Being a free agent is weird.
It is thrilling, it is nerve-wracking, it is complex. There are highs, there are lows and there are many people with different agendas, not all of them in your best interest. You hear from everyone under the sun and you question everything.
When my previous contract with ESPN expired in the spring of 2016, I was, in fact, a free agent. Not a crazy-highly coveted free agent like so many NFL players, but, believe it or not, I did actually have some interest in my services from other companies.
And it was weird, man. Flattering to be sure. Exciting, even. And comforting to know that I had options if ESPN and I weren't able to figure something out. But still ... it was weird. You don't often get people calling you saying, "Hey, here is a firm offer for you to significantly change your life." That moment to stop and seriously consider a life event of this magnitude doesn't often come around.
I had spent almost a decade working at ESPN and I was proud of everything we had accomplished in the fantasy department here. I loved working with the people of ESPN, I loved doing the podcast, I loved doing Fantasy Football Now and I wanted it all to continue. Of course, you also never know what the future holds, whether ESPN's interest in me would fade at any point and you have to think long term. At that time there was no daily TV show around fantasy at ESPN -- some other places offered that. You never want it to be just about money, but of course that's a big consideration. I have five kids' colleges to pay for.
I took meetings. I considered it. What would it look like if I left? What would my career be? What would the next contract after this one look like? Did I feel a new company would give me a chance at multiple contracts? How would it affect my family and friends? My fans? Would I be happy, challenged and fulfilled?
I talked to everyone: My agent, my wife, my parents and brother, friends whose opinions I respected and, of course, people from other companies. I spoke with people who had left ESPN for other places and people who had been in my position -- offered a job elsewhere -- but chose to stay at ESPN. I talked to them all. And I thought. And thought. Because when they are recruiting you, man, they give the hard sell. How much they love you, how great you are, how they'll do this and that and how you can help them win. It's intoxicating.
And that's just dumb me, right? Some jerk in a suit who talks about fake football. Now imagine being an NFL player in the prime of your life with a zillion fans yelling at you on social media telling you to stay and others trying to recruit. Having it all play out in public, as ESPN and other outlets discuss and speculate where you should go, what would be the best fit, if a team wants some other guy and you're just a backup plan. As you experience all this, consider that the odds of a long shelf life as an NFL player aren't great. This might be your only chance to cash in, to join a winning team, to move to a city where your family is, to get an opportunity at a more significant role or myriad issues that come with making a move or staying put.
It is, with no hyperbole, one of the most important decisions you can make in your adult life. It will define your happiness and your legacy for years to come. It is rarely a decision you get a chance to do over, especially if it goes wrong the first time. Certainly, if it goes wrong, your options are more limited the next time you get a chance to experience free agency. You alternate between extreme self-confidence and crippling self-doubt, often in the same moment. And because of the timeline, everything is heightened even more.
Like I said ... it's weird.
I'm a man in his 40s and I was super-stressed out and obsessive about it, so I can only imagine the pressures these young men face, having to make life-changing decisions, often in a very short period of time, with not a lot of life experience to draw upon.
For me, I weighed all the offers and, obviously, I decided to stay at ESPN. There were many factors, of course. My family's happiness was a big part of it (my wife and I share custody of a few of our kids and we didn't want to take them away from their other family). I was being genuine when I said I loved the podcast and FFNow. Plus, all the people I get to work with at ESPN Fantasy on my columns and other things. I'm proud of everything that we've accomplished at ESPN and felt the best was yet to come (that proved to be correct, as our redesigned app, the 24-hour marathon and the daily TV show, among other things, all came after the new deal).
Ultimately -- and I understand how pollyannaish the whole thing sounds -- I just love ESPN. Love being a part of it, love being able to represent it, proud to be associated with it.
One thing I didn't mention? In the back of my mind, I always felt going anywhere else was a step down. No disrespect to any of the companies I spoke to. I talked with many smart, thoughtful people I respect and a lot of good companies with talented folks. But I feel like, for what I do, I have the best job in the universe. If you are going to be a fantasy football analyst, there isn't a better job on the planet than Senior Fantasy Football Analyst for ESPN, which, incredibly, is actually my title.
In short, if I went anywhere else, my value would drop. Just as it has, fantasy football-wise, for many players after free agency. Which brings us, meandering slowly, into the first Love/Hate of the 2018 year.
I respect the hell out of anyone with the guts to pack up and move their family to a new city, team and situation. Big money or not, it still takes a lot. So I salute each and every one of them and wish them good luck.
But guts isn't what we measure in fantasy football, so here's whose value has risen ("loves") and whose has fallen ("hates") due to the moves of free agency so far. This is specifically about the change in their fantasy football value and not about their overall value relative to the league. Obviously, some of this will certainly change after the draft as well. Here we go:
Players I love after offseason movement
Jerick McKinnon, 49ers: Used primarily as a change-of-pace guy or third-down back for much of his career, McKinnon got more run last season after Dalvin Cook went down. In the six games he got 15-plus touches, he averaged 19.7 PPG (PPR scoring), which over a 16-game schedule would have ranked as RB6. Now he gets serious money to go play for Kyle Shanahan, where he should be a PPR machine. In his two years in Atlanta and last year in San Francisco, Shanahan RBs have been top eight in the NFL in receptions and top five in receiving yards in each season. McKinnon will be a trendy sleeper this season.
Jay Ajayi, Eagles: With LeGarrette Blount having moved on, 181 touches are up for grabs, and while you'll see a little bit of increased usage for Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood (and maybe they re-sign Darren Sproles), the writing is clear: Ajayi is going to be the lead back for one of the best offenses in the NFL, a team that was sixth in rushing attempts last season and third in rushing yards.
LeGarrette Blount, Lions: A year after he scored only three times and barely passed 800 total yards while stuck in a committee, his value is certainly on the rise after landing in Detroit, where general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia obviously know Blount from his New England days, which should give Blount a long leash. While Blount leaves a crowded backfield in Philly, he lands in a good offense in Detroit where he won't have a ton of competition for early-down and short-yardage work (I'm not a Ameer Abdullah believer). He's merely a flex play in PPR, but his value is certainly higher now in Detroit, especially considering the Lions ran the ball 43 percent of the time in 2017 in goal-to-goal situations (their highest rate since 2011).
Davante Adams, Packers: With Jordy Nelson gone, Adams is the clear-cut No. 1 wideout for the best QB in the NFL. The only player in the NFL with 10-plus receiving touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, it's worth noting that, since 2010, the leader for Green Bay in receiving touchdowns has averaged 11.8 scores. Jimmy Graham will get some red zone looks, of course, but Adams is the one whom Aaron Rodgers trusts. Locked in as a top-10 WR now.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos: Whatever you think of Case Keenum (I'm a believer), he's a pretty significant upgrade over Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler. He was sixth in the NFL last season in TD/INT rate and second in the NFL in completion percentage. The Broncos will tailor their offense to take advantage of his skill set, not try to hide him as they have done with QBs in the recent past.
Michael Crabtree, Ravens: He already had fairly high value, so this is more about what his value would have been this year (with Jon Gruden talking about the passing offense going through Amari Cooper) than it is about what it was. Instead of playing second fiddle to Cooper in Oakland, he goes to wide receiver-starved Baltimore. Don't get me started on what the Ravens did to poor Ryan Grant, but while I believe Baltimore will pay karmically, the fact is they now have their best wide receiver in a long time and he will be a target monster for Joe Flacco. Last season, Mike Wallace (Mike Wallace!) led the Ravens with 43.1 percent of their receiving yards. Could Crabtree flirt with 50 percent? Possibly. There are only two wideouts with eight or more receiving scores each of the past three years: Antonio Brown and ... wait for it ... Michael Crabtree.
Trey Burton, Bears: No longer stuck behind Zach Ertz, the talented Burton goes to Chicago to play the Travis Kelce role in new head coach Matt Nagy's offense. Now, I'm not saying he's Kelce or that Mitchell Trubisky is Alex Smith, but it's worth noting that in Nagy's two years in K.C. as the offensive coordinator, the Chiefs led the NFL in receiving yards from the tight end position and were second in targets and receptions. Meanwhile, once Trubisky took over last season, Chicago tight ends had a 22.3 percent target share.
Others receiving votes: This offseason, Trubisky got a new playcaller and a bunch of talented pass-catchers. He's a better runner than he gets credit for, making him a high-upside QB2. ... Tyrod Taylor could actually make either list. Going from run-centric Buffalo where he had no talent, Taylor now gets a massive upgrade in surrounding talent and a more fantasy-friendly offense. The issue, of course, is he might not keep his job all year if the Browns select a QB in the first round as is widely expected. ... Kirk Cousins is traditionally a slow starter and learning a new offense and teammates won't help that, plus a good Vikings defense means a lot fewer shootouts. That said, the talent surrounding him is a huge upgrade over what he had last season (when he was QB6) and he gets nine games indoors, giving him a slight overall upgrade. By the way, among qualified QBs the past three years, Cousins has the sixth-most passing yards to the slot. Hello, Adam Thielen. ... It's not technically free agency, since Alex Smith was traded, but certainly the offseason has been good to Patrick Mahomes. As much as I like Trubisky as this year's Jared Goff/Carson Wentz type to take a huge leap, I actually have Mahomes ranked just a little higher. ... Jeremy Hill goes from being buried on the depth chart to in the mix in New England. Now, the Patriots still have a lot of backs, but he's a young, big back who holds onto the ball and has a nose for the end zone when he gets close. When you're a running back in New England, amazing things can happen, so Hill's arrow is definitely pointing up. ... We've seen scenarios where two running backs on the same team have had success (New Orleans, Atlanta, New England), so I actually have both Derrick Henry (value went up once DeMarco Murray was cut) AND Dion Lewis (only has to compete with Henry and three other guys) with value increases on what should be an improved Titans offense. Titan up! ... Allen Robinson needs to prove he's healthy, but going from a run-first offense with an erratic QB to a pass-first one with a young QB who has shown promise is a good thing for Robinson. ... Again, not free agency but whatever: with Brandin Cooks traded to L.A. and Danny Amendola moving on, both Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan see their values increase. Speaking of Amendola, he should get a ton of targets (certainly more than he was getting) in the Jarvis Landry slot role in Miami. ... Andrew Luck needs to be healthy, but either Ryan Grant or Chester Rogers is going to replace Donte Moncrief in Indy, and whomever it is will see his value take a huge spike. ... The Seahawks were second in the NFL in red zone drop percentage last season and just lost Jimmy Graham. Enter 6-foot-2 Jaron Brown, whom I have always liked from a skills standpoint. Amara Darboh is also 6-2, but as of now, I prefer Brown. ... This was a trade, not free agency, but I really like Torrey Smith getting out of Philly. The Panthers missed Ted Ginn Jr. last year. Getting Smith, who will get more deep shots than he got in Philly last season, will help. ... Speaking of speed guys who will get more love, Paul Richardson goes to a starting role in a Redskins offense that is predicated on being able to take deep shots. ... For years, fantasy players screamed "Free Brice Butler!" Well, he's finally free and should receive a nice target share after Larry Fitzgerald for a Cardinals team that figures to be trailing more often than not. ... I'm not sure what role Allen Hurns will have in Dallas, but it's certainly better than the one he would have had in Jacksonville. And if Dez Bryant is suddenly no longer with the Cowboys, Hurns becomes all sorts of interesting. ... Over the past decade, no team in the NFL has targeted the tight end more than the New Orleans Saints. I don't know that Benjamin Watson repeats his 2015 season with the Saints, but I feel pretty good about saying his value is certainly higher than it ever was with the Ravens.
Players I hate after offseason movement
Frank Gore, Dolphins: Very quietly, Gore was the 19th-best running back in fantasy last season in a lost year behind a bad offensive line. Gore is a man among boys. Never doubt Gore. That said, he goes from the being the lead back to, at best, in a time-share with Kenyan Drake on a team that is unlikely to score a ton of a points. At worst, he is merely a change-of-pace backup to Drake. Either way, he's not going to get the workload he is used to and as of now, is better drafted as a handcuff to Drake than anything else.
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins: See Gore, Frank. As good as Drake was down the stretch last season, he still has only two games with more than 16 carries. Now, he's involved in the passing game and he's not a guy who necessarily needs a ton of touches to produce -- he's a big play waiting to happen. But still, Gore has gotten at least five carries in every single game in each of the past seven seasons (112 games). Unreal.
Duke Johnson Jr., Browns: Johnson was 11th among RBs in PPR scoring last season, as 74 percent of his points came via the reception. That makes sense when you consider he had an inexperienced QB with very few options to throw to other than check it down. This year, the Browns brought in an experienced QB in Tyrod Taylor, a better-than-you-think pass-catching running back in Carlos Hyde (59 receptions last season) and as good a short-yardage receiver as there is in the NFL in Jarvis Landry (323 career catches on passes thrown shorter than 10 yards, most in the NFL in that span). Plus, Taylor is a QB who is just as likely to run than throw when pressure comes. Johnson will probably be a better real-life player for the Browns this year than a consistent fantasy force.
Bilal Powell, Jets: The Jets might not know what they are doing at quarterback long term, but one thing is clear: They do not believe Powell is an every-down back. As our own Rich Cimini tweeted on Feb. 18, "The Jets see Powell as a complementary back. He's more effective when he stays under 170 carries. If they don't think [Elijah] McGuire can share the load, they'll have to find someone." Cimini's tweet echoes what I heard from Jets coaches at the combine and, well, they went out and signed Isaiah Crowell, which should tell you what they think of both Powell and McGuire. This is another year of a running back by committee (RBBC) and another year of Powell being merely a PPR flex play.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions: After averaging just 3.3 yards per carry last season (only Doug Martin was worse among qualified RBs), Abdullah was buried on the depth chart by the end of the year and now a new head coach has just signed his former running back (Blount). If I could figure out how to write a sad face emoji, I would. Bleah.
LeSean McCoy, Bills: He'll still be an early pick in fantasy drafts, and rightly so, but losing Tyrod Taylor is big here. Taylor was a mobile QB who kept defenses honest with his legs, even when he had no one to throw to, and the Bills' offense takes a hit with either AJ McCarron or Nathan Peterman under center. A less effective offense means fewer scoring opportunities. I also expect less work for McCoy, as the signing of Chris Ivory is intended to give McCoy more time off. Good for McCoy's long-term health, but it doesn't help his fantasy value.
Doug Martin, Raiders: Martin goes from being a starter (not a good one, but still ... a starter) to a backup in Oakland, where he'll compete for scraps behind Marshawn Lynch with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. No, thank you.
Donte Moncrief, Jaguars: Moncrief goes from being Andrew Luck's No. 2 to one of a group of guys for Blake Bortles. The Jags had a league-low 54.2 percent dropback rate last season and I expect more of the same this season, which means not a lot of volume for a guy who has to compete with others with whom Bortles is much more comfortable.
Sammy Watkins, Chiefs: Now on his third team in three years, the oft-injured wideout will be playing with an inexperienced QB on a team where, at best, he is the fourth option after some order of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. He's a long way from the No. 1 WR he once was.
Jarvis Landry, Browns: I loved the move for the Browns and I'm a Tyrod Taylor fan, but there's just no way Landry sees the 28.1 percent target share he has gotten the past three years. Not with Josh Gordon, Carlos Hyde, David Njoku, sometimes Duke Johnson Jr. and -- at least for now -- Corey Coleman also there. Cleveland suddenly has a lot of weapons in the passing game, which means less work for Landry, including in the red zone, where last season he led the NFL in red zone targets. I don't see that happening again.
Jordy Nelson, Raiders: Maybe he is rejuvenated in Oakland, but I doubt it. His recent value came from his amazing chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, which led to his insane touchdown rate. When A-Rod went down because of an injury last year, Nelson's fantasy stock plummeted. Now, Derek Carr is better than Brett Hundley, but after last season for Carr, I'm not sure it's by enough to make Nelson a fantasy star again. Nelson averaged only 11.65 yards per catch with Rodgers last season (his lowest mark since he was a rookie) and he averaged a career-low 2.45 yards after the catch per reception. Signs out of Oakland are that the Raiders want to be more run-heavy than anything and when they do pass, Amari Cooper is option one. Carr has been a bottom-10 QB the past two years in terms of yards per attempt and I don't see that changing due to Nelson's presence.
Brandin Cooks, Rams: Another one that isn't free agency, so sue me. I'm a rebel, Dottie. A loner. The trade that sends Cooks to the Rams is great for L.A.'s "All-in for 2018" approach, but it's not ideal for Cooks' fantasy value, where he goes from Tom Brady to Jared Goff. Even with Goff's huge improvement, it's a downgrade. Cooks will essentially take Sammy Watkins' role in the offense, which means slotting behind Robert Woods, Todd Gurley II and Cooper Kupp for targets in Sean McVay's offense. The Rams have done a great job with their defense, which means they probably will be leading more often than not. Last season, the Rams ran the ball the majority of time when they were leading (50.2 percent of playcalls), but were far more likely to air it out when playing from behind (66.5 percent of playcalls). Cooks is a big-play guy who will have some huge weeks, but it will be tough to predict when they'll happen. He has only three games with double-digit targets the past two years.
Mike Wallace, Eagles: Wallace improves his team and his QB, but his target share takes a major hit. Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor accounted for 67.9 percent of Philly's WR/TE targets last season. Wallace was WR45 in total points last season, in which he led Baltimore in targets, yards, receiving scores and catches of 20-plus yards. Now, some of that was on Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense, but come on. Wallace will have a few games here and there, but with the emerging Mack Hollins also looking to increase his playing time (side note: I love Hollins), I see Wallace's fantasy value heading in the wrong direction.
Jack Doyle, Colts: Anyone who has listened to the podcast knows that Eric Ebron, ahem, has bigger fans than I am out there. But there is some talent there. It's inconsistent, but there's enough pass-catching talent to take away from Doyle. As good as Doyle was last season, even without Andrew Luck the entire time, a lot of it came from volume, as his 107 targets were just one fewer than team leader T.Y. Hilton. Doyle is a good player, but it helps when there isn't a lot around him to compete with for looks. Ebron's presence means we are looking at more of a 2016-type target share, where Doyle had 75 targets and Dwayne Allen had 52 (and missed two games). As long as Ebron is out there, Doyle is more a TE2 than the TE1 he was last season.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars: I like ASJ as a talent and am still #bitterberry over all his overturned touchdowns last year, but even though the Jets aren't all that, this is still a downgrade for him. Jaguars tight ends saw just 79 targets last season, third fewest in the NFL. Maybe that increases now that they have Seferian-Jenkins, but I don't think so. There are a lot of talented pass-catchers in Jacksonville and it's still going to be a run-first team. No QB had a lower completion percentage when targeting tight ends last season than Blake Bortles and it's unlikely that changes in a significant way this season.
And that's what we have. We'll have a lot more after the NFL draft, of course. My thanks to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski of ESPN Fantasy for their help at various points in this article.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, has never been franchise tagged. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.