This was not a particularly exciting free agency period when it came to fantasy football.
The wide receiver class is what the kids would call “mid” – they will stop saying that now that I have – the tight end group is worse, and the heat was taken out of the running back class when Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard all landed the franchise tag.
That is not to say there were no impactful moves.
We have quarterbacks who “intend” to play elsewhere, trades, touchdown-dependent running backs changing teams, and a situation that will create the mother of all risk-reward propositions. (For the love of all that is holy, please stay healthy, Rashaad Penny.)
With the moves mostly over, it is time to look at how they will affect the fantasy landscape starting with quarterback.
Lamar Jackson’s Future Remains a Mystery
While the deal is not done, Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly be a Jet by Week 1.
We do not have that same kind of certainty for Lamar Jackson, who revealed he requested a trade back before the free agency period began.
Reports in the weeks since have suggested he is done with the Ravens. Of course, that would almost certainly change if they offered the kind of guaranteed contract he reportedly seeks.
In a Succession level of petty, Jackson tweeted news of the three-weeks-old trade request at nearly the exact same time coach John Harbaugh sat down in front of reporters at the annual league meeting.
The coach expressed confidence Jackson will remain with the team, saying the dispute is “a monetary thing” that “can be figured out.” Maybe Harbaugh is right, but the drumbeat has seemingly marched toward a trade all offseason.
The question, though, is who?
The Panthers have already made their move for a quarterback, but two of the teams they jumped have the cap space and high-end draft capital to make the trade and sign the extension Jackson wants.
Houston is reportedly out of the running, but the Colts have not ruled out making a move. Their roster is not what it has been in the past, but getting Jackson at quarterback would be enough to keep them competitive in the division.
The Falcons are also interesting in an equally weak NFC South. They already have a strong running game, have two young weapons in Kyle Pitts and Drake London, and Jackson would fit well in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Jackson is going to be a potential QB1 wherever he lands because of his rushing upside. Where that will be and how it will affect the other fantasy players on the roster remain the big questions of the offseason.
Aaron Rodgers Expected to Join New York Jets
This deal is not yet official, but it would be a shock if it does not happen. The Packers want to move on from Rodgers, who wants to play for the Jets, who want Rodgers. It does not get much more straightforward than that.
Rodgers undoubtedly took a step back last year, but Green Bay’s struggles were not all on him.
His on-target throw percentage was actually higher than it was in 2021, and PFF calculated his 2022 adjusted completion rate as roughly the same as it was the year before. That is not a surprise considering Rodgers tied for the league “lead” with 40 dropped passes, easily the highest number of his career.
Even a diminished version of Rodgers is better than what the Jets rolled out last year.
Three of the bottom six quarterbacks in completion rate over expected were Jets, and all three finished 32nd or worse in PFF quarterback grades. The Jets had easily the lowest percentage of on-target throws last season and the lowest mark in that category since the 2019 Lions.
Rodgers should be great news for Garrett Wilson, who thrived as a rookie despite that awful quarterback play, but it will not be a one-way street. Rodgers should also benefit from once again having an alpha No. 1 receiver.
Will that result in QB1 fantasy numbers for the four-time MVP? That really depends on volume.
The Packers were seventh in neutral pass rate during new Jets OC Nathaniel Hackett’s time as coordinator.
That was an offense called by Matt LaFleur, though, and Hackett’s offenses have usually trended more run-heavy outside of Green Bay – in that wild 625-attempt Blake Bortles season, the Jaguars were 27th in neutral pass rate after Hackett became coordinator.
Unlikely to throw it 600 times unless the defense falls off a cliff and unlikely to score a ton of points with his legs, Rodgers will need touchdown rates similar to his MVP seasons to return even back-end QB1 value.
It could happen – he is just a season removed from throwing 37 touchdowns on 531 attempts – but he looks more like a QB2 streaming option.
More importantly for fantasy players, though, the arrow is pointing way up for this offense and its young stars.
Derek Carr Signs with New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr is in a similar spot as Rodgers. He is coming off a down year, albeit from a much lower high, was dumped by his long-time team, and landed in an offense that struggled to throw last season.
Unlike Rodgers, it is not as clear Carr is an upgrade.
Carr actually finished below Andy Dalton in completion rate over expected last season, and Dalton’s 78% on-target rate easily outpaced Carr’s 71.8%.
Carr did push the ball downfield more, but his career aDOT is similar to the number Dalton posted last season. More importantly, he was not really successful doing it, ranking 24th in adjusted completion percentage on deep throws according to PFF.
He has been better in the past, but it was not a strength last season.
Of course, Carr’s 2022 on-target percentage, completion rate over expected, and EPA per play were all under his career averages.
From 2017 to 2021, Carr ranked 25th among all quarterbacks in EPA per play and 9th in completion rate over expected. Even though those numbers are not elite, he will be an upgrade if he can return to that form.
That would be big news for Chris Olave, who finished sixth last season in PFF’s yards per route run as a rookie and with Dalton at quarterback. His 2.42 mark in that metric was almost identical to Ja’Marr Chase’s in 2021, the exact same as A.J. Brown’s in 2019, and just behind Justin Jefferson’s in 2020.
Even if Michael Thomas returns to 100 percent – that remains a big if – Olave looks like a true No. 1. Carr returning to form would only help him reach that ceiling.
Las Vegas Raiders Land Jimmy Garoppolo
What if I told you Jimmy Garoppolo only trails Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees in EPA per play since joining the 49ers in 2017?
Does that mean Garoppolo is the most underrated quarterback in the league?
Does it mean Kyle Shanahan is a warlock?
Given what we saw from Brock Purdy last season, I lean more toward the latter, but Garoppolo is at worst a solid NFL starter joining a system he played in for three seasons.
How he fits into that system is a concern. The Raiders tied for third in air yards per attempt last season, and Carr finished fourth in attempts of 20 yards or more despite missing two games.
Carr struggled on those throws last year, but he has been much better than Garoppolo over the past several seasons.
well…. this will be interesting
rank on passes > 15 yards:
Derrek Carr: #9 of 47 QBs (+0.58)
Jimmy G: #42 of 47 QBs (-0.01)
rank on passes > 30 yards:
Carr: #10 of 47 QBs (+0.98)
Jimmy G: #40 of 47 QBs (-0.58)
Davante Adams goes from Rodgers’ arm to Carr to Jimmy G
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 13, 2023
The Raiders’ moves this offseason suggest they know that.
They let Mack Hollins walk in free agency, traded away Darren Waller, and replaced them with Jakobi Meyers and Austin Hooper.
Davante Adams was used more downfield last season, posting the highest aDOT of his career, but moving forward the Raiders could use him more like the Packers did his final few years in Green Bay.
Of course, it is possible Garoppolo changes his game and opens things up with the Raiders, but the tea leaves suggest a somewhat different approach for this passing game moving forward.
If that is right, it could lower the ceiling a bit for Adams, who made up for a much lower catch rate (55.6%) with easily the highest yards per reception rate (15.2) of his career last year.
Add in a target earner like Meyers, and there is at least a little reason for concern without even considering what happens if Garoppolo gets hurt…as he tends to do.
Is Mac Jones a Trade Candidate?
The Patriots appeared committed to Mac Jones early in the offseason, but reports started to turn in late March.
Bill Belichick did not commit to Jones starting, NBC Sports’ Tom Curran reported the coach was “agitated” with Jones for going outside the organization for help last season, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported New England has shopped Jones to several teams including the Raiders, Texans, Buccaneers, and Commanders.
After finishing 14th among qualifying quarterbacks in EPA per play as a rookie, Jones dropped down to 26th in that metric last season.
Of course, he did not have a real offensive coach, a frustration that led to him looking for that outside help Belichick is reportedly angry about.
He may not be an elite option, but Jones showed enough as a rookie to believe he can be a solid NFL starter, a level the Patriots will likely struggle to reach if they move him.
Bailey Zappe had a solid two-game run as the starter for an injured Jones last season, but he is a fourth-round sophomore. Relying on him would be a major projection.
The Patriots would get draft capital in any Jones deal, but will it be enough to move all the way up from No. 14 to No. 3?
Or would the Texans or Colts be willing to part with their early picks for Jones?
It seems unlikely.
Even with all this smoke, it would still register as a surprise if Jones is moved this offseason. Even if he sticks around, however, his long-term future as the starter appears to be in doubt.
The Backup Quarterback Carousel
Baker Mayfield (Buccaneers), Jacoby Brissett (Commanders), Taylor Heinicke (Falcons), and Sam Darnold (49ers) all signed with teams facing serious quarterback questions. Unfortunately, it is unlikely any of them are good enough to answer them.
Brissett might be the best bet of the group. He was quietly solid during his 11 starts with the Browns and actually finished fifth in completion rate over expected among qualified quarterbacks.
Ron Rivera has seemed lukewarm on the prospect of Sam Howell starting Week 1, and Washington likely will not be in position to draft one of the top rookies. That leaves Brissett as perhaps the most likely starter, which would not be a terrible outcome for Washington’s receiving group.
Atrocious during his time with the Panthers, Mayfield was merely bad with the Rams. That might still be enough to beat out Kyle Trask.
It would be a disaster for the 49ers and Falcons respectively if Trey Lance – Purdy is unlikely to be healthy for Week 1 but will almost certainly be the starter if he is – and Desmond Ridder can’t beat out Darnold and Heinicke, but that does not make it impossible.
It is unlikely any of this group ends up being fantasy relevant, but it would not be a surprise if all four started games in 2023.
Gardner Minshew (Colts) and Andy Dalton (Panthers) are in slightly different situations as both landed on teams likely to pick a quarterback early in the first round.
The Panthers certainly will, and they appear to be most interested in C.J. Stroud (-350 at BetMGM), who should be able to start Week 1.
The Colts are in a different spot.
Assuming Stroud and Bryce Young go first and second, they will be forced to take Anthony Richardson or Will Levis, more developmental prospects, if they are dead set on a quarterback at No. 4.
That could open up some starts for Minshew. It might not be great news for Indy’s skill players, but it probably will not be worse than last season.
Additional Fantasy Thoughts
Given Tua Tagovailoa’s injury history, Mike White could play a big role for a team good enough to compete for a playoff spot. For what it is worth, he has been the best Jets quarterback over the last two seasons, but that is like being the most athletic fantasy football writer.
Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle would almost certainly take a hit if White is forced to start.
It’s probably not relevant, but the $5 million per year Jarrett Stidham got from the Broncos ranks relatively high among backup quarterbacks. It’s also probably not relevant, but Sean Payton said Stidham was an “important signing” and “can become an NFL starter.” But it’s probably not relevant…
Marcus Mariota does not have the passing upside or playmaking ability of Jalen Hurts, but he at least fits better into Philly’s system than Minshew and could have some streaming appeal if Hurts misses any time.