens’ secondary for one or two big plays this week. If that happens early, the Chiefs can ride their running game with reliable Thomas Jones and the explosive Jamaal Charles to build on a lead. Defensively, the Chiefs have an elite rusher in Tamba Hali, and Brandon Flowers has emerged as a top-tier quarterback. The rest of the secondary, however, has shown holes at times, as has the run defense. The Chiefs also have a strong home-field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium, although Flacco has a surprising number of road playoff wins on his resume at this point in his fledgling career. Baltimore will score in this game, but we believe the Chiefs will get enough big plays from Bowe and Charles to outscore Baltimore and get their first playoff win in 17 years in an upset. Pick: Kansas City 28, Baltimore 24

Green Bay at Philadelphia – This strikes us as the most back-and-forth game of the weekend. The Eagles are incredibly explosive, thanks to QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, and WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They’re more likely than any of the other 12 playoff teams to produce an 80-yard offensive touchdown, and we could see one this week. But Philly’s defense has not been good of late. Picture the 31 points the Giants put up on Philly, and then imagine Aaron Rodgers picking apart a pass defense that has really struggled this year. The Eagles have traditionally been a high-pressure team, but their pass rush is not what it has been in the past. Trent Cole has 10 sacks, but only one other Eagle (Juqua Parker) has more than four. That should mean that Rodgers picks apart the Eagles’ D. While that’s the biggest problem for the Eagles, Green Bay’s biggest issue is its running game, which has been punchless since Ryan Grant’s Week One injury against these same Eagles. But even if the Eagles tee off on Rodgers, we don’t see them holding up against Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver and company. On the other side, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and the Green Bay defense should have more success against Vick and company. It might be a shootout, but Rodgers and the Pack will come out on top. Pick: Green Bay 27, Philadelphia 26

NCAA picks
Cotton Bowl: LSU -1.5 vs. Texas A&M
BCS Championship: Auburn -3 vs. Oregon

Last week: 8-4 college, 2-2 pro, 10-6 overall
Season: 54-62-2 college, 55-62-5 pro, 109-124-7

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud Week 16

Each week, we sort through the box scores to determine what fantasy football performances we should applaud, and which are merely frauds. As always, we’ll give more details about what each verdict means as we break it down. Now that we’re at the end of the seasons, we’re only noting players who have a chance of starting in a Week 17 championship game or who emerged out of nowhere in Week 16.

Tim Tebow

Quarterbacks

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – Freeman has emerged as a fantasy starter this year, and if you hadn’t noticed, Sunday’s five-TD performance against the Seahawks should have turned your head. He’s a top-10 fantasy quarterback both this year and next. Verdict: Applaud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer has had a solid fantasy season even though his on-field performance has been awful. But Sunday against the Chargers, he was truly good, throwing for 269 yards and four touchdowns while completing 16-of-21 passes. The fact that he put up such good numbers without Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens was surprising, but the truth is that the Bengals are on their way to another late-season rush that means nothing. So if you want to ride Palmer next week against Baltimore, go ahead. Verdict: Applaud

Stephen McGee, Cowboys – McGee was pressed into action when Jon Kitna was injured on Christmas night, and he performed fairly well with 111 yards on 11-of-17 passing and one touchdown without an interception. If Kitna misses Week 17, McGee qualifies as a desperation play in two-QB or incredibly deep leagues because of Dallas’ strong receiving corps. We could see a two-TD game out of him as a starter. Verdict: Applaud

Tim Tebow, Broncos – In his first home start, Tebow ran for a touchdown (his fifth of the season) and threw for one. But the surprising stat was that he was able to shred the Texans’ admittedly sorry pass defense for 308 yards. Because of his rushing threat, Tebow is a startable fantasy player right now. His value is pinned to getting that rushing touchdown, but if you’re desperate, Tebow the Hero is an option. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber had missed three games before returning on Christmas with a 58-yard game that included a touchdown. Barber still falls behind Felix Jones on the carries list in Dallas, but Marion the Barbarian is more likely to find the end zone than Jones. His return makes Tashard Choice irrelevant in fantasy terms, but that doesn’t mean we can trust Barber as a starter against the Eagles next week. Verdict: A fraud

Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Filling in for Knowshon Moreno, Buckhalter had both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. If Moreno is out next week, Buckhalter becomes a flex option, albeit one with some risk. Verdict: Applaud

Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets – Both Greene and Tomlinson scored touchdowns against the Bears. It was Greene’s second touchdown of the season (first since Week 5) and Tomlinson’s first rushing TD since Week 6. We noted a few weeks ago that Tomlinson has really been slowing down, and with the Jets clinching a playoff spot this week, you’d have to figure he gets a break next week vs. the Bills. Greene, meanwhile, had 70 rushing yards against the Bears and could be coming on. We’d much rather play Greene than Tomlinson next week, but it could be that the Jets give Joe McKnight a look to protect both guys. Avoid both next week. Verdict: A fraud for both

Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, Colts – The Colts brought Rhodes back off the UFL scrap heap two weeks ago, and this week Addai returned from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for more than a month. Those two returns have made Donald Brown irrelevant for fantasy owners, and while Addai scored a touchdown against the Raiders, Rhodes was the leading rusher with 98 yards on 17 carries. It’s impossible to tell how this will play out next week, which means you can’t start any of them. But Rhodes is worth a claim if he’s available in your league, because he could qualify as a desperation play. Verdict: A fraud for Addai, Applaud for Rhodes

Wide receivers

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt was having a huge season until a Week 8 injury sidelined him for nearly five games. But since his return, Britt has had four catches in every game, and he followed up Week 15’s 128-yard performance with a four-catch, 89-yard game with a touchdown against the Chiefs. Despite the Titans’ lethargic play, Britt is a must-start guy right now. Verdict: Applaud

Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Crabtree has had a disappointing season, garnering more than 61 receiving yards in just one game before his 122-yard performance against the Rams Sunday. Crabtree has talent, but the Smiths (Troy and Alex) at quarterback aren’t great, and so relying on him in any given week is just too much of a crapshoot. Verdict: A fraud

Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox has emerged as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver this year, and he’s nearly over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. More importantly for fantasy owners, Knox scored two long touchdowns against the Jets, giving him five on the season. Four of those five have come in the last five games, which means Knox has reached must-start status next week against Green Bay. And don’t worry about weather – Jay Cutler has thrown well in bad weather against the Vikings and Jets the last couple of weeks. Verdict: Applaud

Jordy Nelson, Packers – Nelson rode an 80-yard touchdown catch to a big day against the Giants. But you can’t rely on him to repeat his 124-yard performance, because he clearly falls behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones in the pecking order. Verdict: A fraud

Andre Roberts, Cardinals – Roberts, a rookie out of The Citadel, had just 15 catches on the season before his five-catch, 122-yard breakout against the Cowboys that included a 74-yard touchdown. But somehow, Roberts went off while Larry Fitzgerald had just one catch and Steve Breaston and Early Doucet had none. That has all the looks of a one-week fluke that fantasy owners should ignore. Verdict: A fraud

Jerome Simpson, Bengals – With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco out, Simpson broke out with a six-catch, 124-yard day against the Chargers that included two touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Simpson and Jordan Shipley are featured again next week as the Bengals figure out whether they can move on from the diva receivas in 2011. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Jared Cook, Titans – Cook, the Titans’ No. 2 tight end, had 96 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. The Titans seem to want to get a better look at Cook and Craig Stevens right now, but Bo Scaife is healthy, which means you can’t rely on any of the Tennessee tight ends. Verdict: A fraud

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Haynesworth suspended, plus other Week 14 transactions

Each week we share insights, analysis, and opinions of the week’s transactions. To see previous posts, click this link and start working back.

The big move of the week was the Redskins’ suspension of DT Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth famously signed a contract potentially worth $100 million before the 2009 season and cashed a $21 million bonus check before this season before clashing with head coach Mike Shanahan over playing in a 3-4 defense instead of his preferred 4-3. The situation festered throughout the season, with Haynesworth’s conditioning, commitment, and preparation constantly questioned as he played in eight of the first 12 games with just 2.5 sacks. In moments, like the Chicago game, Haynesworth was dominant, but he was largely an afterthought. Finally, the Redskins had enough and suspended Haynesworth for the last four games of the season. We don’t absolve Shanahan in this situation, but Haynesworth’s petulence certainly led to an embarrassing end to his Redskins season, both for him and the team.

(And you can compare the Haynesworth suspension to others during the 2010 season in this post.)

In other moves…

Cowboys (put WR Dez Bryant on IR) – Bryant has had a standout rookie season, with six receiving TDs and two more scores on punt returns, but a knee injury sidelines him after 12 games.

Colts (put CB Jerraud Powers and S Bob Sanders on IR; add RB Dominic Rhodes) – The Colts’ injury problems in the secondary continued as they gave up the ghost on 2010 contributions from Sanders, who is trying to return from a biceps injury, and Powers was knocked out for the season as well. They brought back stalwart Rhodes, who played in the UFL this season, to help fill in for equally prolific RB injuries.

Buccaneers (put CB Aqib Talib and C Jeff Faine on IR; add C Donovan Raiola) – The Buccaneers lost two key contributors in Talib, who was emerging as one of the league’s best corners, and Faine, a quality pivot. Both are major losses as the Bucs push for the playoffs. They brought in Raiola, who has been with six NFL teams but has yet to play in an NFL game.

Saints (add LB Kawika Mitchell) – Mitchell, an eight-year veteran who has not played in 2010, joins the Saints to provide a late-season infusion. If he’s healthy, Mitchell is good enough to be an acceptable starter.

Lions (add OT Tony Ugoh) – Ugoh, who was once a starter for the Colts, joined the Lions. The former second-round pick has started 24 NFL games.

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Training Camp Moves – Last week

This post is a compilation of additions NFL teams made during the fourth full week of camps. The timetable for this post opens on September 4 and continues through the regular-season opener on September 10. You can read a summary of the first week of training camp moves here; the second week moves here; the third week moves here; the fourth week of moves here; the fifth week of moves here; and the sixth week of moves here. Because moves will be coming fast and furious throughout training camp, we’re going to use quick analysis of moves each week during this time instead of creating a massive Football Relativity comparison.

Additions

Raiders (add DE Richard Seymour) – There are plenty of thoughts on the trade for Seymour in this post.

Broncos (add DE Vonnie Holliday) – Holliday, a 12-year veteran who played for Miami the last four years, signed to provide solid DL play for Denver and its new 3-4 defense. Holliday is a solid player who can anchor against the run but won’t provide much pass rush. Still, he’ll be an asset because he fits the new defense much better than most of the returning personnel in Denver does.

Seahawks (add S Lawyer Milloy) – Milloy, the long-time Patriot who played for Atlanta most recently, returns to his hometown to play for the Seahawks. He has basically been a full-time starter for 13 years in the NFL now, but he’ll have to beat out Jordan Babineaux for the free safety job in Seattle. Still, at the least he’ll provide pressure that makes Babineaux better, and his veteran influence will be an asset as well.

Jaguars (add OG Kynan Forney and S Brian Russell) – Given the massive offensive line injuries that doomed their season last year, it makes sense for them to add a veteran like Forney for insurance. Forney has started before, but he fits better as a backup in Jacksonville. Russell isn’t great, but he can play corner or safety at an average level, which makes him a solid backup.

49ers (add OT Tony Pashos) – Pashos was sent to the bench in Jacksonville by the additions of Tra Thomas, Eben Britton, and Eugene Monroe, and he chose to be released instead of taking a pay cut. He landed in San Francisco, where he’ll have a chance to start at right tackle after Marvel Smith retired during training camp.

Patriots (add OG Kendall Simmons) – Simmons, a long-time Steeler, provides depth for New England’s interior line. He basically replaces Russ Hochstein, who was traded for Denver for a draft pick, on the roster.

Eagles (add TE Alex Smith) – The Eagles let veteran L.J. Smith leave as a free agent in the offseason, so it makes sense that they grabbed Alex Smith after he was cut by the Patriots. Alex Smith is a good pass rusher who provides a nice complement and insurance policy behind new starter Brent Celek.

Falcons (add CB Brian Williams) – Atlanta has spent much of training camp looking for secondary help. They traded for CB Tye Hill and then signed Williams, a veteran who has good size but not great speed. If one of these two shots pays off for the Falcons, they’ll be very happy because they’ve met a real need.

Vikings (add WR Greg Lewis) – Lewis is an inconsistent deep threat who lost out to Joey Galloway for a roster spot in New England after going there in a trade from Philly. But Minnesota thought that Lewis’ deep speed was a better fit for them than the possession game of Bobby Wade, whom the team released. Lewis is ideal as a No. 4 receiver and can be a No. 3, because he’s capable of making huge plays but also capable of dropping his share of balls and then some.

Cardinals (add OG Jeremy Bridges) – Arizona cut Elton Brown and replaced him with Bridges, who is a good interior player who has had trouble staying out of trouble off the field. Still, he provides a nice backup if he behaves.

Jets (add TE Ben Hartsock) – Hartsock, the Falcons’ starting tight end last year, lost his spot in the ATL to Tony Gonzalez. He now moves to New York, where he will be the No. 2 tight end behind Dustin Keller. The Jets have been shuffling tight ends all offseason looking for stability in that spot, so Hartsock is a good find for them.

Subtractions

Raiders (cut QB Jeff Garcia) – Oakland signed Garcia to be its backup QB, which was a bad idea because Garcia has always refused to accept a backup role. That became obvious to Oakland, and Garcia’s performance wasn’t good enough to make them overlook his personality. This release will end up benefiting JaMarcus Russell in the end.

Bills (cut OT Langston Walker and RB Dominic Rhodes) – The Bills have had a lot of offensive upheaval late in training camp, and it continued in making the roster. Walker was starting at right tackle, but he’s not in good shape, and the Bills decided to go with rookie Demetrius Bell instead. Rhodes was slated to be the Bills’ backup running back in the first three weeks with Marshawn Lynch suspended, but he didn’t perform well enough to merit a roster spot.

Rams (cut LB Chris Draft) – Draft was expected to be a starter at outside linebacker for the Rams this year, but the Rams released him right before the season in what looks like a move to keep his salary from becoming guaranteed. Draft is a solid linebacker who is the definition of average. He has proven that he won’t hurt a team, but he won’t make many big plays either. Don’t be surprised if the Rams try to bring him back after Week One, but Draft may choose to move to a better team as a backup or injury fill-in.

Giants (cut WR David Tyree) – Tyree, one of the big heroes of the Giants’ Super Bowl 42 win, was released after he fell behind New York’s cadre of young receivers (like Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, and Ramses Barden). Tyree missed the entire season last year with injury, and so he might not be healthy enough to be a big contributor anywhere else. But he’s a veteran and a good special-teams player, so he could end up being a nice midseason addition somewhere before long.

Vikings (cut WR Bobby Wade) – Wade had 50 catches in each of the last two years in Minnesota, but with Sidney Rice healthy and Bernard Berrian arrived, Wade became too expensive for his production. He was cut just before the season because his salary would have been guaranteed for the year on Sunday. He’s good enough to play elsewhere, but it won’t be for anything near the money he was slated to make in Minny this year.

Packers (cut QB Brian Brohm) – Brohm was a second-round pick just two years ago, but his performance has been so bad that he was beaten out for the backup job by Matt Flynn, just a seventh-round pick that same year, and then was cut. He cleared waivers and landed on the practice squad, which means no other team thought he was worth a flier. That’s a huge fall for a guy once considered a nice prospect.

Patriots (cut QB Andrew Walter) – Walter, the former Raider, came over to New England early in training camp, and it looked as if he would be the No. 2 QB there after the Pats cut ’08 draft pick Kevin O’Connell. But Walter too was beaten out by undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, who seized the backup job and played well enough that New England will keep just two QBs to start the season.

Eagles (cut QB A.J. Feeley) – The ultimate loser in the Michael Vick experiment in Philly was Feeley, who has proven he can be a solid backup but got caught in a roster crunch. He should land elsewhere as a No. 2 quarterback at some point, because he’s better than many teams’ backups.

Chiefs (cut S Bernard Pollard, C Eric Ghiaciuc, OT Damion McIntosh, and CB Travis Daniels) – Pollard started all year last year, famously hitting Tom Brady’s knee in the first game, but he lost his starting job to Mike Brown and eventually lost his roster spot. Ghiaciuc came over from Cincinnati to compete for the Chiefs’ starting center job, but he obviously didn’t get the job done. McIntosh is a nine-year vet who started 31 games for the Chiefs the last two years, but he too lost not only his starting gig but his job with K.C.’s new regime. Daniels, a former Dolphin who played for Cleveland last year, couldn’t hook on to continue his career.

Titans (cut WR-RS Mark Jones) – Jones had a good year in Carolina as a return specialist last year, and Tennessee gave him a small signing bonus to fill the same role there this year. But Jones can’t really play elsewhere, and the Titans decided to let rookie Kenny Britt contribute on returns, which made Jones expendable. He’ll end up somewhere else, at least for a look, given his ’08 success.

Bears (cut CB Rod Hood) – Hood, cut by Cleveland just days ago, latched on in Chicago but didn’t look good enough there to stick around. He could still get another look during the season, but being released multiple times must be a shock after starting for a Super Bowl team last year.

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FR: 2009 Suspensions

As the season approaches, we thought it would be worth a look at the various suspensions players face to begin the 2009 system. So we’re using Football Relativity to compare the impact of these suspensions on their various teams. Note that this comparison doesn’t attempt to contrast the reasons behind suspensions; the only factor we’re considering in this comparison is how each player’s absence will affect his team or his own career. 10 is the most significant suspension; 1 is the least significant.

Note: The suspensions of Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Saints DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith, and Lions DT Grady Jackson are still pending. This “StarCaps” case is going through the court system, and there’s enough delay that all parties involved will be eligible to play in Week One.

10 – WR Plaxico Burress (2 years for violating personal conduct policy) – Burress’ biggest problem is obviously the jail term he is serving for criminal possession of a weapon, but he is ineligible to play in the NFL until after he serves his two-year sentence. That will knock him out of the NFL for the ’09 and ’10 seasons, and it could mark the end of his career given his age and the layoff he’s facing.

9 – Browns WR Donte Stallworth (1 year for violating personal conduct policy) – Stallworth was sentenced to less than a month in jail, but commissioner Goodell ruled that he would have to sit out the entire 2009 season. He is still under contract with the Browns, at least for now, which makes a move to the UFL for the season impossible. So Stallworth will have to sit. He’s still an NFL-caliber receiver, and even a starting-caliber guy, so his return in 2010 will bring some fanfare. But for now, Stallworth continues to pay for his huge mistake.

8 – Jets LB Calvin Pace (4 games for use of banned substance) – Pace, one of the Jets’ high-dollar acquisitions in 2008, said he accidentally took a tainted supplement that caused him to test positive for a performance-enhancer. Regardless of the unoriginality (or truthfulness) of his alibi, Pace’s absence will hurt the Jets. Pace has 13.5 sacks over the past two years in Arizona and New York, and he was a good fit as a pass-rushing OLB in the Jets’ 3-4 last year. As the Jets move to Rex Ryan’s system this year, the aggressiveness of the defense will be dialed up, which will play to Pace’s strengths once he hits the field. In his absence, the Jets are going to need pass rush to come from somewhere. Former first-round pick Vernon Gholston is the most likely candidate, but he just didn’t get it as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jets’ D can thrive without Pace, because this looks like a pretty significant loss.

7 – Buccaneers S Tanard Jackson (4 games for violating substance abuse policy) – Jackson isn’t a household name, but he has started every game in both of his first two seasons in Tampa, and he’s becoming the type of playmaking safety that teams covet. So losing Jackson – especially on a defense that has already lost so many veterans – will make the Bucs’ defensive transition even more difficult. This is a huge blow to the Bucs’ hopes of getting off to a good start.

7 (con’t) – Bills RB Marshawn Lynch (3 games for violating personal conduct policy) – Lynch’s litany of off-field issues got him noticed by Roger Goodell, and he’s now serving a three-game suspension for that collection of misdeeds and mistakes. Lynch is a solid if unspectacular back who has more than 1,000 rushing yards in both of his first two seasons. But the Bills have Fred Jackson, another good back, in reserve, and Jackson’s good enough to carry most of the load through September. The real question for Buffalo is whether import Dominic Rhodes can be the kind of backup to Jackson that Jackson normally is to Lynch. I doubt that will happen, but the net effect won’t cost the Bills all that much because of Jackson’s ability.

6 – QB Michael Vick, Eagles (2 games for violating personal conduct policy) – We now know that Vick will be able to return to the NFL field after two games in 2009. The question is whether this penalty is enough to make sure that Vick is no more than a specialty player in the NFL in 2009. The Eagles have ideas on how to use him, but they don’t want to build their offense around a player who has missed two years before missing two games more in ’09. It’ll be interesting to see how Vick adjusts once he returns to the field.

5 – DE Shaun Ellis, Jets (1 game for violating substances and abuse policy) – Ellis, who was benched by the league and fined $100,000 as a result of a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession, will only miss one game, but it’s a significant one for the Jets. That’s because Pace, another member of the Jets’ front seven, is also sidelined for the game. That makes two big chunks out of the Jets’ defense, which will make beating the offensively prolific Texans on the road an even taller task.

4 — PK Garrett Hartley, Saints (4 games for use of banned substance) – Hartley admitted taking Adderall to try to stay awake, saying he wasn’t aware it was forbidden by the NFL. The Saints signed John Carney to fill in for Hartley, and that could be trouble for him, because Carney filled in for Lawrence Tynes with the Giants to begin last year, never gave up the job, and ended up making the Pro Bowl. So Hartley’s job is now in jeopardy because of this suspension.

4 (con’t) – DT Shaun Smith (4 games for use of banned substance) – Smith says he used a water pill, which is banned under the league’s anabolic steroids policy because it can be used as a masking agent. He was with Cleveland last year and with Detroit in training camp, but the Lions cut him just before the season. Smith will hook on elsewhere, because he can be a quality backup defensive tackle or even an average starter, but this suspension will seriously inhibit his market value and keep him from finding a new home quickly.

3 – LB Michael Boley, Giants (1 game for violating personal conduct policy) – Boley, whom the Giants signed from the Falcons in the offseason, will miss a single game. The Giants (and every other team) knew that a suspension was in the offing for Boley when he hit the free agent market, so the fact that this isn’t a surprise should limit its impact. Boley will be a starter, but he’s not so dominant that his absence will upset the Giants’ plans in the opener against the Redskins.

3 (con’t) – Colts DT Ed Johnson (1 game for violating substance-abuse policy) – The Colts cut Johnson last year after he was arrested for drug possession. They re-signed him this offseason because of their glaring need for massive defensive tackles, but Johnson still must sit out for one game with a league suspension. Johnson didn’t play at all in ’08, but he started every game for the Colts in ’07 and should be a contributor to the team’s DT rotation this year. Missing him in the opener against the Jaguars will hurt.

2 – Cardinals TE Ben Patrick (4 games for use of banned substance) – Patrick said he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive. He wasn’t slated to start in Arizona, but with Steven Spach likely out part of the year after a postseason knee injury, Patrick still had a chance to establish a role as the Cardinals’ primary blocking tight end.

1 – WR Reggie Williams (2 games for violating substances and abuse policy) – Williams, a former first-round pick by the Jaguars who was the team’s best receiver in ’07 and was a contributor in ’08, was arrested earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That has severely limited his free-agent value, which wasn’t strong to begin with. While unsigned, he’ll be serving a two-game suspension, and he’ll have to be reinstated by the commissioner before he can return to the field.

1 (con’t) – DE Erasmus James (1 year for violation of substance-abuse policy) – James, a former Vikings’ first-round pick, has been out of the league since playing for the Redskins in 2007. His career was near its end anyway, and this suspension completely closes the door.

1 (con’t) – S Jimmy Williams (1 year for repeat violation of substance-abuse policy) – Williams, who was once a second-round pick in Atlanta, busted out there and then was cut by the 49ers after the 2008 season. This suspension could be the final nail in the coffin for his career, despite the potential he once showed.

1 (con’t) – LB Vince Redd, 4 games – Redd, who played for New England last year, was cut just before reports of his four-game suspension began to emerge. The Chiefs decided that such a bubble player wasn’t worth the wait and cut him.

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Fantasy Football: Old running backs

As we continue our fantasy football coverage, we wanted to put the microscope on some of the older running backs available. Several long-time fantasy stalwarts either turned 30 before the season or will do so during the season. We’re going to compare these 30-plus backs via a Football Relativity poll, with 10 being the best of these backs and 1 being the fantasy irrelevants. We’ll make notes throughout the poll of how these levels compare on a full fantasy draft board.

One other note: We’ve covered some of these backs in former posts. For those backs, we have compared them on the scale and linked to what we’ve written about them previously. You can read all of our fantasy football coverage by going through the category listing for the blog.

10 – LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers (age 30) – We discussed Tomlinson in this post on potential first-round running backs.

9 – Brian Westbrook, Eagles (age 30) – We discussed Westbrook in this post on potential first-round running backs.

*The players above this level are potential first-round picks and No. 1 running backs

8 – Thomas Jones, Jets (age 31) – Jones didn’t have more than 627 yards rushing in any of his first four seasons of the league, but he has been over 900 years since, including four straight years of at least 1,100 yards. Last year, he was a huge fantasy factor, rushing for 1,300 yards and scoring 15 total touchdowns. Jones did this even with Leon Washington around as a triple threat who took away some carries. The Jets will likely rely on Jones heavily again this season, given the fact that the Jets appear to be going with rookie Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback. New York also drafted Shonn Greene, but the rookie from Iowa will likely be more of a factor in 2010 and beyond than this year. Washington and Jones both had some contractual issues this year, so Greene might have been an insurance policy against a holdout. Regardless, that leaves Jones as a tremendously reliable No. 2 running back in most leagues whom you can count on for 1,100 yards and at least 7 touchdowns as well. He’s just getting better with age.

7 – Larry Johnson, Chiefs (turns 30 in November) – I was down on Johnson last year, and he’s still a guy I’m a little hesitant on. But Johnson, despite missing four games last year, had 874 rushing yards and five touchdowns, which projects out to quality numbers for a No. 2 running back. Johnson is no longer a fantasy stud, but he’s still a factor. He’s worth a look around pick 40 in most drafts. (We also dealt with Johnson in this post.)

7 (con’t) – Jamal Lewis, Browns (age 30) – Lewis just barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier last year, and he only scored four touchdowns. But he seems to be holding up OK given his age and the pounding he has taken. Last year’s numbers are probably predictive of what he is now – he has averaged about 3.5 yards per carry in three of the past four years, but in those years he still has accumulated at least 900 yards. Moreover, the Browns still don’t have a replacement who can really challenge Lewis for carries. So while Lewis isn’t exciting, he’s still a borderline No. 2 fantasy back who is worth starter consideration in most leagues.

*The players above this line are every-week starters in most league formats

6 – none

– Sammy Morris, Patriots (age 32) – If you weren’t a Morris owner last year, you probably don’t realize that he had 700 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s great production for a No. 3 running back. This year, with Fred Taylor now around, you have to figure Morris’ numbers will go down. But we’d still take Morris ahead of Taylor or Laurence Maroney, and that makes Morris a solid backup option with starter potential in most fantasy leagues.

5 (con’t) – Chester Taylor, Vikings (turns 30 in September) – Taylor won’t get all that many carries with Adrian Peterson in town, but he is a quality back who makes the most of the carries and catches he does get. Last year he had 798 yards in 146 touches and tallied six total touchdowns. That makes Taylor a solid backup, and if Peterson ever gets hurt, Taylor immediately becomes a big-time fantasy starter.

4 – Correll Buckhalter, Broncos (age 30) – We discussed Buckhalter in this post on players on the move.

4 (con’t) – Fred Taylor, Patriots (age 33) – We discussed Taylor in this post on players on the move.

3 – Ricky Williams, Dolphins (age 32) – After two years with only one NFL game, Williams returned last year and proved that he can still play. He totalled 878 total yards and five touchdowns sharing time with Ronnie Brown. Some of those numbers will decrease this year, because the addition of rookie Pat White will take away some carries. But Williams will still do enough to be draftable in most fantasy leagues. A projection of 600 yards and four touchdowns is reasonable, and that’s not bad. Plus, if Ronnie Brown gets dinged up, Williams becomes a legitimate starting option. He’s still someone who needs to be in the top-100 on your draft board.

*The players above this line are draftable in most 10-to-12-team leagues. The players below this line are generally not draftable but are worth monitoring during the season.

2 – Maurice Morris, Lions (turns 30 in December) – We discussed Morris in this post on players on the move.

2 (con’t) – Dominic Rhodes, Bills (age 30) – We discussed Rhodes in this post on players on the move.

1 – Edgerrin James, free agent (age 31) – James got cut by the Cardinals and doesn’t currently have a job. If he does land a gig, the way he ran in the postseason shows he has some juice left. Watch the transactions list and be ready to add James to your draft board if he signs.

1 – Warrick Dunn, free agent (age 34) – Like James, Dunn was released in the offseason. But his numbers last year – 786 rushing yards with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average, along with 47 catches – show that he still has the legs to be relevant. So he’s a guy to remember if he signs somewhere before or even during the season.

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Fantasy Football: Players on the Move

This post is dedicated to assessing the fantasy value of players who have moved to new teams in the offseason. With these players, we’ll decide whether their numbers will rise, sink, or float (stay the same). If I forgot anyone, let me know and we’ll include them in comments.

We’ve already delved into the fantasy futures of several moving players at the top of the draft board. Here’s some linkage you can use to read about…

WRs Terrell Owens and T.J. Houshmandzedah are discussed here
TEs Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow are discussed here
QB Matt Cassel and RB Derrick Ward is discussed here
And every pertinent fantasy rookie is discussed here
Outside of Football Relativity, this site is a good list of all fantasy-relevant free-agent movement

For all of our fantasy football coverage, click on the fantasy football category here on Football Relativity.

QB Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler finally came into his own, at least from a fantasy perspective last year. He posted 4,256 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, with 2 rushing touchdowns thrown in as a bonus. Now that he’s in Chicago, those numbers can’t stay the same. He simply doesn’t have the same weapons in Chicago that he had in Denver. While Chicago’s tight ends, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, are above average, the receiving corps is not. Maybe Cutler’s old college teammate Earl Bennett will emerge, and maybe return guru Devin Hester continues to develop as a receiver and becomes a true No. 1. But there aren’t enough targets there for Cutler to throw for 4,000 yards again. So Cutler’s fantasy numbers will sink to the point that he looks much, much better as a backup with upside than he would as a guy you’re depending on to start in your lineup. Verdict: Sink

QB Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers – Leftwich rebuilt his reputation, which had been tarnished as he lost starting jobs in Jacksonville and then Atlanta, by serving as a backup in Pittsburgh and filling in well in spot duty a couple of times. He looks to be the opening day starter in Tampa, but don’t bank too much on that. The Bucs like Luke McCown and gave him a decent offseason contract, and at some point rookie Josh Freeman will get a look – the question is how long that look will be. Leftwich is a marginal fantasy backup who likely won’t surpass 20 touchdown passes. So take this rise with three grains of salt. Verdict: Rise

QB Kyle Orton, Broncos – Amidst all the attention paid to Cutler’s move to Chicago, we tend to overlook Orton’s new home in Denver. Orton actually had a decent year in Chicago last year when he finally established himself as a starter for the first time since his extended rookie-year fill-in performance. He threw for almost 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns (with three rushing TDs thrown in) despite having an extremely laughable cast of receivers. He’ll have better targets in Denver, from Brandon Marshall to Eddie Royal to Tony Scheffler. If Marshall leaves, this recommendation loses its punch, but for now Orton could near a top-15 quarterback status and could actually outperform Cutler from a fantasy standpoint. Verdict: Rise

RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Buckhalter had been a backup in Philly since 2001, and despite some repeated injuries that halted his career, he emerged as a solid backup and fill-in for Brian Westbrook. Last year, he had almost 700 yards from scrimmage and a total of four touchdowns. In Denver, he looks to be the main backup to rookie Knowshon Moreno. Watching the system that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels used in New England, you would guess that he would use more than one back, which could open the door to Buckhalter. Moreno’s far and away better, and he’s likely going to be a fantasy stud, but it’s still going to be possible for Buckhalter to repeat his ’08 performance in his new home. Verdict: Float

RB Maurice Morris, Lions – Like Buckhalter, Morris was a long-time backup (he had been in Seattle since 2002) who used free agency to break free. Morris looks to be the main backup to Kevin Smith now in Detroit. While Morris never had a great season, he had at least 500 rushing yards in each of the last three seasons. He scored two touchdowns last year as well, both as a receiver not a rusher. Morris is no starter, as he proved when he couldn’t usurp Julius Jones in Seattle, but he’s not a terrible backup. Still, behind a rebuilding Detroit offensive line, it’s hard to see Morris reaching 500 yards for a fourth straight season. Verdict: Sink

RB Dominic Rhodes, Bills – The Bills added Rhodes, who had a renaissance in Indy last year, after they found out that Marshawn Lynch was going to be suspended for three games to open the season. But don’t overvalue Rhodes because of that. Fred Jackson, not Rhodes, still looks to be Lynch’s No. 1 backup and early-season replacement. And remember too that Rhodes was not productive in his only other season away from Indy, a forgettable ’07 campaign in Oakland. There’s no way Rhodes nears his totals of 840 combined yards and 9 touchdowns from ’08. Verdict: Sink

RB Fred Taylor, Patriots – Taylor spent 11 years in Jacksonville and is probably the Jaguar franchise’s greatest player ever. He has more than 11,000 career yards, and has had seven 1,000 yard seasons. But last year, as Maurice Jones-Drew emerged as a true star, Taylor lost carries, and he ended up with 556 rushing yards and just one touchdown. In New England, Taylor will share carries again, but he certainly should get more chances than he had last year in Jacksonville. Don’t expect too much, but closer to 700 yards and 3-4 touchdowns is a reasonable projection for Taylor. Verdict: Rise

RB Leonard Weaver, Eagles – Weaver is kind of an unsung guy, but he had carved out a role as a fullback and short-yardage guy with the Seahawks. He moves to a similar offense in Philly, where Weaver should share the backfield often with Brian Westbrook. Weaver’s numbers – 250 total yards with two touchdowns – aren’t a fantasy factor, but if you’re looking for a emergency fill-in (and it has to be a major emergency), Weaver will be on the field enough that he could grab a cheap touchdown. Verdict: Float

RB Jason Wright, Cardinals – With Cleveland, Wright was a fantasy sleeper last year after a sneakily productive 2007 season, but he never got many chances behind Jamal Lewis last year. Wright ended up with less than 250 total yards from scrimmage and just one touchdown. In Arizona, his role will be the third-down role that J.J. Arrington held last season. Rookie Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower won’t give Wright many carries, but the fact that Wright has 20 catches in each of the last two years shows that he has at least a little value. Don’t expect too much, but in mega-sized leagues Wright belongs on your draft board. Verdict: Float

WR Laveranues Coles, Bengals – Coles, who was a long-time contributor with the Jets and the Redskins, moves to Cincinnati this year to replace T.J. Houshmandzedah as Chad Ochocinco’s running mate. While Coles is a vet, he’s still pretty productive – he had 70 catches for 850 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. Those numbers will be hard to match in Cincinnati, given Ochocinco’s presence. But Houshmandzedah always had good fantasy numbers, and that means that Coles has an opening. His numbers will dip a little, but he’s still a borderline fantasy starter in all but the smallest leagues. Verdict: Sink

WR Ronald Curry, Rams – Curry has loads of talent and potential, and the former college quarterback (and point guard) had three 50-catch seasons in Oakland. Now he’s in St. Louis, after signing with Detroit and then being traded to the Gateway City. Curry had just 19 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns last year, and in St. Louis he looks to be a starter, which can’t help but increase his fantasy value. So while Curry isn’t going to go much past 40 catches in a moribund offense (or maybe even 30), his fantasy numbers were buoyed by his late-July trade. Verdict: Rise

WR Bobby Engram, Chiefs – Engram is an underappreciated receiver, but over his 13-year career he has 645 total catches and 79 touchdowns. After a huge ’07 campaign in Seattle, injuries limited in 2008 to 47 catches for 489 yards, and he didn’t score. Now he moves to Kansas City, where he looks to be a solid third-down option for Matt Cassel. Dwayne Bowe and the emerging Mark Bradley are still above Engram in K.C.’s pecking order, but Engram should find a nice role with the Chiefs. His catch numbers will decline, but he’ll get in the end zone a time or two to create equilibrium in his fantasy numbers. Verdict: Float

WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney, who never realized his potential as a second-round draft pick in Houston, carved out a solid role as a third receiver in New England. He surpassed 35 catches and 400 yards in each of the last two seasons, combining for seven touchdowns in those two seasons. Now he moves with former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Denver, and it appears that Gaffney will have a similar role in Denver to the one he had in New England. While Gaffney is good enough to carve out a role behind Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, his quarterback isn’t good enough to keep Gaffney’s numbers at the same level. Unless Marshall leaves Denver or holds out, Gaffney’s catch total is bound for the 20s, not the 30s. Verdict: Sink

WR Joey Galloway, Patriots – Galloway has played 14 years, but last season broke his string of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. But last year, because of injuries, he had just 13 catches for 138 yards. Those numbers are bound to go up now that he’s in New England; the question is how much. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are still the top dogs among New England’s receiving corps, and Greg Lewis will make a few big plays, but Galloway should eventually establish himself in three-receiver sets and end up replicating what Jabar Gaffney brought to the Patriots over the past two years – 35 catches, 400-plus yards, and 3-4 touchdowns. Verdict: Rise

WR Torry Holt, Jaguars – After a Hall-of-Fame caliber career in St. Louis, Holt moves to Jacksonville to lead a young (check that; it’s a preemie) receiver corps in Jacksonville. With Mike Walker and three rookies as his competition, Holt is the unquestioned alpha dog in Jacksonville. So the question is whether Holt can match his ’08 numbers – 64 catches, 796 yards, and three TDs – in his new home. It’s hard to project more from Holt, but similar numbers are achievable. Holt is now a No. 3 receiver in most leagues, so don’t overrate him, but don’t be scared to consider him useful. Verdict: Float

WR Bryant Johnson, Lions – The Lions added Johnson and Dennis Northcutt (and for a while, Ronald Curry) in an effort to find a running mate for Calvin Johnson. Bryant Johnson, who never really lived up to his billing as a first-round pick back in Arizona, still has had between 40 and 49 catches in each of the last five seasons. That seems about right for him in Detroit, but with a rookie quarterback looking to get most of the snaps this season, Johnson’s other numbers – 546 yards and three touchdowns – seem a little high. Something like 40-400-2 looks right, and that’s enough of a dip that we need to note it. Verdict: Sink

WR Greg Lewis, Patriots – Lewis is no better than the fourth receiver in New England, which is similar to the role he ended up with in Philly. Lewis is the kind of player who will break open deep every third game and catch two of those three bombs. That’s not going to be enough to give him fantasy relevance in ’09 unless Randy Moss gets hurt. Lewis had 19 catches for 247 yards and a touchdown last year, and he’ll be hard pressed to even match those catch and yardage totals this year. Verdict: Sink

WR Brandon Lloyd, Broncos – Lloyd is on his fourth team, moving on after an average season in Chicago in ’08. The Broncos signed him after Brandon Marshall began making noise about wanting a trade. Lloyd is only the third-best Brandon in the Broncos’ receiving corps (behind Marshall and Stokely), and he won’t come close to his 26-catch, 364-yard, two-touchdown season unless Marshall prompts a deal or holds out. Verdict: Sink

WR Dennis Northcutt, Lions – Northcutt went to Jacksonville in ’08 to be the leader of the Jaguars’ receiving corps, but he managed just 44 catches for 545 yards and two touchdowns as he saw Mike Walker and Matt Jones surpass him in the pecking order. Now Northcutt moves to Detroit via trade, where he will combine with Bryant Johnson to try to complement Calvin Johnson. Northcutt has never impressed me, and so I think Bryant Johnson will end up doing more than Northcutt. That spells sink to me. Verdict: Sink

WR Nate Washington, Titans – Washington was a big-dollar signing by the Titans, who see him as a starter across from Justin Gage. He emerged as a solid deep threat and third receiver in Pittsburgh last year, catching 40 passes for 631 yards and three touchdowns. Washington should be able to step up to a starting role in Tennessee, and even though the Titans’ offense isn’t pass happy, that would mean more catches – 50-to-60 – and a few more yards. He won’t be able to keep his yards-per-catch average above 15 as a starter, but he will be more productive. All that will make him a borderline fantasy starter in most leagues, with the possibility of upside that could make him even more of a fantasy factor. Verdict: Rise

TE Chris Baker, Patriots – Baker, a long-time Jet, saw his playing time taken away in the Meadowlands because of Dustin Keller, and so he has moved on to New England. He’ll be contending with Benjamin Watson and ex-Buc Alex Smith for catches in New England, and that means he definitely won’t be the threat he was in ’06 and ’07. We don’t even see Baker matching his ’08 numbers of 21 catches for 194 yards. Verdict: Sink

TE L.J. Smith, Ravens – After a long career in Philly, Smith moves to Baltimore, where he looks to serve as a backup and safety net for Todd Heap, who has been injury prone in recent years. That means that Smith, who has been a borderline fantasy starter at tight end for many years, is less than that this year. His numbers will fall from his 37-catch, 298-yard, three-TD level of last year, but he’s worth watching in his new home, especially if Heap gets hurt. Verdict: Sink

PK Mike Nugent, Buccaneers – Nugent lost his job to Jay Feely last year after a training-camp injury. Now he moves to Tampa, where he will try to beat out Matt Bryant for a starting job. The guess here is that Nugent takes that job, but even if he does we don’t see him as a 100-point kicker. That would make Nugent a bye-week fill-in, not an every-week option. Verdict: Rise

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Free agency (bi)weekly review pt. 5

Here’s the fifth installment of our free-agency relativity comparison. This one covers the period from April 11 to the beginning of the NFL draft. Again, these comparison levels are based only on the listed moves, not on previous offseason wheelings and dealings. For looks at the rest of the offseason, check out the previous post and follow the links back from there.

10 – Buccaneers (add QB Byron Leftwich) – Leftwich, once a top-10 overall pick, saw his career die on the vine when he was cut by the Jaguars just before the ‘07 season and then failed as a starter in Atlanta later that season. It seemed like Leftwich’s flaws – most notably his slow release and even slower feet – had overcome his career. But then Leftwich went to Pittsburgh as a backup last year, and in addition to pocketing a Super Bowl ring, he played very well in a couple of relief appearances. That raised his perception, at least in the public’s eyes. Still, Leftwich struggled to get many shots at competing for a starting job. He visited Washington and got an offer to return to Pittsburgh, but he held out until he finally got the chance he wanted in Tampa on a two-year deal potentially worth $7.5 million and almost certainly worth a minimum of $4 million. He immediately becomes the favorite to leap career journeyman Brian Griese, journeyman-in-training Luke McCown, and developmental project Josh Johnson on the depth chart and thus start for the Bucs. Leftwich has an infectious personality, and he still has enough talent to be a top-20 quarterback. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s still markedly better than anyone else Tampa had to choose from. That makes this addition a move that matters for 2009.

9 – Jaguars (add WR Torry Holt) – The Jaguars are flipping their receiving corps this offseason. They’ve released Jerry Porter and Matt Jones and let Reggie Williams leave via free agency. Now they make their first move to replace some of these losses by signing long-time Ram Torry Holt to a three-year deal potentially worth $20 million. If Holt delivers, it’s a big price. Holt was ridiculously productive in St. Louis and actually has his career on a Hall of Fame type of track after 10 seasons. But a knee injury has limited Holt’s explosiveness and effectiveness the last couple of years, which is why the Rams turned the page and let him go. The Jags are obviously banking on Holt to be their No. 1 receiver, but it’s still uncertain whether he’s able to perform at that level. Still, having Holt will help David Garrard, and it’s hard to see Holt as an unacceptable starter. The Jaguars needed help, and they got it, so you have to view the move favorably at least in that light.

8 – none

7 – none

6 – Chiefs (add LB Zach Thomas and TEs Tony Curtis and Sean Ryan) – Thomas didn’t do much in Dallas last year, but his long, productive tenure in Miami makes him a name worth noticing. His veteran wile, along with that of Mike Vrabel, will be helpful in installing a new 3-4 defensive system in Kansas City. Again, the Chiefs’ new grand poobah Scott Pioli takes a page from the Patriots’ playbook – this time it’s the “pick up lots of veteran linebackers” listing. It worked in N.E., so it’s worth trying in K.C. Meanwhile, after trading Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs inked Curtis. Not only does he meet their quota of tight ends named Tony, he also brings someone with at least a little starting experience. He’s more of a blocker than a pass catcher, but he should find a role in K.C. Likewise, Ryan is a block-first tight end who is in position to fight for a job now.

5- Bills (add RB Dominic Rhodes) – With Marshawn Lynch staring down a three-game suspsension to open the year and backup Fred Jackson threatening a holdout, the Bills needed a solid RB option. Rhodes might be that. Here’s the rub, though: Rhodes had a renaissance last year in his return to Indy, but his one venture outside of the Colts’ system was a bust. That was Oakland, not Buffalo, but it is reason for cause. But given that the Bills really need three games out of him, it’s definitely worth a shot.

4 – none

3 – Lions (add WR Ronald Curry and FB Terrelle Smith) – Curry had a huge year in ’06 but otherwise wasn’t able to deliver on his athletic ability as a Raider. Still, he’s worth a shot as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is where he fits in with the Lions. Smith, who was a Cardinal last year, is a classic blocking fullback who fills that role adequately.

3 (con’t) – Redskins (add P Hunter Smith) – The Redskins had the worst punting game in the league last year and have brought in 4 punters since the beginning of last season. So it makes sense for them to get a solid vet in Smith, who had a good tenure in Indy. The tight salary cap situation with the Colts made Smith a luxury there, but he’s a solid addition in D.C.

2- Saints (add LB Anthony Waters) – Waters was a third-round pick in San Diego a couple of years ago, but he suffered a knee injury as a college senior that made his transition to the pros problematic. As a result, he never became a contributor with the Chargers. But the potential is still there, which makes him definitely worth a shot for the Saints.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (keep QB Charlie Batch; add CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Batch is a minimum-salary backup who’s worth a lot more in the locker room. He’s a coach in waiting and a great support for Ben Roethlisberger. The question is whether he can play if called upon. As clunkily as Big Ben moves, that’s something that must be considered. The Steelers need to start thinking about a higher-level backup for Roethlisberger – maybe a reclamation project like Byron Leftwich was last year, such as Rex Grossman or J.P. Losman, or hope that last year’s draft pick, Dennis Dixon, develops much faster than he has thus far. Ratliff is a solid backup corner who moves over from Indy to provide depth.

1 – Broncos (add OT Brandon Gorin) – Gorin’s another ex-Patriot who should know Josh McDaniels’ offense. He fits in as a backup tackle at best.

1 (con’t) – Colts (keep S Matt Giordano) – Giordano provides depth at safety, and his 13 special teams tackles last year show his value on those units.

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