News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: The impact of players changing teams and how it will affect the likes of Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins and more

Player movement in the NFL isn’t quite as robust as it is in baseball or basketball, but there are still a solid chunk of talented athletes who switch teams during the course of any given offseason. This year was no different, as numerous fantasy-relevant players will be wearing new colors once Week 1 comes around.

The question for today’s article is simple: How often do players who join a new team during the offseason work out?

I believe that we generally overvalue rookies in terms of immediate fantasy football success simply because we devote the majority of February through April to analyzing this group of players, but a similar argument could be made for free agency classes. I looked at every QB, RB, WR and TE who has changed teams during the free agency offseason cycle since 2016 to get an idea of how often players have thrived upon joining a new squad. Note that this doesn't include players who changed teams during the season. At the end, we’ll take a quick look at WR trades.

Special thanks to OverTheCap for all contract-related information.

Quarterback

There were 47 QBs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2019 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or minimal competition. For this reason, we'll focus on the nine cases in which a team signed a QB with every intention of making him their starter.

These nine instances were as follows:

Note that 2017 Foles (Eagles) and 2017 Keenum (Vikings) would ultimately go on to lead their respective squads to plenty of success, but they weren't signed to be their team's Week 1 starter.

Neither Hoyer, Fitzpatrick nor McCown received over $12 million for their services. They were more or less spot starters who could occasionally move the offense while their teams attempted to find a better long-term solution.

This leaves us with six players over the past four offseasons who were signed to big-money contracts on a new team to be the QB1:

  • 2016 Osweiler (Texans): 4 years, $72 million
  • 2017 Glennon (Bears): 3 years, $45 million
  • 2018 Cousins (Vikings): 3 years, $84 million
  • 2018 Bradford (Cardinals): 2 years, $40 million
  • 2018 Keenum (Broncos): 2 years, $36 million
  • 2019 Foles (Jaguars): 4 years, $88 million

Obviously, not all NFL contracts are created equal. There are plenty of outs and non-guaranteed salary that essentially allow teams to judge the QB for a season or two before having the opportunity to part ways if they desire. This reality makes the Glennon contract a bit easier to stomach.

Other than that, Cousins is essentially the only QB who has changed teams, landed a big-money deal and provided anything resembling above-average production. The Osweiler and Bradford situations were comically awful; Keenum was traded after one very-meh season; and Foles struggled to keep sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew on the bench.

The free agent QB market hasn't been kind to buyers in recent history. Our only example of moderate success involved a mistake from one of the league's worst-run franchises (Washington). This tells us that if a team has had the opportunity to groom a QB for an extended period of time, didn't try to fetch a solid trade package and ultimately didn't want to cough up the sort of long-term money to keep him around, then there's a good chance that player won't suddenly take his game to the next level in a brand-new environment.

2020 qualifiers:

The following QBs were signed with the full intention of working as their new team’s Week 1 starter:

  • Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers): Three-year, $63 million deal. The Panthers have the makings of a fantasy-friendly environment for a QB: 1) Awful defense, 2) Plenty of skill-position weapons, and 3) A scheme expected to embrace the passing game. Read why Bridgewater is a prime late-round QB option here.
  • Tom Brady (Buccaneers): Two-year, $50 million deal. QBs have historically battled turnovers during their first season with Bruce Arians, although the “no risk it, no biscuit” guru has already changed his mentality to “can’t go broke taking a profit.”
  • Philip Rivers (Colts): One-year, $25 million deal. Rivers has the best offensive line of his career, but it remains to be seen if he’s still capable of enabling a high-end passing game. Check out our league-wide offensive line rankings here.
  • Cam Newton (Patriots): One-year, $1.75 million deal. Cam can earn up to $7.5 million by meeting some incentives. Some wonder if there’s still a competition here, but a healthy version of Newton shouldn’t have any trouble with the likes of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Positive recent reports on his health reinforce the notion that Newton’s dual-threat talents will be embraced in New England. This is a coaching staff that has consistently built the offense around its players' respective talents.

Running back

There have been 50 RBs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2019 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition.

This leaves us with 22 cases in which a team signed a RB with the intention of making him their starter or at least a key part of the offense:

Intriguingly, there doesn't appear to be a ton of difference in production based on how much money each of these players made. There have been more than a few instances of cheap RBs making major impacts with their new squads. Turbin scored eight touchdowns in 2016 while making just $760,000; Hunt rebounded from his suspension to provide top-level production as a complement to Nick Chubb down the stretch in 2019; and the likes of Williams as well as Burkhead went on to help their respective teams with clutch playoff performances despite not having anything resembling a huge contract.

Still, each of these ultimately-positive situations were a bit unique and required a number of factors to fall in that RBs favor. Generally, RBs haven't received featured Week 1 roles with contracts under $10 million. The aforementioned exceptions clearly show this isn't always the case, but usually money talks.

Only 11 RBs have gone to a new team and received a contract worth at least eight figures since 2016:

  • 2016 Ivory (Jaguars): 5 years, $32 million
  • 2016 Miller (Texans): 4 years, $26 million
  • 2016 Forte (Jets): 3 years, $12 million
  • 2017 Murray (Vikings): 3 years, $15 million
  • 2018 McKinnon (49ers): 4 years, $30 million
  • 2018 Lewis (Titans): 4 years, $19.8 million
  • 2018 Hyde (Browns): 3 years, $15.25 million
  • 2018 Crowell (Jets): 3 years, $12 million
  • 2019 Bell (Jets): 4 years, $52.5 million
  • 2019 Ingram (Ravens): 3 years, $15 million
  • 2019 Murray (Saints): 4 years, $14 million

Note that the Jaguars were so far under the minimum salary cap threshold in 2016 that they essentially had to overpay Ivory in order to reach the required percentage of money spent.

This has by and large been a mess. The likes of Ivory, Lewis and Hyde were out-played and eventually surpassed by younger RBs. Veteran backs like Forte, Murray (twice) and Crowell provided some value but were still utilized as committee backs despite their fairly high-priced deals. Poor McKinnon has yet to play a regular season snap with San Francisco.

There have been basically three examples of RBs receiving a bunch of money from a new team and accordingly getting a featured role: Miller, Bell and Ingram. The former two backs suffered massive efficiency declines behind their suddenly porous offensive lines (funny how that works). The latter RB was great in Baltimore last season, but it's fair to wonder how much different the Ravens offense really would've been if they'd leaned on Gus Edwards and Justice Hill instead of Ingram.

RBs *matter* in that they need to be good enough to beat out competitors for a starting job. Still, recent history tells us that even the league's more-talented backs haven't managed to provide their usual value without the same caliber QB and offensive line around them. Big-money deals remain a solid sign that a player will probably receive a good amount of opportunity, but it appears evaluating the RB position remains as difficult as ever.

2020 qualifiers:

The following backs received a contract with at least a seven-figure average per year to join their new teams:

  • Melvin Gordon (Broncos): Two-year, $16 million deal. OC Pat Shurmur has historically enabled high-end fantasy backs. MGIII should at least work ahead of Phillip Lindsay on pass downs while splitting the run-game work.
  • Jordan Howard (Dolphins): Two-year, $9.75 million deal. The Dolphins also traded for Matt Breida this offseason. Few backfields seem to be as clear-cut as Miami’s likely two-RB committee, meaning both backs could return value at their respective sub-30 ADP.
  • Todd Gurley (Falcons): One-year, $5.5 million deal. Falcons OC Dirk Koetter was questioning Gurley’s health up until June. A lead role is on the way, although a return to 90%-plus snaps on a weekly basis seems unlikely within an offense that has historically leaned on committees. Read more about the Falcons’ backfield projection here
  • Peyton Barber (Washington): Two-year, $3 million deal. Barber joins a backfield that includes Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love and J.D. McKissic. Lol.
  • Carlos Hyde (Seahawks): One-year, $2.75 million deal. It appears that Hyde is in Seattle to replace Rashaad Penny if the rising third-year back starts the season on the PUP list. Still, Hyde has 125-plus touches in five consecutive seasons and is good enough to steal early-down work.
  • Dion Lewis (Giants): One-year, $1.55 million deal. It would be comical if OC Jason Garrett takes Saquon Barkley off the field for Lewis on pass downs. Expect a committee of sorts if Barkley is forced to miss time.
  • Chris Thompson (Jaguars): One-year, $1.4 million deal. Only Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey had more targets than Thompson in Weeks 1-5 before new Jaguars-OC Jay Gruden was fired in 2019. Thompson is going to heavily eat into Leonard Fournette’s target share.
  • Frank Gore (Jets): One-year, $1.05 million deal. The Inconvenient Truth has over 125 rush attempts in 15 consecutive seasons. Gore will undoubtedly hurt Le’Veon Bell’s early-down touch count.  
  • Devontae Booker (Raiders): One-year, $1.05 million deal. The presence of Booker, Jalen Richard and third-round pick Lynn Bowden practically guarantees Josh Jacobs again won’t see as many targets as future fantasy managers would hope for.
  • DeAndre Washington (Chiefs): One-year, $1.05 million deal. Washington is likely battling with Darwin Thompson for a roster spot after Kansas City used a first-round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Wide receiver

There were 86 WRs signed to a contract with a new team during the 2016-2019 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition. 

There are 42 cases of a team signing a WR who went on to have at least a decent-sized role in their new offenses. The simple reality that most offensive plays consist of at least two (usually three) WRs makes it unsurprising that we see such a large increase in our player pool. We'll combat this by drawing a line at the $15 million mark. Some low-cost players such as Ted Ginn (with the Saints), Danny Amendola (Lions) and Randall Cobb (Cowboys) proved to be plenty capable of filling their role as a complementary piece of the offense, but John Brown (Ravens) and Alshon Jeffery (Eagles) are largely the only sub-$15 million players in this study to work as their new team's No. 1 WR. They accordingly received much larger contracts after outperforming their respective one-year deals.

This leaves us with 22 cases in which a team signed a WR to a big-money deal with the intention of making him their starter or at least a solid part of the offense:

Among these WRs, Britt is really the only player who couldn't even find a full-time role with his new team. Sure, guys like Benjamin, Richardson and Humphries have hardly proven worthy of their high-priced deals, but they at least were regulars in their team's respective three-WR sets.

Still, it's tough to call a lot of these guys successful signings, particularly when we take a closer look at those whose contracts were worth at least $30 million:

  • 2016 Jones (Lions): 5 years, $40 million
  • 2016 Sanu (Falcons): 5 years, $32.5 million
  • 2017 Garcon (49ers): 5 years, $47.5 million
  • 2017 Woods (Rams): 5 years, $39 million
  • 2017 Jackson (Bucs): 3 years, $35 million
  • 2017 Britt (Browns): 4 years, $32.5 million
  • 2018 Watkins (Chiefs): 3 years, $48 million
  • 2018 Robinson (Bears): 3 years, $42 million
  • 2018 Richardson (Redskins): 5 years, $40 million
  • 2019 Williams (Raiders): 4 years, $44.3 million
  • 2019 Tate (Giants): 4 years, $37.5 million
  • 2019 Humphries (Titans): 4 years, $36 million

There are certainly more hits here compared to the QB and RB groups. At the very least, these WRs were almost exclusively signed to work as one of the top two WRs in their new offenses.

We still don't see many players posting career-best seasons after changing teams. Perhaps that could change with better QB play in the future (looking at you, Mitchell Trubisky), but keep in mind that even high-priced WRs haven't always provided a steady source of value or production in their new homes.

2020 qualifiers:

The following receivers signed a contract with at least a seven-figure average per year to join their new teams:

  • Randall Cobb (Texans): Three-year, $27 million deal. The Texans are paying Cobb too much money for him to not have a spot inside three-WR sets. Drops were an issue in 2019, but he provides Deshaun Watson with the best slot option of his young career.
  • Robby Anderson (Panthers): Two-year, $20 million deal. Anderson figures to slide in as the offense’s field-stretching WR. It’s tough to see him supplanting Christian McCaffrey or D.J. Moore in Teddy Bridgewater’s pecking order, although Anderson is reuniting with his former college coach Matt Rhule. Bridgewater is certainly an upgrade over Sam Darnold at this point in their careers.

  • Emmanuel Sanders (Saints): Two-year, $16 million deal. High levels of targets might be tough to come by in a passing game dominated by Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, but expect Sanders to be a fantastic real-life asset to this offense. He’s arguably Drew Brees’ best No. 2 WR ever.
  • Breshad Perriman (Jets): One-year, $6.5 million deal. Absurdly efficient in both 2018 (13.6 yards per target) and 2019 (9.3), Perriman has overcome early-career bust status and emerged as a lid-lifting threat who should help open up the intermediate areas of the field for Jamison Crowder and Chris Herndon.
  • Seth Roberts (Panthers): One-year, $3.75 million deal. Roberts is the type of solid veteran who could annoyingly steal snaps from the likes of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel; just don’t expect anything resembling a fantasy-friendly role to materialize.
  • Devin Funchess (Packers): One-year, $2.5 million deal. Funchess is the Packers' only notable addition at receiver. His 2019 season with the Colts was lost due to a broken collarbone, but previously he’d shown solid contested-catch ability for stretches with the Panthers.
  • Damiere Byrd (Patriots): One-year, $1.6 deal. Special teams and occasional clear-out routes are all we should expect here.
  • Pharoh Cooper (Panthers): One-year, $1.2 million deal. Look for Cooper to mostly function as the Panthers’ return specialist.
  • Ted Ginn (Bears): One-year, $1.2 million deal. Ginn replaces Taylor Gabriel as the offense’s field-stretching WR.
  • Travis Benjamin (49ers): One-year, $1.05 million deal. Benjamin replaces Marquise Goodwin as the 49ers’ occasional field-stretching WR.
  • Phillip Dorsett (Seahawks): One-year, $1.05 million deal. The presence of Josh Gordon or Antonio Brown would boot Dorsett out of his competition with David Moore for a spot inside three-WR sets.
  • Nelson Agholor (Raiders): One-year, $1.05 million deal. The often-ridiculed drop-heavy receiver isn’t expected to earn a spot inside three-WR sets.
  • Marqise Lee (Patriots): One-year $1.05 million deal. Was a shell of himself in 2019 after returning from injury.
  • Geronimo Allison (Lions): One-year, $1.05 million deal. Should work as the offense’s No. 4 WR.
  • Tajae Sharpe (Vikings): One-year, $1 million deal. Could feasibly earn a spot inside three-WR formations in a most-barren offense; just don’t expect consistent targets in a run-first scheme.

Tight ends

There were 47 TEs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2019 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition.

It's honestly easier to just point out the few stories of success than by approaching the group as a whole: Eric Ebron had a great season with Andrew Luck in 2018; Jared Cook has been awesome with both the Raiders and Saints over the past two seasons; and Ben Watson proved to not be washed just yet during short stints with both the Ravens and Saints.

Other than that, it's a bloodbath. Pretty much every TE to garner a contract worth at least $15 million since 2016 has been a disappointment:

As was the case with QBs, RBs and most WRs: The grass is typically not greener on the other side when free agent TEs switch teams.

2020 qualifiers:

The following tight ends received a contract with at least a seven-figure average per year to join their new teams:

  • Austin Hooper (Browns): Four-year, $42 million deal. Hooper is being paid too much money to not play a near-every-down role, although there’s a crowded path to the top of Baker Mayfield’s pecking order with OBJ, Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt already established in the offense.
  • Jimmy Graham (Bears): Two-year, $16 million deal. The Bears have roughly 40 tight ends on their roster at the moment, but Graham is the clubhouse leader to get the first snap once Week 1 comes along. The past three seasons have served as consistent reminders that the 33-year-old TE is no longer the same-caliber player. 
  • Greg Olsen (Seahawks): One-year, $7 million deal. It would be easier to envision a path to fantasy success for Olsen if Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister weren’t strong candidates to make this a three-way committee.
  • Eric Ebron (Steelers): Two-year, $12 million deal. Vance McDonald figures to make this a two-TE committee. Still, Ebron’s scoring upside is perhaps going under the radar; he found the end zone 14 times in 16 games with Andrew Luck back in 2018.
  • Tyler Eifert (Jaguars): Two-year $9.5 million deal. Expected to split snaps with 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver. Played 16 games in 2019 for the first time ever, but posted career-worst marks in yards per reception (10.1) and yards per target (6.9).
  • Levine Toilolo (Giants): Two-year, $6.2 million deal. Expected to be a block-first option behind both Evan Engram and Kaden Smith.
  • Logan Thomas (Washington): Two-year, $6.2 million deal. Should split snaps with Richard Rodgers and Jeremy Sprinkle inside a wide-open passing game.
  • Nick Vannett (Broncos): Two-year, $5.7 million deal. Remains to be seen if Noah Fant will have a near every-snap role, or if he’ll lose snaps to the likes of Vannett, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt and rookie Albert Okwuegbunam.
  • Jason Witten (Raiders): One-year, $4 million deal. Potentially insurance for Foster Moreau, but it’s tough to imagine Witten willingly making this decision without some sort of guarantee about a more-robust role. Darren Waller’s stranglehold on this offense’s target share is (undeservingly) in jeopardy.
  • Blake Bell (Cowboys): One-year, $1.7 million deal. Bell is expected to be the offense’s clear-cut No. 2 option behind Blake Jarwin within the Cowboys’ Blake-centric TE room.
  • Demetrius Harris (Bears): One-year, $1.7 million deal. Harris will likely see a handful of snaps per game as one of a dozen TEs on the Bears’ oddly crafted roster.
  • Richard Rodgers (Washington): One-year, $1.05 million deal. Rodgers will steal snaps from the likes of Logan Thomas and Jeremy Sprinkle.
  • Eric Tomlinson (Giants): One-year, $1 million deal. Tomlinson provides further depth to a TE room led by Evan Engram and Kaden Smith.

Trades

This section will focus on offseason WR trades, so players who were shipped off between Weeks 1-17 won’t count. The idea is to identify situations in which a WR didn’t have a normal offseason to get integrated into his new offense.

There have been 56 WR trades during the last 10 offseasons. Obviously, not every trade is created equal; we can’t just take the average performance from scrubs and stars alike and expect to have an actionable takeaway.

Still, we do have numerous examples of a receiver switching teams and getting anyone’s idea of a true No. 1 WR workload immediately. Specifically, the following WRs had triple-digit targets in their first seasons with their new teams:

Marshall is the only traded WR to immediately turn in WR1 production on his new squad. There have been various examples of WR2 production, although they’re largely outweighed by numerous seasons of disappointment. All in all, 40 of 56 (71%) WRs failed to clear even 500 yards during Year 1 with their new squads.

The four qualifying subjects entering 2020 are: Marquise Goodwin (Eagles), Brandin Cooks (Texans), Stefon Diggs (Bills) and DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals). The former WR certainly seems like the best candidate to join the sub-500 club, while our other three candidates *should* push for triple-digit targets in their respective offenses.

Nuk has proven plenty capable of putting up WR1 numbers with a variety of signal-callers under center, but his ADP seems to be at his best-case scenario ceiling already. He’s perhaps the best overall receiver to be traded in this study — just realize history is working against a top-five season. Diggs and (especially) Cooks seem like the better investments in terms of value, as both are tentatively expected to lead their offenses in targets, yet are being priced closer to their floors due to their respective new-look situations.

A good general rule of thumb: Teams don’t make a habit of releasing or trading away good players. Does it happen? Absolutely, but be careful about assuming the best-case scenario in Year 1 when evaluating new fits. Continuity, while not always sexy, is a bit underrated in fantasy football land. Don’t be afraid to fade the new offseason piece in favor of a rising incumbent starter.

Fantasy Featured Tools

PFF Edge
Unlock Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft
Learn More
$39.99 / yr
$9.99 / mo
PFF Elite
Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS
Learn More
$199.99 / yr
$34.99 / mo