Each off-season the NFL offers a litany of players which are destined to find new homes for the upcoming season. The 2016 free agent pool is no different. This segment will dig into a handful of running backs, which could find themselves dawning new uniforms for the 2016 season. Whether due to contract status or simply having worn out their welcome for their current teams, the one thing we can always count on happening is things always change.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and have some fun projecting just where they may land, the implications it could have on their current teams and which players may benefit from their departure.
Defining Free Agent Status:
UFA – Unrestricted free agents are players with expired contracts that have completed four or more accrued seasons of service. They are free to sign with any franchise.
RFA – A player who is no longer considered to be entry-level, but does not qualify as an unrestricted free agent, becomes a restricted free agent when his contract expires. A player may only declare himself to be an unrestricted free agent if he is over the age of 27 or has played in the league for a minimum of 7 years.
ERFA – An exclusive rights free agent is a player who is not under contract but has two years of NFL experience. A player in this category is not really a free agent. He cannot sign with any other team, if he does not sign the contract, the player has to quit.
RB Doug Martin (UFA)
As things sit today, Doug Martin is not expected back in Tampa Bay in 2016 as the Buccaneer brass declined picking up Martins 5th year option. Regardless of facing an unknown future, Martin has excelled in his 4th NFL season. In PPR formats, Martin currently ranks as the #6 overall running back. However, in terms of real NFL production Martins stat line is even better. Martin has amassed 1,354 yards (4.96ypc) rushing (which ranks him only 64 yards behind rushing leader Adrian Peterson with one game remaining) and 6 touchdowns. He has also nabbed 26 receptions for 211 with another score. Needless to say, Martin is earning a paycheck for 2016. The only question remaining is for which team will he be playing for.
The What If:
There will undoubtedly be a number of teams around the league in need of a (still) young all-purpose back that just gives off the vibe that he has either already reached his ceiling (rookie season, 1,454 yards & 11 TDs) or he hasn’t fully tapped into his potential. It’s certainly a slippery slope for teams to consider. Nevertheless, here are a 3 teams Martin would could be a solid fit should Tampa Bay not bring him back; New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys & Cleveland Browns.
Should Martin walk this off-season the man standing to reap the greatest benefits of his departure is undoubtedly Charles Sims. Sims was a coveted selection when initially drafted with the 5th pick in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, as well as Martin has done this season, Sims has produced a solid stat line himself. Sims has tallied 514 yards (4.99 ypc) rushing and 42 receptions (second only to WR Mike Evans) for 487 yards and 4 touchdowns (tied for first with TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins). The 2016 running back position in Tampa Bay looks secure and as of today all signs point to Charles Sims becoming the back to own.
RB Matt Forte (UFA)
Matt Forte is the working mans running back. It has always seemed as though he has been one of the most under appreciated running backs in the NFL. He is the epitome of a workhorse, do-it-all type of back that has produced year in and year out since his rookie season of 2008. Unfortunately, injuries have somewhat derailed his 2015 season. He is on pace to finish this season with his lowest rushing totals since 2011 (997) and his lowest receptions totals since 2012 (2012). There have already been whispers that this is indeed his last ride in the Windy City as well.
The What If:
Rest assured to all of his devoted fans that should he rumors be true Matt Forte will certainly find a new home in 2016. In fact, I would argue that a change of scenery just might be what the doctor ordered. We have seen a number of running backs through the years find a resurgence once they have strolled to different pastures. Forte will be no different. Although, he likely will be off of the priority Dynasty radar, he will definitely be a solid seasonal play in 2016 should he land in a favorable position. Here are 3 teams I can see him making an impact for; New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens & Tennessee Titans.
Any fantasy football owner can tell you that the “Next Man Up” in Chicago isn’t just another number. There has been a player that has made it extremely easy for the Chicago brass to decide to move on from the Forte era and that is rookie running back Jeremy Langford. Although Langford’s stat line don’t reflect dominance (3.65 ypc) his game tap shows much promise. He has been a quick footed, powerful addition to the Bear offense which offered a spark in the games Forte missed. In weeks 9, 10 & 11, Langford was handed the reins with Forte out and although week 11 didn’t garner the fanfare, as totals between weeks 9 & 10, he did show he was more than capable of shouldering the load. Between weeks 9 & 10 he amassed 145 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns including an additional 10 receptions for 179 yards receiving and another score. Langford possesses 3-down potential and is the running back to own in Chicago starting in 2016.
RB Lamar Miller (UFA)
The curious case of Lamar Miller and why he was never fully entrusted with the driver’s seat in the Miami backfield from Day 1 of his arrival. Without a doubt Lamar Miller is a talented and physically gifted running back. Albeit, not a shifty runner, more of a straight-lined stiff hipped running style. Nevertheless, it has served him well and when used properly he can be a deadly weapon in both the rushing and passing attack. The problem has not been a lack of talent, rather a lack of offering him an honest opportunity to showcase his skills without looking over his shoulder or being removed from the game-plan. Miller has enjoyed his best overall production season as an NFL running back. On the season, he has rushed for 812 yards (second highest in career) and 8 touchdowns (tied for best in career). However, where Miller has truly made his mark has been in the receiving game. Before the 2015 season the best receiving numbers Miller has put up were last season. Miller snagged 38 balls for 275 yards and 1 score. In the 2015, and with one game still left to play, Miller sits with 46 receptions for 394 yards and 2 scores. The bottom line: there is not shortage of talent if used properly.
The What If:
Personally, I am of the opinion that Miller would be blessed to move on from South Beach and give himself a fresh start somewhere else. There are going to be plenty of options for a talented, relatively fresh legged running back such as himself. I believe that the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans would be good fits for what his skill set brings to the table.
There is always someone ready to ascend when a notable player leaves. The issue is not having a candidate the issue is having the right candidate, to assume the role which has been vacated. In this case, the Miami Dolphins caught a break in the 2015 NFL Draft and very well may be gotten the skill positon player steal of the Draft when they selected Boise State running back Jay Ajayi in the 5th round. Due to pre-existing injury concerns Ajayi saw his stock drop. Fortunately for him the Dolphins didn’t let the slide continue and snagged him with the 13th pick in the 5th round. In short work this season Ajayi has not only shown to be a healthy addition to the Dolphins active roster but has turned some heads along the way. You can read more on Ajayi here. Needless to say, the Dolphin running back position will be in good hands should Miller Time be gone from Miami in 2016.
RB Chris Ivory (UFA)
Another blue collar back that seems to get under appreciated in the Fantasy Football realm. A steady as she goes back not built for the pageantry, but for the punishment. Ivory is a no-nonsense power back with nimble feet. In the midst of stat line chalk full of career best numbers, it would be a shocker to think the Jets would let Ivory slip away. Additionally, Ivory only turns 28 in March of next year and although he has far surpassed his normal yearly workload (241 carries), he has only missed one game on the season. Nevertheless, the ownership and their top brass are a fickle bunch so best to be prepared.
The What If:
There are certainly a number of teams who could use a powerfully nimble back like Ivory. Again, he will only be 28 and although he has had a slight injury history over the course of his career he still carries lots of tread on his tires. Here are 3 teams where his services could be put to use in 2016; Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.
In the event Ivory is cast out of Gotham the Jets do not currently possess a running back whom would be his heir apparent. This is another reason why I believe he will return. Alas, should his away indeed take place I would look to the rookie class or a possible trade or signing of a veteran.
RB Ronnie Hillman (UFA)
Hillman has led the Denver Broncos in total touches this season and leads the team in rushing attempts. For his rushing attempt “efforts” he has earned an unimpressive 3.89 ypc. That’s really about it. Hillman never was able to live up to his 3rd round pedigree out of the 2012 NFL Draft. Perhaps a change of scenery would serve him well. Hillman still represents exceptional edge-reaching speed and would make a solid addition to most backfields as a change-of-pace running back.
The What If:
With CJ Anderson (RFA) appearing to be set for a return to Denver in 2016, I could see Hillman moving on. Personally, I think this would be good for him and his NFL future. Hillman is only 24 years old and has plenty of tread on his tires. Here are 3 reams which he would make an intriguing 2016 fit; San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears & the Miami Dolphins.
The Denver offense will be in “re-make” mode to some degree this off-season. There could be some surprises we haven’t even been made fully aware of yet. As Dynasty owners, it is our duty to remain vigilant and always be ready to pounce. CJA should hold down the running back corps in Denver in 2016 then again, he too holds an RFA tag. As for now, look for CJA to be the primary running back for the Broncos with a veteran or rookie possibly coming-in in order to push him next season.
RB Alfred Morris (UFA)
A true blue collar back that is constantly under valued. Morris has been a true mark of consistency in his 4-year career. In fact, this season will see Morris generate a sub 1000-yard season for the first time in his NFL career. Although steady production has been there he has done so in the most unimpressive way, generating little to no buzz, at least not within the fantasy community. 2015 will be his last season in a Redskin uniform. He has already been all buy phased out and steadily replaced by upstart rookie and front office favorite, Matt Jones.
The What If:
Morris has plenty left in the tank. He will also be playing with a chip on his shoulder in 2016 for whomever signs him. Here are a few clubs that would benefit from having a solid, between-the-tackles runner, in their 2016 backfield; Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns & the New England Patriots.
There currently stands one man who will benefit the most from the departure of Morris and that is the aforementioned, Matt Jones. If you haven’t bought your Jones shares yet, then you will likely be overpaying if you wait much longer. As for Morris, a new city, new field and new staff might just be what the Doctor ordered in an effort to keep him in the RB2 conversation in fantasy football.
Honorable Mention: RB C.J. Anderson (RFA), RB Charcandrick West (ERFA), RB Khiry Robinson (RFA), RB Christine Michael (RFA)
*Note: These are merely projections meant for fun. Much will occur, as it always does, in the NFL off-season, so take this segment with a grain of salt as NFL rosters are a fluid bunch. Stay vigilant in your quest for knowledge and always be building, especially in Dynasty formats.
Thanks for reading. You can find me on Twitter @DynastyFFactory.