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 continuing with running backs.

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Running Back Trade Market

Derrick Henry’s name has floated around trade rumors this offseason, but I am not sure how much fire there is behind that smoke.

The Titans held onto Ryan Tannehill, which would be a strange thing to do before trading away the heart of the offense. It probably makes sense to reset given the roster, but it seems like Tennessee wants to run it back one more time.

The Vikings have seemingly wanted to move on from Dalvin Cook all offseason – he might have been cut already if not for shoulder surgery and an injury guarantee in his contract – and they brought back Alexander Mattison in free agency, although his contract looks more like a backup deal.

Minnesota was fourth-worst in EPA per rush last year, something they can accomplish without a running back that will make $11 million and cost $14.1 million against the cap.

The problem is who else wants that contract? The safe money is on Cook returning to the Vikings, but it is a storyline to watch.

More surprising than the Cook news, reports emerged during free agency week that Austin Ekeler requested a trade and was given permission to speak with other teams after extension talks broke down.

News on that has been scarce since the Chargers granted permission, but it is not promising Ekeler called playing out the final year of his contract his “worst-case scenario.”

Like Cook, finding a landing spot for Ekeler could be difficult, especially since he will want a big-money extension following the trade.

The most interesting spot for either player is the Bengals, who can save $7.3 million against the cap by cutting Joe Mixon and lost Samaje Perine in free agency. If Cincy really wants to save money at running back, though, replacing Mixon with a rookie and adding one of the many still-available veterans makes more sense.

Eagles Take Upside Risk on Rashaad Penny

Why do you tempt me so, football gods?

The story here is very simple. When healthy, Rashaad Penny is one of the better running backs in the league.

He easily finished first in rushing yards over expected per carry in 2021. He did not have enough carries to qualify for that stat in 2022, but his RYOE per carry was actually higher.

He creates yards, and he is joining an offense that finished fifth in yards before contact last year. Smash. Smash.

The problem is the “when healthy” bit. Penny has played 42 games in five seasons and has not played more than 10 since his rookie year. He has never carried the ball more than 119 times.

Fantasy players probably put too much stock into the “injury prone” label – this is a violent game and many injuries are fluky – but it is impossible to call Penny anything but injury prone.

There are also other concerns. Boston Scott is back, and Kenneth Gainwell remains in the backfield following his mini-breakout at the end of last season.

Even if Penny monopolizes the running back touches in the red zone, he is going to lose a large chunk of goal-line carries to Jalen Hurts.

None of that really matters, though. Penny is good enough to earn the No. 1 spot and should produce when he is on the field.

He is also unlikely to be on the field more than half the season unless he has an unprecedented run of health.

That is the gambit. Good luck.

Miles Sanders Lands With Carolina Panthers

The player who benefited from all of Philly’s yards before contact on his way to a career season, Miles Sanders landed a four-year, $25 million contract from the Panthers. This spot might not be as good as the Eagles team Sanders is leaving, but there are reasons for optimism.

First, new coach Frank Reich has leaned heavily on the running game in recent seasons.

Over his final three full seasons, the Colts were four percent under their expected pass rate and 25th in neutral pass rate. That span leaves out Reich’s first season in Indy, the only year he worked with Andrew Luck. That year the Colts played fast and threw a lot, finishing fifth in neutral pass rate.

The Luck season suggests Reich wants to run a fast, high-volume passing attack, but he just has not had the quarterbacks to do it.

Will that change this year?

Given his quarterback will probably be a rookie throwing to a lackluster receiving group, I imagine Reich will default to the run-heavy approach of his final years with the Colts.

Second, the Panthers have the most available carries in the league at 347, 20 more than the second-place team.

D’Onta Foreman is gone; Christian McCaffrey is gone; and it feels likely Chuba Hubbard will be the clear backup after playing that role for Foreman last season.

There are also some concerns. Sanders is going from a team that scored 57 touchdowns last year, second in the league, to a team that scored 32.

Carolina’s offense could be better under Reich, but it almost certainly will not be Eagles good. Some of that downside will be offset by not competing with Jalen Hurts for goal-line carries, but it is still a concern.

The Panthers are returning a solid offensive line that finished 14th in yards before contact per attempt and ninth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. That is still a downgrade from what was in front of him with the Eagles, though, and both of Carolina’s starting guards are returning from late-season injuries.

Finally, Sanders’ upside will always be tempered by his limited usage in the passing game.

He did see 115 targets over his first two seasons, but Nick Sirianni, a member of Reich’s coaching tree, limited Sanders to 60 total targets over the last two years.

Sanders has not forced the issue, finishing near the bottom of the league in yards per route run each of the last three seasons and struggling as a pass blocker.

Sanders finished as the RB22 in per-game scoring last season. He is going off the board as the RB23 in early Underdog drafts.

That might be a little low, but he is joining a worse offense and is unlikely to return much value as a pass catcher. Unless either of those things changes, back-end RB2 feels like his range.

David Montgomery Signs With Detroit Lions

There was talk of the Lions bringing back Jamaal Williams following his 17-touchdown performance last season, but he found his way to New Orleans. In his place, Detroit signed David Montgomery away from the division-rival Bears.

This signing makes a ton of sense. Montgomery might be able to offer more in the passing game than Williams did last season, but he is an equally unexciting back that can eat up carries and do well in short-yardage situations – Montgomery finished fifth in short-yardage conversion rate last season.

If you have a type you have a type.

Even if he is not a great back, this looks like great news for Montgomery’s fantasy value.

During his Combine interview, Dan Campbell seemed to suggest the team plans to limit D’Andre Swift’s workload much like they did last year. That leaves a clear path to the 262 carries and, most importantly, a league-leading 28 carries inside the five that Williams left behind.

It would be a shock if Montgomery got that many high-value touches and matched the 17 touchdowns Williams scored last year simply because those seasons are rare. However, he looks like the No. 1 back on an ascending offense that created scoring opportunities last season.

That is a decent RB2 bet.

New Orleans Saints Scoop Up Jamaal Williams

Replaced by Montgomery, Williams quickly found a new home with the Saints.

If Alvin Kamara avoids a 2023 suspension, this will likely be a real-life upgrade for the Saints but a fantasy downgrade for Williams.

Kamara was at his best as a 12 to 13 carry back who dominated in the passing game. New Orleans has needed more from him as a runner the last couple of seasons, and his efficiency dropped off a cliff.

The Saints made moves to get Kamara some help over the last couple of years including trading for Mark Ingram midway through the 2021 season, but they have not had a reliable option in the No. 2 spot since Latavius Murray in 2020.

Williams should fit well in that role, one that earned Murray 169 touches and five touchdowns in 15 games.

The real fantasy upside for Williams, though, lies in the uncertain status of Kamara, who is facing battery charges. That trial is set to begin on July 31, leaving a little over a month for the legal process to play out and the NFL to make a decision before Week 1.

There is a real chance Kamara’s fate remains a mystery into the season.

Williams’ touchdown upside might not be as high in a worse offense with a better teammate in the backfield, especially with Taysom Hill still lurking in the shadows, and he will not be an exciting fantasy play even as an 11-touch backup. That makes his current RB34 ADP tough to swallow.

If he gets six or eight games as the clear starter, however, that draft position will be a value.

D’Onta Foreman Gets One-Year Deal From Chicago Bears

Montgomery leaving for the Lions gave all of us Khalil Herbert stans hope, but those dreams were dampened when D’Onta Foreman signed a one-year, $3 million deal.

Foreman is coming off easily the best season of his career, but he was also solid filling in for Derrick Henry in 2021. It is possible he would be viewed in a much different light if his career was not derailed by an Achilles tear during his rookie season.

Foreman’s contract suggests the Bears view him as at best a committee addition, but they also do not have a strong commitment to Herbert, a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft.

Justin Fields is going to eat up carries, and the Bears added D.J. Moore this offseason, suggesting they will throw at least a little more than their historic 14.1% pass rate under expected last season. Chicago also added Travis Homer, who could take over as the third-down back.

All of those factors make this backfield difficult to project. I will place a few bets on Herbert simply because I think he is an above-average running back, but Foreman’s early RB41 price does not properly reflect his chances of winning this job.

Dallas Cowboys Cut Ties with Ezekiel Elliott

After tagging Tony Pollard, the Cowboys finally decided to move on from Ezekiel Elliott and his ever-slowing legs. Dallas did add Ronald Jones in free agency, but the one-year, $1.2 million contract does not suggest he will command a large role even without considering his recent career – thanks for the best-ball losses, my friend.

That raises a question. Will the Cowboys spend an early draft pick on a running back?

Following Elliott’s release – and the Cowboys trading for a receiver and corner – mock drafts are frequently connecting Dallas with Texas RB Bijan Robinson in the first round. If the Cowboys spend that kind of draft capital, Robinson would almost certainly take on a large share of the work, and Pollard’s role could look something like his one from last year.

That was still good enough for him to be RB9 in points per game, but a healthy dose of touchdown luck helped him reach that fantasy finish – he doubled his expected touchdown total.

The Cowboys could also wait to add a back in the middle rounds, where several talented runners will be available in a deep class. Pollard would likely end up the clear lead back in that scenario, an exciting prospect given what he has done on a per-touch basis thus far in his career.

Dallas made a commitment to Pollard, released Elliott, and to this point has not added dangerous competition. Assuming he can dodge the Bijan torpedo in the first round, he will have a good shot to return value even if his ADP ends up in the second round.

Denver Broncos Add Samaje Perine

Samaje Perine is going to be a complementary back when Javonte Williams is healthy. The problem is no one seems to know when that will be.

ESPN’s Jeff Legwold reported Williams’ knee injury “could keep him out well into the 2023 season,” but GM George Paton said the running back is “on track” for Week 1. The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider believes there is “a good chance” the Broncos draft a running back, which would suggest they are worried about Williams. Denver also signed Tony Jones, who played for Sean Payton in New Orleans.

Given Williams is returning from multiple ligament tears, Legwold’s report feels closer to the truth than Paton’s optimism.

Depending on how early the Broncos draft a running back, that could mean Perine opens the season as the starter – Paton said Perine “can be a starter” in late March – for an offense that invested heavily in their offensive line and should improve under Sean Payton.

Damien Harris Lands With Buffalo Bills

It always seemed likely the Bills would bring in a back like Damien Harris.

James Cook had a fine rookie season, but he was limited to 12 touches or fewer in all but one game. With Devin Singletary gone, they needed someone else to take on some carries.

Harris should be pretty good in that role. While he does not offer much as a pass catcher, he consistently creates yards – his 1.97 career yards after contact per attempt would have ranked inside the top 20 last year – and can convert in short-yardage situations.

The problem is Josh Allen will see a lot of goal-line work. He saw about a third of Buffalo’s carries inside the five over his first four seasons, and that number jumped to 61% last year.

Given how good Buffalo’s offense is, there is still room there for Harris to score six or seven touchdowns if he can monopolize the rest of the high-value carries, but what does that really do for fantasy players?

Singletary was the RB27 in points per game last season with a 177-819-5 rushing line, and he caught 38 passes, something Harris is unlikely to do.

Harris is a good runner on a high-powered offense and could surprise with a special season like Jamaal Williams did last year, but it is tough to get excited about him or Cook in what looks likely to be a timeshare.

Devin Singletary Signs With Houston Texans

The Texans needed to add pieces behind Dameon Pierce, but the Singletary signing is a bit odd.

Pierce was outstanding as a runner during his rookie season, but he was nothing more than a check-down option in the passing game and struggled to pass block. That has kind of been the story with Singletary in the passing game throughout his career, and fellow addition Mike Boone has 18 career catches.

Given he is a former linebacker and defensive coordinator who worked under Kyle Shanahan, DeMeco Ryans likely would love a strong, voluminous rushing attack that utilizes multiple backs.

If that is true, Singletary should get a handful of carries each game and offer more than Pierce’s backups did last year. That said, a back with better passing-game chops would have been more interesting from a fantasy perspective.

Additional Fantasy Thoughts

Miami entered the offseason ranked first in available carries, but they re-signed EVERYONE and look likely to run it back.

James Robinson probably will not return any fantasy value as long as Rhamondre Stevenson remains healthy – Bill Belichick called him a depth signing – but it will be interesting to see if he returns to form another year removed from his Achilles tear.

Don’t forget D’Ernest Johnson was legitimately good when he got a chance in 2021. He is unlikely to return real fantasy value as long as Travis Etienne is healthy, but he is a name to file away.

My Dynasty teams hope Rachaad White comes good, hope bolstered by Todd Bowles saying he wants White to be a “three-down back,” but he struggled nearly as much as Leonard Fournette last season. Chase Edmonds is only a year removed from getting $6.1 million guaranteed on a “two-year” contract.

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