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Fantasy Fallout

NFL Free Agency Day One: Fantasy Reactions

by Kyle Dvorchak
Updated On: March 18, 2021, 10:38 am ET

The first day of free agency is in the books and while there are a number of big dominoes yet to fall, the fantasy landscape is already in the midst of an upheaval. Here are the biggest movers and how their signings affect their fantasy outlooks.

Fitzmagic Joins Washington

Washington made the biggest move of the first day of free agency by signing Ryan Fitzpatrick shortly before the clock struck midnight. Adam Schefter reported that Fitzpatrick joins the team as the starter with Taylor Heinicke providing dome competition for the gig. Although Heinicke made a heroic effort in The Football Team’s Wild Card Round loss to the Buccaneers, it’s hard to imagine Fitzpatrick not opening the 2021 season as Washington's starter.

Fitzpatrick averaged 7.3 yards per attempt across two years with the Dolphins and posted a winning record as a starter in 2019. From Miami to Cincinnati, Fitzpatrick has been lauded as a tremendous locker room presence on top of his high ceiling as a passer. Washington won the NFC East with a losing record and modest quarterback play to put it kindly. If Fitzpatrick can offer the team a reasonable upgrade under center, they have the chance to take a step forward and keep hold of their NFC East crown. Terry McLaurin racked up air yards at an unreal pace last year and Fitzpatrick’s aggressive style should mesh well with that type of player. If the two get on the same page early in the year, a WR1 season is within reach for F1.

Jonnu Smith Signs in New England

The first big name to switch teams was former Titans tight end, Jonnu Smith. The Patriots have made an interesting effort to retool their offense this offseason, starting with giving Smith a $50 million, four-year deal. New England selected tight ends Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi in the 2020 NFL Draft but neither player was able to make a notable impact last year. The two combined for 55 yards in 2020 while Ryan Izzo, New England’s starting tight end for most of the season, ran circles around them with 199 receiving yards. 

Smith has yet to truly breakout, peaking at 449 receiving yards last year, but he flashed big-play upside throughout his time in Tennessee. He served primarily as a dominant red zone threat for the run-oriented Titans last year, scoring eight times, all of which came inside his opponent’s 20-yard line. Because the Patriots brought Cam Newton back, we can expect another run-heavy approach from them next year. Smith’s 377 run blocking snaps in 2020 were second among tight ends, a fact that certainly added some money to his deal from a team that will benefit greatly from his experience taking on defenders in the trenches.

Corey Davis Lands in New York

The Jets have been lacking receiver talent for the better part of the last decade and continued their efforts to right that ship with the signing of Corey Davis. The former Titan will get $37.5 million over the next three seasons if he plays out the entirety of his new deal. The Jets were unable to tease a solid season out of any of their receivers last year. Injuries and poor quarterback play stunted a potentially massive year from Jamison Crowder. The slot specialist caught 59 passes for 699 yards across 12 games. Breshad Perriman finished second on the team in receiving yards and is currently a free agent. Davis will push second-year receiver Denzel Mims for opportunities and has the pedigree to lead the Jets receiving room as a whole. A former first-round pick and dynasty darling, Davis fell just 16 yards shy of hitting the century mark in his fourth year as a pro. His draft profile included WR1 in the range of outcomes but he has yet to reach that level of success. If the Jets can figure out their quarterback situation, Davis has a real chance of pushing into WR2 territory with Gang Green.

New England Continues Adding Weapons

After two UDFAs led the team in receiving in 2020, the Patriots weren’t going to be content with adding a single tight end over the course of the offseason. While not the most glamorous group of additions, it’s hard to say that Bill Belichick isn’t trying to give his quarterback more chances at finding success in 2021. Nelson Agholor got a stunning, $26 million, two-year contract from New England. Agholor quietly turned his career around in Las Vegas after failing miserably with the Eagles. He managed a career-high in receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (eight) last year. Agholor was also wildly efficient. Derek Carr posted a 118.4 Quarterback Rating when throwing to Agholor. His rating on all throws was 101.8.

The Pats continued throwing money around on Day 1 with a three-year, $22.5 million deal for former 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne. This contract may be the biggest surprise in Foxborough as Bourne never had a peak season like Agholor just did. Bourne has a wealth of experience in the slot and out wide because of how often he filled in for injured players while in San Francisco. His 667 receiving yards in 2020 were a career-high.

The Patriots may have opted for quality over quantity at receiver but they were a complete train wreck at the position in 2020. Any improvements should be a welcome change. If Agholor can keep his momentum from Las Vegas, he could cap out as a volatile WR3 in 2021.

A Camp Battle for the Ages

The Saints did the unthinkable and extended Taysom Hill while managing to bring back Jameis Winston, all while fighting an uphill battle against the shrinking salary cap. While Hill’s “extension” was mainly a ploy to shuffle money into and out of shell corporations, it does include some incentives that likely point toward a real battle between him and Winston this summer. Hill also earned the starting job under center when Drew Brees was injured last year. Winston's deal is only for one year and is worth up to $12 million. Reports have already surfaced that the Saints could run a legitimate QB-by-committee system which would be an unprecedented nightmare for fantasy. Both passers have unique skill-sets that give them QB1 upside but that’s only true if one is on the field for every play. A true rotation would render both useless for fantasy purposes.

Kenny Golladay Rumors

Former Lions wideout Kenny Golladay has yet to sign with a team. Reports have indicated that the Dolphins are frontrunners to land him with the Giant also in the mix. Golladay’s volume metrics would certainly go up in New York as the team is rife with role players but no true alpha. Miami has more competition for targets with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki in town. However, Tua Tagovailoa’s draft pedigree points to a higher upside than Daniel Jones and defenses may not be able to focus on Golladay like they did in Detroit if he chooses the Phins. Golladay’s ability to draw targets and win contested catches against the best defenders should keep him in the WR1 conversation regardless of the landing spot. 

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Gronk Stays in Tampa Bay

No surprises here as Rob Gronkowski only came out of retirement to continue running laps around the league with Tom Brady. After a slow start to the 2020 season that saw him get most of his work as a blocker, Gronk sprung to life after four games of acclimation. All seven of his scores came in the final 12 games of the year. He also scored twice in the Bucs’ Super Bowl victory. After placing the franchise tag on Chris Godwin and bringing Gronk back, Antonio Brown is the only outstanding member of the Tampa Bay pass-catchers yet to get a new deal. As long as there isn’t a massive market for the former star, expect Tampa to retain his services as well.

Phillip Lindsay Tendered by Denver

The Broncos gave Phillip Lindsay the lowest level tender for a restricted free agent. It’s possible that another team makes a run at him but for now, he remains on Denver’s roster. With Melvin Gordon on the team under a sizable deal and Denver doing the bare minimum to keep Lindsay around, don’t expect to see much of a role for him going forward. He remains nothing more than a mild insurance policy on Gordon in fantasy circles. 

Urban Meyer Adding Depth

The Jags signed two somewhat notable players on the first day of free agency. Carlos Hyde played two years of his collegiate career under Urban Meyer while at Ohio State and also had a few cups of coffee in Jacksonville two years ago. The Browns sent him to Jacksonville via trade in 2018 but Hyde only managed to earn 58 carries in eight games with the team. This signing may keep the Jags from adding more competition for James Robinson in the draft. Robinson broke a slew of records for a UDFA rookie running back last year. That included his 1,414 yards from scrimmage. Despite playing for a floundering offense, Robinson also found the end zone ten times. The track record for UDFA backs is not stellar but if this move keeps Jacksonville from challenging Robinson, he’ll be hard to pass on beyond RB1 prices in fantasy drafts. 

Jacksonville also added former first-round receiver, Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett spent 2020 in Seattle but never took the field because of a foot injury. Rumors have swirled that D.J. Chark is on the trade block for the Jaguars. Unless those somewhat outlandish rumors come to fruition, Dorsett will be nothing more than a backup field-stretcher in Jacksonville. 

KhaDarel Hodge Stays in Cleveland

Hodge didn’t open the season as a mainstay of the Cleveland passing game but the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. shifted him into a non-zero role in the second half of the season. He topped out at 73 yards and Week 11 but ultimately split the No. 2 receiver role with rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones for a few weeks. He’ll only be relevant, even in the deepest of leagues, if injuries befall the Cleveland receiving room once again.

Kyle Dvorchak

Kyle Dvorchak is a writer for NBC Sports Edge and half of the other sites on the internet. He loves most Big 12 quarterbacks, misses the XFL and can be found on @kyletweetshere.