NFL Free Agency: Fantasy football fallout of receiver deals

Liz Loza
·5-min read

The new league year opened last week and with it new trends emerged as the dominoes of free agency continued to fall. Chief among them was the plethora of big names signing one-year deals. While it could be argued that a number of these players are in “prove it” situations, it’s more likely that agents were actively advising their clients to accept shorter-term deals.

As Yahoo Sports NFL Insider Charles Robinson explained on Friday’s Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, the $110 billion television rights deal — which the NFL finalized on March 18th — doesn’t hit the cap until 2023. That means players aren’t likely to see massive salary increases for another two years. Therefore, agreeing to a multi-year deal could potentially reduce the overall value of their new contracts. Regardless, the outcome translates into immediate value for the NFL and, perhaps, fantasy managers as well.

Kenny Golladay gets WR1 money, but can he deliver?

Bucking the one and done trend, Kenny Golladay accepted a four-year deal worth $72M from the New York Giants. With competing offers reportedly coming in from Chicago and Baltimore, the G-Men appear determined to get the most out of QB Daniel Jones, guaranteeing the former Lion a cool $40M and making him the eighth-highest paid wideout in the league. More money means fewer excuses. If the Kenny G experiment doesn’t work, GM Dave Gettleman (and maybe Daniel Jones) could be looking to relocate in 2022.

From a fantasy perspective, the move is not ideal for Golladay’s stock. Even as the alpha in New York’s receiving corps, he’ll be competing for targets among a stable of solid pass-catchers that include Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph. Furthermore, the quality of his quarterback takes a hit. Matt Stafford may have his warts, but he’s always been an aggressive passer who’s willing to push the ball downfield (61 deep ball attempts in 2020, QB12). Daniel Jones, on the other hand, has been outside of the top-17 QBs in deep ball attempts, YPA, and air yards per attempt over his career.

It’s possible that’s because Jones hasn’t had a legit WR1 since entering the league. Based on the numbers of the aforementioned deal, that’s certainly what the Giants’ brass is hoping. The key to unlocking Kenny G, however, will be trusting the NIU product to climb the ladder and win 50/50 balls. In order for this pairing to pay dividends, Jones is going to have to become comfortable sailing the ball into tight windows. We don’t know if he can do that. We do, of course, know that he’s going to try. So there’s going to be a learning curve here ... and it’s unlikely to bear out immediate success.

The upside given Kenny G’s talent is as obvious as the obstacles presented by the current circumstances. Consider him a WR2 in the 18-21 range for fantasy purposes.

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 04: Kenny Golladay #19 of the Detroit Lions during warm ups before a game against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field on October 4, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
The Giants paid up for Kenny Golladay, but the Giants' QB limitations could make it tough to get full value on the deal. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Adding Will Fuller a boost for Tua

Attempting to fill the void left by DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller opened the 2020 season healthy and fairly productive. From Weeks 1-12, the former first-round pick recorded 8 TDs, averaged 16.1 YPR (WR10), and managed WR2 fantasy numbers in six of 11 games. However, he wasn’t able to play the last five weeks of 2020 due to suspension. That’s not an ideal way for an oft-injured impeding free agent to close out the year.

Miami took full advantage of Fuller’s predicament and leaned into value, signing the Notre Dame product to a 1-year, $10M deal. Expected to line up opposite contested catch specialist DeVante Parker, Fuller provides a shot of deep speed to the Miami offense. He’ll certainly have his blow-up games, but assuming that Miami uses one of their first-round picks to invest in a receiver (Yahoo’s Eric Edholm recently mocked DeVonta Smith to Miami), Fuller might struggle to see consistent targets.

Ultimately, this move boosts Tua Tagovailoa’s fantasy stock, as the team provides him the weapons necessary to take the expected “year-one-to-year-two jump.” The second-year QB is shaping up to be a solid (and likely sneaky) QB2 target for superflex enthusiasts. Fuller, on the other hand, remains jumbled in a glut of WR3/4 options.

JuJu staying in Pittsburgh lacks buzz

Womp Womp. After plenty of speculation about reuniting with his college QB in NY, JuJu Smith-Schuster will be staying in Steel City. Inking a one-year deal for $8M, JuJu will resume his role as Pittsburgh’s slot option, while Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool scramble to haul in Big Ben’s errant deep shots.

While the 24-year-old closed out last year with 97 receptions (WR7) and 9 TDs (WR9), a nauseating 6.5 YPT (WR96) capped his yardage total (831 yards, WR36) and overall fantasy production. Heading into 2021 Smith-Schuster should be considered an all-floor WR2 play. With numerous impact players unlikely to return, the Steelers defense could take a notable step back in the fall. That could result in more targets for JuJu, but his upside is so limited that it won’t be enough to move him up virtual draft boards.

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