Jimmy Graham and Dennis Pitta were locked up before they hit the open market. That leaves Jermichael Finley as the top player in this class. But the guy sitting #2 in our rankings could be a 2014 fantasy football sleeper.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo's recovery from late-December back surgery remains on track. “It’s going good,” Romo said. “We’re getting close now. Usually it takes three months, it’s just normal kind of roundabout date that they give you and we’re right on schedule. Really ahead in a lot of ways. Just going to be ready to go here in about a month and rehab is going good, no setbacks of any kind. [My surgery] was just a normal small version of it, so I should be good to go here shortly.” It sounds like Romo is on track to receive full medical clearance by April. It's still unclear if he'll participate in OTAs, but he should be at 100% for training camp. Barring some sort of setback, Romo's back won't be an issue in 2014. He's shaping up as a value pick (again) in fantasy drafts this summer.
Saints insider Jeff Duncan believes the team is in the midst of transitioning to a "more balanced, ball-control" offense. The team has cut ties with RB Darren Sproles and WR Lance Moore in the past week, and RB Pierre Thomas might also be gone before the 2014 season kicks off. That'd leave the backfield to Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, more traditional RBs than pass-catchers Thomas and Sproles. New Orleans has also become shaky at WR, with 30-year-old Marques Colston and a bunch of unproven youngsters. More commitment to the ground game this coming season makes sense. The offense will still revolve around QB Drew Brees, but his attempts figure to head south in 2014. He's topped 650 passes in 4 straight years.
Pro Football Talk reports that the Titans "soon will commence efforts" to trade RB Chris Johnson. His impending release has long been rumored, so this news comes as no surprise. We'd be more surprised if Tennessee actually finds a market. The Titans still owe Johnson $8 million in 2014 and 2015 and then $9 million total (including a $2 million roster bonus). Any team that trades for Johnson would be on the hook for the rest of that contract. Look for the trade efforts to fail and Tennessee to cut its former stud some time this summer.
Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider reports that the Jets hope to have QB Geno Smith throw fewer than 20 passes a game in 2014. Frankly, expecting 320 or fewer pass attempts for a season would be ridiculous. The Niners threw less than any other team last year and still tallied 417 attempts, which doesn't even account for sacks. Over the past 8 seasons, only 1 team (the 2009 Jets) has finished with fewer than 400 attempts. If that's the Jets' goal, then what they really want is a different starting QB. Numbers aside, a greater rushing focus for Rex Ryan's team helps fantasy football owners. There's much more upside in the Jets' RBs than in anyone involved in the passing game.
Pro Football Talk reports that "all signs currently point" to the Dolphins signing OT Branden Albert shortly after free agency begins on Tuesday. It would be a perfect match of need with talent. Albert tied for 11th among OTs in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking grades last season. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill endured the league's 2nd worst sack rate among full-time starters (ahead of only Russell Wilson). This looks like a good 1st step toward fixing arguably the league's worst O-line -- and boosting the fantasy values of everyone in the Dolphins backfield.
The Minnesota Vikings have signed DE Everson Griffen to a 5-year, $42.5 million contract to keep him from reaching free agency. The deal clearly sets up the 26-year-old to start on the right side, with Jared Allen heading elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. It also obviously takes the Vikes out of contention for former Bengals DE Michael Johnson on the open market. Griffen tallied sack totals of 5.5, 8.0 and 4.0 in a limited role the past 3 years. Pro Football Focus graded him a career-best 16th in pass-rushing among 4-3 DEs last season. Griffen will carry breakout potential into 2014. Look for him to hold down a sleeper spot in our 2014 IDP rankings.
MassLive.com reports that the Texans have shown interest in Patriots QB Ryan Mallett. It doesn't sound like any deal is imminent, but the situation is interesting. New Houston HC Bill O'Brien served as OC for the Patriots in 2011 when Mallett arrived as a 3rd-round pick. With Mallett entering the final year of his contract, New England might be willing to trade him for just a matching 3rd-rounder (likely plus a conditional 2015 pick that hinders on Mallett's performance). And if Houston doesn't love any rookie QB at the top spot, Mallett makes as much sense as anyone else available. We'll be watching this situation over the next month and a half.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that former Cardinals RB Rashard Mendenhall is telling teams he plans to retire. Mendy's age (26) makes the move somewhat surprising, but he sure didn't look like a runner with much left in 2013. His 3.2 yards per carry ranked 5th worst among the 48 qualifying runners last season. Mendenhall suffered an ACL tear near the end of the 2011 season that cost him 10 games the following year. He has finished 3 of his 5 NFL seasons with less than 4.0 yards per carry.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Giants WR Hakeem Nicks "has circulated medical assurances to all clubs from two of the nation's
leading specialists that past foot and knee injuries should not inhibit
the wide receiver's 2014 season." Our question: Would those doctors have said the same thing about 2013? Nicks missed just 1 game last season and appeared on the injury report with an actual health issue (abdomen) only twice. Yet, Nicks endured a 2nd straight disappointing season, catching just 56 of 102 targets for 896 yards and 0 TDs. He's understandably trying to convince teams that he's worth signing, but we remain wary going forward.
The Jets have locked up TE Jeff Cumberland with a 3-year deal before the 26-year-old could reach free agency. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the team is "bullish on Cumberland’s ability to take that next step after flashes in his first four seasons." Cumberland began last year as a part-time player before ramping up his involvement over the 2nd half. He played more than 78% of the Jets' offensive snaps in each of the final 5 games. With Kellen Winslow gone and a weak crop of WRs, Cumberland could deliver solid TE2 value for fantasy football owners in 2014. For what it's worth, though, Mehta reports that "team decision makers" also remain high on TE Zach Sudfeld.