Michael Vick signs with Eagles, playing tight end?

When you think about it, an eagle is just an older, more mature cousin to the falcon. I guess once you’re a bird, you’re always a bird.

Michael Vick finally landed in Philadelphia after an offseason of speculation. The most recent rumors had him signing with the Patriots or Bills, but the Eagles jumped to work out a deal this week after current backup quarterback Kevin Kolb went down with a knee injury.

The Eagles expect Kolb to return “in about a week,” but his injury along with all the other freak injuries the Eagles have had in camp may have urged them to err on the side of caution and add more depth with Vick. Current statements from McNabb and Andy Reid suggest there is no threat to McNabb’s starting job or Kolb’s backup role, but if that is the case, how will Vick be involved in this offense?

One theory out there has him slotted as a tight end, but can you really believe what you hear on TMZ? It’s an interesting proposal, nonetheless, since playing Vick at tight end would keep him on the roster each week without unseating Kolb or McNabb and allow for some creative playcalling with Vick, McNabb and Brian Westbrook on the field at the same time.

From a fantasy perspective, getting him on the field more can only serve to increase his value. If put on a shelf as a backup quarterback or used only in a Wildcat role, Vick’s fantasy stock would be nothing more than as a late flier in your drafts this season. As a tight end, he might really be worth something.

We know that the Eagles are in “win now” mode this year. McNabb isn’t getting any younger and Philly fans have tasted blood too often not to have made it to a Super Bowl in recent years. Three weapons in the backfield may be the surest way to guarantee they make it as far as possible this season even if their defense comes up shorter than expected without their starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or Brian Dawkins’ leadership.

On less of a fantasy note, the reactions to the Vick signing have been mixed. The NFL’s tweeting players seem excited, but some NFL fans are having a hard time accepting the news. When it comes to Philly fans, every single one of them that types in all caps seems to like this decision.

To Waiver Wire or Not to Waiver Wire?

It’s a debate that rages in my leagues just as the first league emails start to go out. The date of the draft hasn’t even been decided. The chips and beverages of choice are still safely on store shelves, but the league emails begin with the eternal debate: “Why don’t we change the waiver wire this year?”

A waiver wire, for those of you who may not know, is the system the regulates how teams request and obtain free agents in your league. Most leagues use some kind of waiver wire system to lock down free agents as soon as they have played their games on Sunday and prevent them from being obtained until the Wednesday or Thursday of the following week. At that time, your league software or commish sorts out which team gets a player they requested based upon a predetermined order.

No one wants the unemployed guy that sits on his laptop all day or the stay-at-home hermit to grab up all the decent free agent gold as soon as their mug comes across ESPN, so, in theory, waiver wires are a perfect solution. If it wasn’t for waiver wires, I’d probably have to build an NFL Network command center that even Jerry Jones would envy just to watch the latest news, injury reports and player profiles throughout the season.

Who wants to give away a Ryan Grant every season? Grant won playoff games and championships for owners who were lucky enough to get him as a free agent back in 2007.

The problem arises when you actually get down to discussing how the waiver wire is going to work. Without a doubt, someone is unhappy that they didn’t get a Ryan Grant or a LeRon McClain the week they needed him. With the season just weeks away, they want to change to another option, and there are several out there without getting too much into salary cap, waiver wire bidding or limiting the number of transactions.

From Worst to First

Is it fair to give the last place team first crack at the free agents? This method, often the default setting in fantasy football leagues, gives the lesser teams a chance to rise up from their ashes like a phoenix during the season and keeps some owners from giving up too soon. That said, it also allows good teams to tank the first week, improve their rosters with the best breakout free agents from Week 1 and dominate your face off all year.

The common argument against this “worst to first” rank is that it gives owners who do not do their research, neglect to follow the NFL news and draft very poorly a break.

Use it and Lose It

Do you adopt a “use it and lose it” system where you go to the back of the line each time you use the waiver wire? This method discourages using the wire each week and rewards the players who wait around for the big score, if one ever comes their way.

The downside of “use it and lose it” is that good teams who don’t have to pick up any free agent players from the waiver wire to dominate will often be the No. 1 pick when the best free agents come available. When the time comes, they block desperate teams from having any shot at the best player.

Wild West

Or do you just screw the system, do away with the waiver wire and live life by the seat of your pants?

Sure, a bit of luck may allow one team owner to hear a rumor or see an injury report first and beat the league to the free agent pool. The hermit may get all the best free agents every Monday night while the rest of the league sleeps. But at least you all have a fair shot at getting who you want when you want them.

The Question

I don’t really have an answer for this one. I prefer using a waiver wire simply because I often write during games or go out to watch them with friends. I like to have a day to collect my thoughts before I get to deciding how to rebuild my team for the following weekend, but there is something to be said for being able to get a player the second your gut tells you that you must have him.

Last season, my most competitive league settled on the “use it and lose it” method. It seemed to work like magic as I used mine often to replace a player without too much concern while others held out all season for the big score — and eventually landed Tony Gonzalez for their patience when he was dropped by a less-than-genius owner. Was it fair? It was close. At least there was a bit of strategy involved rather than luck.

What say you? Do you use a complicated system? A bidding war? Limited transactions? No waiver wire at all? Tell us about your method in the comments.

I’m always open to hearing what is out there, and maybe we can all nip those debates in the bud before we even start sending those emails.

To waiver wire or not to waiver wire? That is the question.

How about that Rundown: Things you should have known before the 2009 NFL Draft

Unlike me, you may not have been following all the NFL news since the offseason began. Sometimes people have lives. That’s okay — so I am told. In order for you to keep your edge and get in the right state of mind now that football is only a few months away, you just might need a “rundown” of the news you may have missed or overlooked during your hiatus from the land of football.

The thing about Marshawn Lynch is…
Lynch received a suspension for three games due to his increasing talent of finding himself in bad situations at bad times (and somehow also avoiding any major legal consequences). The Bills will be without his services to start the season, but they have also acquired Dominic Rhodes to help them out while their workhorse running back pays his debt to society the NFL. Fred Jackson is still said to be the starter in Lynch’s absence, but Rhodes may win the hearts of the coaching staff before the end of camp. He’s got a pretty good talent for that.

The Jenny Craig Effect
Both Daunte Culpepper and David Garrard returned to their teams from the offseason a little lighter and a little more in shape. For Culpepper, claiming he was in the best shape of his life since he was a good quarterback might have led Detroit to believe they were safe with him under center in 2009. (Unfortunately for him, no such luck.) For Garrard, his lightened load could mean his ability to get out of the pocket and run is on the rise. If you remember his run in the playoffs against the Steelers, he can get up and going pretty quickly for a big guy, but with a little less weight, he might do it more often in 2009.

And then there’s the fat one…
On the other end of the weight shift, Adrian Peterson claims he wants to beef it up for 2009. Unfortunately for Peterson, that weight can’t all be added around his knees, which are almost ready for their next breakdown after he made it through 2009 mostly unscathed. The wrath cometh, no matter much bacon you pack on those bones, A.P.

Coles becomes a Bengal (pending felony conviction)
Yes, I know that most of the Bengals are trying to get the team’s reputation under control, but then they go out and sign Tank Johnson, and yeah, that’s not working so well. Laveranues Coles obviously didn’t want to wait around and see what one-armed batting practice machine became the man for the Jets in 2009, so he took a deal with the Bengals as somewhat of a replacement to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I wouldn’t exactly call him the perfect complement to Chad Johnson, but he’s got a pulse and no parole, unlike Chris Henry.

Matt Hasselbeck has a back again
Hasselbeck told us all he was healthy before the draft — mostly because he wanted to make sure he didn’t get a little punk like Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford drafted onto the Seahawks’ bench and waiting for him to injure his back again. It remains to be seen how much Hasselbeck will be able to do when the season starts after his injury-plagued 2008 season.

Well, I guess if Jay’s gone…
Tony Scheffler, the tight end companion of choice of Jay Cutler, may no longer have a home in Denver now that Josh McDaniels has arrived to kick everyone out of the party and start a math club that worships Belichick.

But was he the Right-wich?
The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich to be their quarterbacks of the now — or was it all just a clever smokescreen for their Josh Freeman pick? Leftwich is an upgrade over the quarterbacks currently developed in the Bucs’ stable, but they may still be overlooking what they have in Josh Johnson.

Sweed takes three
With the departure of Nate Washington to the Titans, Longhorn standout Limas Sweed moves up to the third wide receiver spot, and he might just have his head in the game this year. That’s a good sign for dynasty owners and Big Ben Roethlisberger.

Young no more in 2010?
Speaking of Longhorns, Vince Young may be on his way out of Tennessee in another season if he doesn’t find his game again. His contract isn’t going to make him any friends in 2010. If he’s going to prove he’s the quarterback of the future for the Titans, he better get back into that “hoopla” soon.

Laurent Robinson is a Ram
He was all the rage each preseason that the Falcons had him, and now, he’s one of a few receivers with a name we know and somewhat trust on the Rams roster. Don’t forget about Robinson when it comes time to make those last round selections in your fantasy draft. He might be all they got.

And Detroit quarterbacks will throw to Megatron AND…
Former Cardinal and former 49er Bryant Johnson signed a contract with the Lions this offseason. Assuming he hopes to find himself opposite Calvin Johnson on Sundays — and thereby form the unstoppable Johnson & Johnson duo — he should probably stop dislocating his fingers in practice. Johnson is one of those players who always looks like he improved his situation, i.e. moving to San Francisco last season, just before he disappears off the map. His main competition at receiver is former Raider Ronald Curry, who is expected to be the slot guy in Detroit.

Torry Holt makes final growl with the Jags
It’s no secret that Holt is old. He’s got the freaky fingers to prove he’s a veteran in this league, and he’s crafty. The Rams gave up on him in favor of getting younger, but the Jaguars will be giving him another chance. What could go wrong? Taking the old guy worked so well with Jerry Porter last season, didn’t it? Holt is the likely No. 1 in Jacksonville, but he might not hold that position all season if his skills and health fade.

Jeff Garcia on the Al Davis payroll
Garcia joined the Raiders before the draft to back up and help develop JaMarcus Russell. But how can someone so large learn anything from a man as tiny as Garcia? Time will tell whether the leadership and veteran instincts rub off on Russell, who has been looking very raw since taking the reins in Oakland.

Jake Delhomme fully extended
What’s the first thing you should do when your franchise quarterback throws more passes to the opposing team than his own to end your season? That’s right, contract extension — and a massive one at that. Carolina signed Delhomme to a 5-year deal that he will probably never see the end of as the starting quarterback. I am sure there is logic to it in saving the team a little money now, but Jake isn’t getting any younger. Maybe they’re resting their future on current backup Matt Moore’s Romo-like potential.

Matt Ryan gets his tight end
In a move that might have more impact than anything that happened in the draft, Kansas City traded veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta. Rather than spend a pick on Brandon Pettigrew, the Falcons got Gonzalez at a good price, and they’ll have one of the more weapon-laden offenses in football next season with Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Gonzalez and Roddy White all threatening opposing defenses. The Gonzalez trade may prove to be exactly what Ryan needed to progress next season into a more fantasy-worthy quarterback.

Now, I think we’ve covered just about everything to get you back into sync with all the latest NFL news before the NFL draft. Drop your questions, discussion items and comments in our brand new commenting system down below and let the predictions for next season begin. I have just one question to start: What exactly is a “rundown” anyway?

Jay Cutler traded to Chicago Bears for Neckbeard. Set your Broncos free.

Jay Cutler is now on his way to The Windy City. For first-round picks in both 2009 and 2010, a third-round pick in 2009 and Kyle Orton — founder and president of the Neckbeard for Men Club, which just so happens to be moving its headquarters to Denver this summer — the Chicago Bears have acquired a Pro Bowl quarterback and an additional fifth-round pick in 2009.

Da Bears

While it’s certainly better than Detroit might have been for the promising young quarterback, this trade leaves Cutler’s status a little iffy. Other than Greg Olsen and the project that is Devin Hester, the Bears don’t offer a lot of talented receivers up as targets. Without Marty Booker, it’s hard to even rely on guys like Rashied Davis for a good circus catch.

Luckily, Jay Cutler’s arm happens to be bionic and stronger than three of John Elway’s arms acting in sync. It’s hard to doubt that he can make something out of the Bears with his arm and his legs, and he’s sure to bring the passing game up a notch across the board — lucky you, Hester and Olsen owners.

Matt Forte could certainly use a boost in the passing game to take the pressure off of him out of the box, but he could fade a bit in his production now that the Bears aren’t constantly feeding him the ball. This new offense is one you’ll want to watch come preseason because there’s no telling what Chicago will do now that they have a quarterback — and not a Rex Grossman. I’d still like Forte as a borderline RB1/RB2, but that could change.

Busted Broncos

As I tweeted earlier — excuse me — you can mark your calendars today as the day the Broncos started a downward slide. Brandon Marshall could soon potentially face another suspension for his continued off-the-field issues; Josh McDaniels is going to try to establish a new offense while running a season of The Apprentice to decide who’s going to carry the ball between J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis, LaMont Jordan, Ryan Torain, Selvin Young and Andre Hall; but at least they have a savior in their new quarterback, Kyle Orton…

Orton is an extreme downgrade. Despite his phenom run last year — during which, he was keeping pace with Peyton Manning in the fantasy points department — he’s an inconsistent signal caller. He limits what the Broncos can do through the air and takes Brandon Marshall down a notch whenever Marshall does get a chance to return to the field.

Eddie Royal, sadly, might drop off the radar entirely unless Marshall is out for a prolonged period of time. It would seem that, at least in the short term, Josh McDaniels is content running the ball with 67 different running backs, so it’s hard to rely on him to keep the passing game up to the level it was at last season. Don’t even start looking to the tight ends. Tony Scheffler could be out of Denver sooner rather than later, and then it all goes to this very scary place where Daniel Graham might be the only one of the field.

In short, maybe it’s time you let your Broncos go. Orton’s worth a chance in 2009 just because of the talent around him — and his relative bargain value as a quarterback. Marshall can’t be passed on even with his potential problems, which could make him a value pick in 2009 anyway. But there’s no telling which running back emerges as the best option, and Eddie Royal could be decent or completely invisible in 2009.

Mark your calendars and thank Josh McDaniels. Today, the Broncos blew apart their fantasy goodness…just when I thought they had so much promise. Does anyone feel good about this new Broncos team?

Mark Schlereth, please explain how this happened.

Houshmandzadeh upgrades Seahawks, downgrades self

With the departure of Bobby Engram to free agency, Seattle was hurting for a reliable target — especially one who wasn’t also hurting like most of Seattle’s receiving corps. Playmaker Deion Branch has been too injury-prone during his time with the team, and none of the Seahawks’ young prospects showed that special spark last season when the wide receiver positions were up for grabs.

That’s probably why they dropped the big contract that T.J. Houshmandzadeh was seeking, five years for $40 million with $15 million guaranteed.

With a limited window for Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks need to try to make a run or two at the Super Bowl soon, and I’m sure Housh recognized the Seahawks desire and likelihood of making the postseason out of the relatively easy NFC West.

Other than two rebuilding franchises, the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks only have the Cardinals to contend with in 2009. The Cardinals, dormant for years, could suffer a setback with the loss of some free agents and the post-Super Bowl slump, which would leave the door open for Seattle.

Holes at running back aside, Housh upgrades Seattle’s ability to move the ball and score in the red zone. As the most trustworthy hands in their arsenal, he’s likely to see most of the action from Hasselbeck, who jumps a couple of notches up fantasy quarterback rankings as long as he’s back in good health this preseason.

If he keeps drinking those Myoplex shakes, he’ll get there.

Hasselbeck’s been pretty low on my list, even last year, with the general evaporation of all that was good out of Seattle. Jumping up a spot or two still won’t break him into my list of reliable starters, but he could be a top backup with Housh as a target.

From Housh, I expect a little less than his usual. 2008 was an off year with Carson Palmer sidelined for the majority of the season, but his 2007 numbers — 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns — are probably his ceiling in Seattle.

A guns-blazing Carson Palmer was putting everything in the air in 2007, but Hasselbeck will likely more limiting early in 2009. Seattle might put the ball on the ground as much as they can despite their lack of a legitimate running back. 

Housh could, however, blow us away with his scoring in the red zone. Without knowing how exactly he’ll fit in the offense for the moment, he probably hits around the third tier at wide receiver. Karabell’s got the right idea.

For now, I wouldn’t call Houshmandzadeh a safe top-10 wide receiver but rather a borderline choice. In his recent Top 200, colleague Matthew Berry placed Houshmandzadeh at No. 46 overall, good for 14th among wide receivers, and with this move he bumped him up to No. 9 among receivers. I slot Houshmandzadeh in at No. 11, behind  Larry Fitzgerald,  Andre Johnson,  Calvin Johnson,  Greg Jennings,  Reggie Wayne,  Steve Smith,  Randy Moss,  Roddy White,  Marques Colston  and  Terrell Owens.

Although I have never seen him as a worldly talent, Houshmandzadeh has outplayed Chad Johnson for several years now. His good hands and ability to run the possession routes should become a trusted asset for Hasselbeck.

Now the Seahawks just have to look to Deion Branch and Nate Burleson to provide the speed and maneuverability on the outside to keep defenses off of their new toy.

T.O. got to go: Cowboys cut controversial receiver

According to ESPN, the Dallas Cowboys just cut Terrell Owens. Not only does this defy some good logic, it also might be the best move for the Cowboys after all.

Jerry Jones obviously spent a lot of time over the offseason speaking to his coaching staff and players about what went wrong in the bust of a season that was 2008. Outside Tony Romo’s injury, the entire team struggled to find an identity on offense, and that confusion allowed the one player that did have one, T.O., to take control.

With that much power, Matt Mosley notes  that T.O. had to go, even with the loss of value.

But in the end, the people he trusts at Valley Ranch may have finally convinced him that T.O. was too divisive a force in the locker room. I talked to a source at Valley Ranch  late Wednesday evening  who said that T.O.’s future was discussed in meetings Wednesday, but that Jones hadn’t made a final decision when most people left the building.

This is a clear admission on Jones’ part that the team couldn’t get to the next level  (winning a playoff game)  with T.O. If you just go on the  receiver’s production (38 TDs in three seasons), it’s hard to believe the Cowboys would move on without him. But T.O. had become the most powerful voice in the locker room and head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett couldn’t compete with him.

By putting Owens on the street, the Cowboys are dropping the passing game — some pun intended — in the hands of Williams and attempting to justify all those picks they spent to get him.

While he hasn’t quite fallen off yet, T.O. would have begun to decline over the next few seasons, and he probably won’t take it very well as he degrades into a No. 2 receiver. Jones is abandoning the money and reputation he sunk into Owens in order to have Williams fill the void early and save the team more grief.

Let’s hope they saw something in Williams this offseason that looked better than he did last season.

Williams’ fantasy value jumps now that he moves to the No. 1 role, but can we trust a guy who had just 19 catches in a Cowboys uniform in 2008? He doesn’t assume T.O.’s spot in my fantasy wide receiver rankings, but floating the gap between the second and third tier, he’s got some big upside when he clicks with Romo.

Opposite Williams, Miles Austin or Patrick Crayton will have to step up in a big way — and perhaps if Austin wins the job, he’ll finally become that explosive receiver we saw flashes of last season.

It’s likely that this move signifies the Cowboys shift towards the run game. Jason Garrett didn’t know what to do with what he had last season, but in 2009, he knows he can feed the ball to Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

Maybe this move will turn the Cowboys around and get them a playoff win, but we all know Jon Kitna’s going to be the real reason they make it to the postseason … right?

The real tragedy here is for T.O. who just wanted to end his career as a Cowboy.

Owens told the Dallas Morning News in May 2008 he “definitely” wanted to finish his career with the Cowboys.

Now we have another unemployed, aging industry veteran who’s got to find a new job while  re-examining his personal life in his new reality show. Blame the economy.

Laveranues Coles copies Harrison, gets released

Let’s not get crazy here. Just because Marvin Harrison does something, that doesn’t mean all the old, aging receivers in the league have to do it.

But no one told that to Laveranues Coles. Coles is so confident that he can get a long-term deal in free agency that he was willing to give up the $6 million the Jets would have paid him next season.

Coles thinks he can play for another three or four years, but the Jets apparently didn’t feel the same. The team agreed to release him amicably before the start of  free agency but still might work out a deal.

Coles has been convinced of his value long-term by his agent Roosevelt Barnes, who must have met Coles at the last meeting of the ridiculously-formal-sounding name club.

Sure, there’s a team or two out there looking for receivers, but I’m sure they’d rather have a T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin or even Plaxico Burress before a Coles.

Coles, much like Harrison, is a fading talent. He’s dropped in fantasy rankings with the departure of Brett Favre, and it’s hard to see him finding a situation within the NFL that makes him any more relevant to fantasy football.

Tampa Bay, with their open bag of cap space, has been a safe haven for veterans in recent years,  Weekend at Bernie’s-ing Joey Galloway for most of the modern century, but even that love affair came to an end when the Bucs cancelled their social security policy and released a slew of veterans.

Will the Eagles take him? Unlikely. Donovan McNabb would probably rather have Marvin Harrison than Coles, and neither would really show a huge effort on the Eagles’ part to improve his targets.

I guess he’s got a shot in Miami depending on how much he really likes that Chad Pennington guy.

Coles is most likely bound for a few meetings with a handful of teams, a few phone calls to Roosevelt about the proper spelling of “Laveranues” and, after all that time wasted, a new contract with the Jets.

He should just hope his new one is somewhere close to the money he just left on the table.

Fantasy Funeral: Colts release Marvin Harrison

Marvin Harrison might  meet the end of his long tenure with the Colts this week. Despite the Colts’ best efforts to keep him in their plans for 2009, he’s likely to be released as a salary cap move. Lucky year 13!

Give him credit. Harrison did everything in his power to stay in the spotlight, suspected shooting incidents included, but there’s little reason for the Colts to keep him around with Reggie Wayne fully-established as Peyton Manning’s top target and Anthony Gonzalez taking over Harrison’s spot on the team.

Harrison’s game clearly lost a step in 2008. He had just 636 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, less than half of his stats from 2006.

Harrison sat out most of the 2007 season with a knee injury, and for his sake, we won’t even bring up those numbers. Many fantasy owners thought they were cheating the system by stealing him late in the fantasy football draft. Yeah, not so much.

Harrison was exactly what we thought he would be in 2008, a dud.

There are no free rides in the NFL, especially when you’re one of the highest-paid receivers in the game. Harrison will count  $13.4 million against the salary cap if he is not released.

As ESPN cited Peter King:

Most who follow the team on a daily basis had the same sense as Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King, who  wrote Monday morning  that “Polian does not give scholarships for longer than one year. And Harrison was on scholarship last year.”

As is the custom this year with every receiver that enters the free agent market, we must now point to the Eagles likelihood of being in the hunt for Marvin Harrison, but even with his bright, shiny known-name receiver hands, it’s unlikely that many teams will be clawing over each other for him. He showed just last season that he was fading, and look what Jerry Porter did for Jacksonville last season…

It’s more than likely that Harrison ends up right back in Indy after testing the waters. Any other team that hired him would basically be bringing him in as a glorified wide receivers coach, and Indy considers him more valuable because of all the records Manning and Harrison could continue to break together.

For now, may Marvin Harrison’s fantasy football career rest in peace. Your draft board nameplate will always hold a special place in my heart, and by heart, I mean that trash can I dunked it in after I wadded it up.

Update: Oh yeah, and they pulled the trigger on releasing him.

Drafting Your Fantasy Running Backs: The Details to Consider in 2008

If breaking down the details for this year’s fantasy running backs doesn’t make you want to take LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in your re-draft league, I don’t know what will. Seriously, people.

When you’re talking fantasy running backs, what separates the vets from the noobs is consideration of a few minor factors beyond how high-powered a running back’s offense was last year and where the running back ranks on cheat sheets this season. Looking at the slight details like what defenses they face, contract lengths and ages can help you make the call between two closely-ranked RBs in your draft.

Let’s jump into how these factors will affect some top fantasy running backs this season with some good ol’ plus or minus analysis — and we go with negative first around these parts.

The Age Old Rule

First, let’s talk age. When you’re an old running back, you’re like a hot potato. No one wants to get stuck holding you when you crack.

Fantasy Football Toolbox told all with a list of all the running backs age 29 or older. There won’t be any pluses in this category, so we will have Big/Mini shades of Minus — a very scientific method, fingers crossed.

For fantasy’s sake, here’s who is getting to be old bones:

BIG Minus –

  • Warrick Dunn – Tampa Bay: I know you thought he was a spring chicken.
  • Ahman Green – Houston Texans: His knees show his age like the rings in a tree trunk.
  • LaMont Jordan – Oakland Raiders: Age and injury have punched Jordan’s ticket out of Oakland.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: Things could go either way for Jones in 2008 with a new O-line.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to make a comeback with just a couple of years left in the tank.
  • Deuce McAllister – New Orleans Saints: Coming off injury AND old. Not pretty. “Little Deuce” Aaron Stecker (32) isn’t getting younger for the Saints either.
  • The New England Trio: Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris – New England Patriots: Most of New England’s backfield is over 30. The Patriots can get production out of the old guys, but these guys have got to be breaking down this year. Maybe they will remember that they have Laurence Maroney.

Mini Minus –

  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: I think he was reborn when he became a Brown because he certainly did his owners right last year.
  • Fred Taylor – Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone keeps calling for Maurice Jones-Drew, but Taylor seems to find gas in the tank.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Old with flashes of youth still left.
  • Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles: Only 28 but backup is Correll Buckhalter (29). No wonder the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker, a spry 24, from Miami.

Strength of Schedules: Running into Brick Walls

NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano ranked the rushing schedules of fantasy running backs last week while we were just sitting around chatting about the free agents of 2009, which is the next section.

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty also put together a strength of schedule analysis earlier this offseason, showing L.T. is the set to be at the top in 2008.

Pouring out a little link love for my homies, Fantasy Football Librarian noted that Fabiano’s breakdown makes Laurence Maroney look pretty favorable, and Football Jabber singled out the top and bottom five teams. Frank Gore has his work cut out for him, and no one in Houston’s backfield has it easy this year.

Here’s who’ll be hurting on and who’ll be hurting from run defenses this year:

Minus –

  • Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Even if he isn’t the focus of the offense, he will still be the focus of the defense. It’s not looking good. I might go Tom Brady over Gore in the first round, but I’m not totally quitting on him yet.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: Long road back to the top against some of the best defenses out there at stopping the run. Giants will have to keep it dynamic in the run game to say ahead.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Notch Edge down another point for this one.
  • Ahman Green (and friends) – Houston Texans: No one will have an easy time running for Houston. With a pack of inconsistent backs, I’d avoid them all in your drafts this year.
  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: Age AND a schedule full of stacked run defenses. That hurts.
  • Julius Jones – Seattle Seahawks: Jones can’t improve his stock much in Seattle against the best in the biz of stopping him.
  • Marion Barber and Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys: A huge offense makes this a minor point. Does this stat mean they will throw more? PLUS to Romo if that’s the case.

Plus +

  • LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers: You couldn’t really ask for much more than L.T. having the best schedule of any RB. For the most part, Tomlinson will be running against the bottom-of-the-barrel run defenses.
  • Laurence Maroney – New England Patriots: Will the Patriots use him with the easiest rushing defense schedule? I think they might just let Brady throw all day again, but he could run easy when they let him.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: If his new O-line can block for him, Jones has it free and clear this season.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: Two bounce backs is possible. My money’s on Brown more than Ricky.
  • Travis Henry – Denver Broncos: Easy street should win him some points with Shanny.
  • Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense is in line for a big year. Bush is the probably the better back to snag.
  • Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills: The second-best rookie of 2008 gets forgotten at times, but he should have a nice 2008 season with an easy rushing schedule and an improved offense. I’m high on this kid and owned him last year.
  • Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs: Rebounds abound? Maybe. Johnson has an easy schedule to redeem himself for last year.
  • Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: All that postseason hype won’t weigh down Turner much in Atlanta when he faces mostly low-end or middle-of-the-pack run defenses. In an offense based off the run this year, Turner could be more productive than people think.

Freebirds in Free Agency of 2009

Who’s looking to bust a move? Running backs who have a payday coming are always more likely to impress, but those who just got paid can be slowed by their wallets.

Plus +

  • Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: The big man might get money before the season, but if not, stay out of his way.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: He’s got his work cut out for him, but boy, he wants to work.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: The “Freebird” title of this section was purely unintentional — I promise. Ricky probably has to make enough money over the next two years to rebuild his straw hut in a foreign country and smoke away the pain…That might not be very much though.

Minus –

  • Marion Barber – Dallas Cowboys: Likely to have just signed a major deal by the time the season starts even though he is a free agent now. Hopefully, money won’t weigh him down like it did Shaun Alexander.

In Closing

When it’s all said and done, these three factors paint a picture for who looks better than they might have beforehand and worse now than ever before. Some older backs may make nice RB2s, but don’t fall for drafting them as RB1s again this season.

Ricky Williams is still risky, but he has a lot going in his favor. Ronnie Brown is the more dependable guy to have for Miami, but Ricky cold be a good value pick. On the other hand, Marion Barber might have two strikes against him going into the season. Jamal Lewis looks like a player to avoid in the worst way possible.

Take all these factors into your noggin this offseason and remember to factor them in when you are choosing between two running backs in your draft. Upside is hard to find with running backs since the RBBCs are forming everywhere in the league, but make sure you get the most out of your running back picks. Don’t get stuck making the wrong call. Some rookies with young legs might be worth betting on over solid veterans.

Let me echo this again: L.T. looks good overlooking the age effect. In my mind, these factors put him clearly up there in the No. 1 overall spot. Take him first in your re-draft leagues, and call me in the morning.

Agree, disagree or explode in the comments below.

Sorry Shaun: A Fantasy Football Funeral for Shaun Alexander

Even though Shaun Alexander is almost guaranteed to be picked up by another team now that the Seattle Seahawks finally cut him, his fantasy career is all but dead. Oh, how the mighty fall.

It was just 2005 when Alexander was MVP and on top of the world. Ever since, he has bounced around the top of fantasy football drafts even as his numbers fell. A foot injury, a cast and one huge contract later, Alexander is now in the dumps, and sadly, he is partly to blame for his release.

Take a look at the drop off in Alexander’s stats after 2005:

Year Missed Games Total Yards Yards/Carry TDs
2005 1 1880 5.1 27
2006 7 896 3.6 7
2007 4 716 3.5 4

Stats via The Fifth Down and The Seattle Times

Alexander’s contract after his 2005 season was unrealistic. Some say he is soft and selfish, and they would probably argue that Alexander wanted that kind of contract after his 2005 season if for no other reason then to know he signed the biggest running back contract ever.

Even if he demanded it, it was bad management for Seattle to give him that much money knowing that he was on his way out. His age was going to play into the picture eventually — fantasy football analysts knew it — but both the Seahawks and Alexander let the contract lead to this disaster. After two injury-plagued, disappointing seasons, the Seahawks had no choice but to release Alexander to save the team money and give Mike Holmgren a team he could make his last run with as head coach.

It looks like Pete Prisco was right.

The fall of Alexander has been a swift one, not unusual for an NFL runner. It is pretty amazing, though, when you consider in two seasons he’s gone from star to expendable.

Now some team is going to put a jersey on Alexander. There are arguments that he could be a Detroit Lion or Carolina Panther and other arguments that he could help the Chicago Bears.

He’s not entirely out of the picture. There’s probably one more season in the tank, but I wouldn’t take a chance on Alexander unless you can take him as a late round value pick — very probably considering many fantasy owners burned by him the last two seasons will be avoiding him like the plague. Depending on where he ends up, Alexander’s fantasy value will never be as high as it was the past several seasons as he declined.

Let this fantasy funeral stand as a reminder to every fantasy football manager that you should never take a running back early in the draft who has age issues. The magic number tends to be 30. When running backs hit it, they are never the same. Keep that in mind or ye be burned. L.T. will probably be the next to push it to the limit.

Sorry, Shaun, and thanks for the memories — and by memories, I mean the 2005 season.


Creative Commons License photo credit: mr.l

“That article up there speaks the truth.”