How Free Agency Will Affect the Status of These 4 Fantasy Studs

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2013

Welker will not fare as well fantasy-wise away from New England.
Welker will not fare as well fantasy-wise away from New England.USA TODAY Sports

Free agency does not just affect NFL teams and the players who are no longer under contract, it affects the fantasy football teams those free agents might be on in dynasty and keeper leagues, and the fantasy squads who might be writing up their cheat sheets and draft lists as we speak. 

The free-agent marketplace will be ripe with skilled position players, especially at wide receiver. And while teams are starting to jump on the read-option bandwagon like they're in Cirque du Soleil, the NFL remains—for now—a passing league. That means money will be spent in abundance on free-agent pass catchers who will either have their fantasy values improved or downgraded.      

Here is how free agency will affect the status of these four fantasy studs: 

Wes Welker 

Remember how New England played hardball with Welker last offseason?  The Patriots were acting as if Welker was Tiquan Underwood when they tightened their purse strings and franchise-tagged their slot specialist instead of giving him the long-term contract he wanted and deserved. 

The Pats are probably not going to tag Welker for a second straight year, though, which would make fantasy football’s favorite points-per-reception receiver a free man. But is that a good thing?  Leaving Tom Brady and a team that helped transform him into a superstar who has caught 110-plus passes in five of the past six seasons?    

It is difficult to see Welker as the same fantasy force on another team other than the Pats. He will be 32 entering next season, he has never had a double-digit TD season, he will not be getting any taller or faster, nor will he be paired with a better quarterback or placed in a better system. 

Fantasy owners would prefer Welker stay put. Can you honestly dream of him having 100 receptions for 1,300 yards with the Oakland Raiders?  The Tennessee Titans?  Back with his original team, the Miami Dolphins?  No, no, and no. 

Dwayne Bowe 

You would think that no receiver in the NFL would be better off on another team than Bowe. The guy has had lousy quarterbacks throwing to/at him and had no other receivers on the Kansas City roster able to keep defenses from double-teaming him.

Bowe is fresh off a season where he had 801 yards and a trio of touchdowns. This is the same dude who put up 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010. This is the same dude who is only 28 years old and still in his prime. This is the same dude who is virtually uncoverable in the red zone. It is easy to blame the teammates around him for what occurred last year.   

Now you can make a valid argument that it may behoove Bowe to stay put. New head coach Andy Reid normally calls more pass plays than most coaches in the NFL and has had a positive impact on the numbers of the receivers that play for him. And it is highly doubtful that Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn, the quarterbacks who could never locate Bowe last season, will be under center in 2013. 

But there is no guarantee KC will find a decent passer via trade, free agency or the draft, and Bowe really needs a change of scenery. He should clean up money-wise, but his fantasy worth will be directly tied to the offense and quarterback of the team he inks a deal with. If he signs with say San Diego or St. Louis, I could see 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns in his future. If he went to Jacksonville or Cleveland, then the projection goes lower.  

Greg Jennings 
Jennings did not exactly earn himself another round of Old Spice commercials with his 2012 performance. A groin injury nagged him throughout the first half of the season, and then Jennings had to split targets with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb when he returned. He finished with 36 receptions for 366 yards and four touchdowns—and a couple fewer million dollars on his next contract. 

With Jones and Cobb stepping up this season, Green Bay is not going to spend multi-millions on Jennings, who will be turning 30 in September and will not be getting any faster unless he hires some of Lance Armstrong’s doctors. The Packers could use that money on something more important like finding a linebacker who has an idea how to defend against the read option.   

It is hard to fathom how Jennings’ fantasy value would be better on another team when most teams do not have a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber on them. The teams with top-tier quarterbacks—New England, Denver, New Orleans, New York Giants—do not need a big-time receiver, unless New England loses the aforementioned Welker. 

That means Jennings would be a No. 1 wideout on a team desperate for receiver help. Miami makes logical sense since Jennings’ former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is head coach there. Minnesota could part ways with Percy Harvin (their receiving corps is below-average even with him), so Jennings could fit there as well. But these teams have QBs with a sliver of Rodgers’ talent.    

Jennings could be a 1,000-yard, eight-TD receiver again for fantasy owners in 2013, but his fantasy stock will definitely tumble without Rodgers tossing to him, and that is highly likely to be the case.  

Mike Wallace 

Wallace’s 2012 campaign was as disappointing to fantasy owners as “The 2nd Law” was to many Muse fans like me. After back-to-back fantastic years with a combined 2,450 yards and 18 touchdowns, Wallace only posted 838 yards and eight scores this past season. Not shabby, but not what Wallace owners were expecting. 

Wallace was done in by several factors, namely a protracted holdout that caused him to miss most of training camp, Ben Roethlisberger missing a couple games and the Steelers running the ball and spreading it around to other receivers more often under offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s new system. 
Pittsburgh’s reluctance to pay Wallace what he wanted last season does not bode well for the organization to suddenly spend like drunk sailors on him this season.  That means Wallace would be available on the open market, and what a market it would be! Wallace is one of the fastest men in football and the best deep threat among the free-agent receiver crop. In the pass-happy NFL, he could be drowned by the millions thrown at him. 

If Pittsburgh was still running the Bruce Arians pass-first offense that helped Wallace succeed mightily in 2010 and 2011, I would say Wallace’s fantasy value would take a hit by leaving. But that is not the case any more. Wallace could go to a warm-weather team with a 60-40 pass-run ratio and be a 1,300-yard, 10-TD guy, and that is what fantasy owners are hoping for.