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L.J. Smith Signs with Ravens

By: — March 20, 2009 @ 12:32 pm
Filed under: Free Agents

The Ravens signed former Eagles tight end L.J. Smith this week to a one-year contract reportedly worth $1.5-million. Smith had visited the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons but couldn’t agree to terms with either team despite their obvious needs at the position.

The 2003 2nd round pick has solid receiving skills but never truly developed the way the Eagles expected he would. In six seasons, he has topped 600 yards only twice and has been injury prone over the last two seasons. He had 37 receptions for 298 yards and three scores in 2008 but lost his starting position by season’s end to Brent Celek.

Baltimore benefits from Smith’s inability to secure a long term deal and picks up a veteran backup for Todd Heap, who has had his own injury issues over the last few seasons and was ineffective in 2008, despite not missing a game.

Fantasy Football Impact

All indications are that Heap and Smith will share the tight end workload in Baltimore. In anything other than deep leagues, knock both Heap and Smith off your draft list. The tight end’s main role in the Baltimore offense is to block so even without Smith’s signing, Heap would barely crack the top 20. Unless one of the two suffers an injury in the preseason, both players are waiver wire fodder for fantasy purposes in 2009.

Peppers to Pats Not a Reality

By: — @ 7:38 am
Filed under: Free Agents

Reports this week indicated that the Panthers were in trade discussions with the Patriots involving franchised defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers has made public his desire to play for a new franchise in 2009, preferably one that employs a 3-4 defense which would allow him to line up as a pass rushing outside linebacker.

The theory was the Patriots could use his services in their 3-4, they have an extra 2nd round pick courtesy of the Matt Cassel trade and the Panthers need the additional cap space that moving Peppers and his $16.7-million 2009 salary would provide. Connect the dots and voilà, Peppers to the Pats.

Unfortunately, there a number of hiccups with this scenario. First off, Peppers has not signed his franchise tender. This has two implications – only players under contract can be traded and teams are not allowed to discuss trades for players that are not under contract.

Second and more importantly, the Panthers are not about to accept a below market offer for Peppers, particularly when their fan base is aware of the price the Vikings paid last year to obtain Jared Allen from the Chiefs. Minnesota gave up their 1st round pick (17th overall) and two 3rd round picks to obain Allen. It is even arguable that Peppers is more talented than Allen, although Allen plays with a higher motor, is more consistent and has posted better sack totals over the past two years (30.5 sacks for Allen to 17 for Peppers). It would be difficult for Panthers management to argue that Peppers’ value is the same as Cassel which is essentially what such a trade would suggest.

Finally, the Panthers don’t have a replacement on their roster for Peppers and don’t have a 1st round pick this year to help them in this regard. The Panthers traded their 2009 1st round pick to the Eagles last year in order to select offensive tackle Jeff Otah. Charles Johnson had the second most sacks on the team last year with six but is not in the same class as Peppers and would likely see his sack total decrease without Peppers lining up opposite of him.

Browns Sign OT St. Clair

By: — March 18, 2009 @ 12:17 pm
Filed under: Free Agents

The Cleveland Browns signed free agent offensive tackle John St. Clair to a three year contract reportedly worth up to $9-million. The Browns recently released starting right tackle Kevin Shaffer, restructured Ryan Tucker’s contract to the veterans minimum and signed former Seahawks lineman Floyd Womack.

St. Clair manned the left tackle position last year for the Chicago Bears but is a versatile lineman capable of filling in at any position along the offensive line except for center. Look for him to start at right tackle for the Browns in 2009. He is a journeyman, and better at run blocking than in pass protection.

Fantasy Football Impact

Cleveland Browns

Shaffer was a former left tackle forced to play on the right side after the team acquired Joe Thomas in the 2007 draft. He is not a physical player and it appears the team wanted a more physical presence at the postion. St. Clair will provide that but this isn’t a move that provides a significant upgrade for the team. This move will have minimal impact on a Browns team that struggled offensively in 2008, failing to score an offensive touchdown the final 6 weeks of the season, and traded away tight end Kellen Winslow. Currently the team does not possess a proven receiving tight end, quality third receiver or a solid option to incumbent starting running back Jamal Lewis. Throw in starting wide receiver Donte Stallworth’s legal problems and the Browns look like a fantasy mess heading into 2009.

Chicago Bears

Leave it to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo to blow another veteran personnel decision. With John Tait’s retirement and St. Clair’s free agent defection, the team’s current starting offensive tackles figure to be 2008 1st round pick Chris Williams and former Falcon and Panther Frank Omiyale, who have combined to start one game in the NFL. With an aging Olin Kreutz at center and journeymen guards in Roberto Garza, Josh Beekman and Dan Buenning, the interior of the team’s offensive line is not equipped to make up for deficiencies at tackle.

The Bears will have to address their offensive line but there is little talent left in the free agent market so the team may have to use an early draft pick in this area and start another young player in 2009. This doesn’t bode well for running back Matt Forte replicating his rookie performance or for Kyle Orton progresssing at quarterback.

Jaguars Release Matt Jones

By: — March 16, 2009 @ 11:48 am
Filed under: Free Agents

Matt Jones’ troubled career with the Jacksonville Jaguars is apparently over with several reports indicating the team will release their former 1st round selection. A poor work ethic, conflict with head coach Jack Del Rio and a 2008 arrest for drug possession weren’t enough for the Jaguars to part with Jones but apparently a second arrest, this time for violating terms of his plea agreement, pushed the team over the edge.

New general manager Gene Smith has indicated that character will be much more of a focus in terms of personnel decisions and this was his first major test in this area. The club chose not to re-sign left tackle Khalif Barnes due to on and off the field issues and also jettisoned problem child wide receiver Jerry Porter despite the salary cap consequences of releasing a major free agent signing only one year into their contract.

However, with Porter off the roster and the team also not offering a contract to free agent receiver Reggie Williams, the team was dangerously thin at wide receiver prior to Jones’ release. Clearly, Smith felt a message had to be delivered even at the expense of the team’s depth at wide receiver.

Fantasy Football Impact 

The current projected starters at wide receiver are now Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker and the top reserve is Troy Williamson. Northcutt is best when used in the slot and would be a quality third receiver on a team with a solid passing attack. Walker has upside but has yet to make his mark, although he did post a 100-yard game last season. Williamson was a bust with the Vikings and only posted five receptions for 30 yards in his first season in Jacksonville.

Look for the team to address the position in the draft. Although they could take a wide receiver with the 8th pick in the draft, that seems unlikely. They will likely also attempt to acquire a veteran receiver and recently released Torry Holt would provide quality veteran leadership and decent production. With the Tennessee Titans also interested in Holt, it would shape up as an interesting AFC South dynamic if the Jaguars also showed interest in the former Ram.

Finally, quality fantasy football quarterbacks always have at least one talented wide receiver and the Jaguars do not currently have a potential 1,000 yard receiver on the roster or a quality receiving tight end for that matter. This doesn’t bode well for David Garrard. And running games are much easier to stop when defenses don’t have to be concerned with a team’s weapons at wide receiver so this development also hurts Maurice Jones-Drew’s prospects for 2009 as well.

Rams Release Holt

By: — March 14, 2009 @ 7:04 am
Filed under: Free Agents

With the release of wide receiver Torry Holt, the St. Louis Rams continue to purge their roster of veteran players. Holt follows fellow veterans Orlando Pace, Trent Green, Drew Bennett, Corey Chavous, Anthony Becht and Brett Romberg out the door.

The moves are a deliberate attempt by the new general manager and head coach tandem of Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo to increase the team’s salary cap flexibility while at the same time creating opportunities for younger players on the roster.

Reports indicate the Rams gained roughly $14-million in salary space with the departures of Holt and Pace. Look for the team to use that extra room for mid-level free agent signings and to sign the team’s draft picks.

Fantasy Football Impact

For the Rams, Holt’s release thrusts Donnie Avery into the role as the team’s number one receiver. The first wide receiver taken in last year’s draft, Avery displayed a knack for making big plays but also committed numerous rookie mistakes by running poor routes, missing hot reads and running the wrong way. He is clearly a talented player but will need help at the other wide receiver position. Simpy put, if defenses game plan to shut him down, they will be successful. Keenan Burton (last year’s 4th round pick) and Derek Stanley are currently the top candidates to start opposite Avery but the position will be addressed in the draft and possibly with a veteran player. The Seahawks Bobby Engram would fit in nicely in St. Louis as a veteran mentor and slot receiver.

Look for Holt to find a new home and a good opportunity in short order. Other than former Ram teammate Isaac Bruce, Holt has to be considered among the least tempermental star receivers in the league over the last decade. He dropped from being a perennial top ten fantasy wide receiver last year but that was more a result of fewer opportunities, playing in a poor offense with an underperforming quarterback and, perhaps even he would admit, a lack of motivation. Nonetheless, although he has clearly lost a step in terms of deep speed, stories of his demise are greatly exaggerated. His yards per catch has dropped every year since 2004 but was still a respectable 12.4 in 2008. By comparison, T.J. Houshmanzadeh’s was 9.8 this year. It says here that Holt still has the ability to be a productive number two wide receiver on a good team. Contending teams needing help at wide receiver include the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Jets, Titans and maybe the Ravens if they decide not to meet Derrick Mason’s renegotiation demands.

Broncos A Mess

By: — March 13, 2009 @ 1:17 pm
Filed under: Forecast

The Denver Broncos have a strong armed quarterback in Jay Cutler and apparently a head strong coach in Josh McDaniels. What remains to be seen is whether the head strong coach will come to the conclusion that he needs to make peace with his quarterback in order to salvage the team’s 2009 season and perhaps his position as head coach.

This whole sordid saga began when McDaniels broached the idea of trading Cutler as part of a three-team trade that would have brought his former pupil Matt Cassel to Denver. In Cutler’s mind, it doesn’t seem to matter whether Denver was approached by another team. What matters to him is that the idea wasn’t rejected at first glance. You can argue whether or not this was the proper reaction but it is what it is.

McDaniels and GM Brian Xanders then apparently made a bad situation worse by pulling a heavy on Cutler and telling him that, although they didn’t plan on trading him, they would if they felt it was good for the franchise. It never dawned on them that perhaps the best way to make peace was to simply say they had no intention of trading him and stopping there. Of course, the new sheriffs in town felt it was important to show off their badges, so rather than putting out the fire, they added fuel to it.

Although Cutler seems to be a bit immature (calling out wide receiver Brandon Marshall last season and overreacting to this situation), what should be clear to McDaniels is that this is a battle that he cannot win for a number of reasons. First off, this team isn’t going anywhere without Cutler at quarterback because of the question marks on defense and at running back. Second, it’s hard to believe that owner Pat Bowlen is going to allow his rookie head coach and general manager to trade the franchise quarterback whose physical and mental attributes mirror those of franchise icon John Elway. Finally, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bowlen puts some handcuffs on his rookie duo given their lackluster performance thus far, including this situation as well as questionable free agent signings.

It says here that there’s a far greater likelihood of McDaniels and Xanders being one and done in Denver than of Bowlen allowing these neophytes to trade the current face of the franchise. The owner has already shown he will spend when necessary by axeing former coach Mike Shanahan and eating $21-million in the process.

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