Now that the football season is over, it’s time to start looking ahead to next year. While most people are ready to take anNFL break, it’s never too early to start thinking about the next season. I know most people aren’t doing mock drafts just yet, but there are some guys to keep an eye on as they enter free agency. Remember free agency does not begin until March 11, but let’s start taking a look at players that are likely at the top of discussions and some of which may end up on a different team.
Ben Tate, RB – It’s been pretty much said that Tate will not be returning to Houston. The Texans have Arian Foster, who will hopefully be healthy in 2014 and their biggest need is a quarterback, not at backup running back. Tate had his opportunity in 2013 to show that he could be a lead back, but he ended up playing through broken ribs and other ailments, which didn’t help his cause. In 14 games, he rushed for 771 yards and four touchdowns. He added 34 receptions for 140 yards and no touchdowns. While those aren’t terrible numbers, they certainly aren’t good enough for a team to come calling with a big paycheck. There has been interest from the running-back-desperate Cleveland Browns, according to reports. With Edwin Baker currently at the top of the Browns RB depth chart, there is a definite need there. They certainly have the draft picks to get a rookie running back, but they may be interested in signing Tate, looking at other needs during the draft, and knowing that they have an experienced running back to rely on. If Tate signs with the Browns, and they don’t draft a top prospect, he will be a high-end RB2.
Knowshon Moreno – Even though Moreno put up his best season yet, it appears that the Broncos are going to let him test free agency. In 2013, he had 1,039 rushing yards (his first time over 1,000), 10 rushing touchdowns, 60 receptions, 548 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. He showed that he was a good pass-protector as well as a runner. He was healthy for most of the season and was the best back to own for Fantasy on the Broncos. While it may be tough for a team to look at him as their every-down back, there will be interest on the open market. A potential fit for Moreno might be somewhere like Atlanta. Sure, they did sign Steven Jackson on a three-year deal last year, but they know that he’s not someone they can rely on. Jackson is going to be 31 in 2014; Moreno is going to be 27. Jackson doesn’t fare well in the passing game; Moreno showed this year he can excel in that area. Combining the two backs may be just what the Falcons need.
Darren McFadden – While it was no surprise to seasoned Fantasy owners, McFadden had another injury-plagued season. He actually played in 10 games, but only managed 379 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He did add 17 receptions for 108 yards, but overall, it was arguably his worst season yet. He’s never played in more than 13 games in his six-year NFL career. He’s only had more than 115 carries twice, and if you throw out his 2010 season (his best), his career could be considered a bust. Sure, a team will likely take a chance on him. When he is healthy, he’s productive, but no one wants to rely on someone they won’t get a full season out of. A possible landing spot is with the Cincinnati Bengals. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis likely being cut, Giovani Bernard could be relied on to carry the load. However, the Bengals don’t see him as an every-down back. They didn’t let him get more than 15 carries at any point in 2013. Now, this outlook may change with a new offensive coordinator (Hue Jackson), but they will likely be looking for someone else to back up Bernard. Why not McFadden?
Eric Decker – With the Broncos worrying about Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas (both entering their contract years), it seems likely that Decker won’t get the big deal from them. He’s done well enough to earn a fairly lucrative contract elsewhere. With career-highs in receptions (87), yards (1,288) and 100-yard-plus games (five), he put up a good enough stat line to draw interest from other teams. He had 11 touchdowns in 2013 (two shy of his record in 2012) and he did have a rough Super Bowl (but so did the entire Broncos team), but that shouldn’t affect his potential contract. A possible landing spot might be the New England Patriots. The Patriots may lose Julian Edelman if they choose not to offer him a contract, and Decker will certainly be an upgrade on Edelman. Knowing they have injury-plagued receivers, someone like Decker, who has played all 16 games for the past three seasons, might be appealing.
Jeremy Maclin – After missing all of the 2013 season because of an ACL tear, Maclin is interesting for 2014. He’s acknowledged that he may have to sign a one-year deal with a team to show that he is back and able to perform at the level he was at before the injury. He’s certainly capable of a 1,000-yard season, but he needs to come back strong and healthy and land on a team that will utilize him prominently. It is certainly possible that the Eagles may re-sign him to use him opposite DeSean Jackson and let Riley Cooper go. Or, the Eagles may keep Cooper and let Maclin go, not knowing how he’ll be after the injury and knowing the chemistry Cooper had with Nick Foles. A possible landing spot that has been speculated for Maclin is Kansas City. He’d be reunited with Andy Reid and could then start opposite Dwayne Bowe.