The 2018 free agency period kicked off early with a bevy of trades that rocked the IDP landscape as well as the early announcements of deals being made during the legal tampering period. By the time actual free agency began, it felt a bit like the horse had already left the barn.
(It may be time to rethink that whole “legal tampering period” idea.)
Now that things have slowed down a bit, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from both the trades standpoint as well as free agent signings.
The veteran Davis revived his career with his return to the Jets last season, putting up 135 total tackles and a team-high five sacks. Davis was a top-10 fantasy performer and steps into a three-down role with the Saints as the likely starting middle linebacker. We can expect another strong fantasy showing from Davis in 2018.
Never much of a big-play threat, Brown did eclipse triple-digit total tackles in each of his four seasons with the Bills. Last season he set a career high with 144 and will now be the starting middle linebacker for the Bengals. With the possibility of a four-game suspension looming for Vontaze Burfict, Brown will face little competition to lead the team in tackles.
Still just 26 years old Williamson is likely to assume the role vacated by the aforementioned Demario Davis. Over the last three years, Williamson has averaged 99 total tackles per season while racking up 8.5 sacks with a pair of interceptions and three forced fumbles. He is a do-it-all player and graded out as a top-five inside linebacker last season according to PFF.
After posting back-to-back triple-digit total tackles seasons for the Lions, Whitehead should assume a three-down role with the Raiders. Lining up either in the middle or as the weakside linebacker will lead to another productive fantasy season for Whitehead. Last year, veteran NaVorro Bowman put up top-10 fantasy numbers in the 10 games he played as a Raider.
Robert Quinn, Edge, Miami Dolphins
The Rams saved over $11 million in cap space by trading Quinn, and the Dolphins get some much-needed pass-rushing help. Quinn will return to defensive line designation, which is a boost to his value. Playing an unfamiliar outside linebacker role Quinn racked up 8.5 sacks last season and will be only 28 years old entering the 2018 season. He will line up as the bookend to veteran Cameron Wake, giving Miami a formidable edge-rushing duo.
The trade to Tampa Bay lands Pierre-Paul in a perfect position, as he will keep a defensive lineman designation in their 4-3 scheme. There were questions as to where he would be designated in New York as it’s likely the Giants switch to a 3-4 base. Pierre-Paul has been a top-10 fantasy scorer in five of his eight seasons in the league with the exceptions being his rookie season (2010) and two seasons in which he missed at least five games (2013, 2015).
The early reports out of Houston are that Mathieu will line up mainly at safety and that is music to IDP owners’ ears. The versatile defensive back has big-play abilities but also a nose for the football having put up 65 or more solo tackles three times in his career. Mathieu has also amassed 11 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) with four sacks, four forced fumbles with a recovery in his five seasons.
The only concern with Burnett is from a health standpoint, as he’s missed 10 games over the last three years. A healthy Burnett is a productive fantasy force that is just a year removed from a top-10 finish in 2016. On a defense with a shaky linebacker situation with the loss of Ryan Shazier, Burnett will rack up solid tackle numbers as long as he can stay on the field.
Jon Bostic, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It raises a red flag that the Colts allowed Bostic to walk via free agency after his breakout season in 2017. It’s also a bit concerning that the Steelers will be Bostic’s fifth team since entering the league in 2013. While no one expects him to step in and replace the injured Ryan Shazier, I’m not convinced he beats out Tyler Matakevich for a prominent role in the defense.
New York addressed a need at linebacker by trading a pair of 2018 draft picks for Ogletree. After posting low-end LB2 totals in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme in Los Angeles last season, it’s Ogletree’s role in the defense for the Giants that worries me. While new defensive coordinator James Bettcher has talked about running multiple fronts he ran mainly a 3-4 during his time in Arizona. In the two seasons that he finished as a top-10 linebacker, Ogletree played in a 4-3 base.
The Eagles traded for Bennett in what is a great move from an NFL standpoint. From a fantasy standpoint, though, there are just too many mouths to feed along the Eagles defensive line. Bennett will likely be asked to bring interior pressure alongside Fletcher Cox, freeing up edge rushers Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett to rack up the majority of sacks.
This is another great get from a NFL standpoint with the rich getting richer, as the Vikings already have a stacked defensive line. From a fantasy standpoint however, Richardson is likely in line for a season like he had in 2017 for Seattle. He’ll log roughly 650 snaps and help stuff the run while bringing a bit of interior pressure but has only 2.5 sacks in the past two seasons.
Vinny Curry, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It appeared Curry would land on the “winner” side of this piece until the Buccaneers pulled off the trade for Jason Pierre-Paul. Now it’s more than likely that Curry will see a rotational role with the oft-injured Noah Spence and Pierre-Paul is the defensive lineman that IDP owners will covet from Tampa Bay. Since posting nine sacks in 2014, Curry has totaled just nine over the last three years.
I wrote more in depth regarding Wilkerson as a player who won’t bounce back in 2018 in IDP earlier this week. The bottom line is that since a monster 2015 season, Wilkerson’s play has steadily declined. Not to paint with too broad a brush but there have been instances of players parlaying a big season into a big contract (Wilkerson signed one after 2015) and then failing to reach that level again.
Kurt Coleman, S, New Orleans Saints
After a pair of top-15 fantasy finishes in the 2015-16 seasons, Coleman suffered a knee injury that cost him four games last year. He did finish the season strong, with back-to-back double-digit tackle games in the final two weeks. The landing spot here is the problem as Coleman is going to be a depth player behind young safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell.
This appears like a nice landing spot as Searcy is brought in to replace the departed Coleman at safety for the Panthers. Don’t buy in. Searcy has failed to make a fantasy dent during stints with Buffalo and Tennessee failing to reach 50 total tackles in four of his seven seasons in the league.