The start of the free-agent period is Tuesday, March 13, and there are some huge fantasy names that could be changing teams in the weeks to come (Peyton Manning, anyone?). The question now is what are the best fantasy landing spots for the biggest free agents, and are those landing spots realistic? Here's a look at what fantasy leaguers should hope transpires, and what could be the actual result.
Peyton Manning signs with the Arizona Cardinals: I have a feeling that Manning is going to end up with the Miami Dolphins, which is also a nice fantasy fit. But I'd much rather see him playing in the desert, where an explosive offense would be a virtual lock. Imagine the sort of numbers he could put up in the pass attack with Larry Fitzgerald, and vice versa? If Manning is in red and white, I think Reggie Wayne will follow. So with those new pieces in place, the Cardinals could focus on improving their offensive line and defense in April's rookie draft.
Michael Bush signs with the Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are done with Cedric Benson, a pending free agent, and will look to add a lead back this offseason. Will Alabama's Trent Richardson fall to them at No. 17 in April? I'm not so sure anymore, so the Queen City Cats could decide to pursue a free agent to bolster their backfield. The best of the bunch is Bush, who could come in and fill Benson's role while posting far better stats both on the field and in fantasy circles. This move would make Bush, Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones all more valuable.
Vincent Jackson re-signs with the San Diego Chargers: Personally, I don't think this is going to happen. But San Diego is the best spot for Jackson to retain his current fantasy value. The problem is there are a ton of teams looking to add a No. 1 wideout that have more room under the salary cap than the Chargers, including the Bears and Redskins. In fact, NFL insider Jason La Canfora expects those two squads to enter a possible "bidding war" for his services. If he's not a Bolt, I'd prefer Jackson to sign with Chicago and the strong-armed Jay Cutler.
Marques Colston re-signs with the New Orleans Saints: Much like the Jackson scenario, I don't think Colston will remain with his current team despite that being his best-case fantasy scenario. The Saints won't have a ton of cap room to play with this offseason, and their first order of business is to lock up Drew Brees. If the Redskins make an upgrade at the quarterback position, Colston could be a nice addition. Playing on grass will help save his knees, and his targets should also rise as a true No. 1 wideout in the offense. The downside, of course, is that he won't have Brees throwing him the football.
Mike Wallace re-signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers didn't have the cap room to franchise Wallace, but he was extended a first-round tender. That means any team that signs him would surrender a first rounder. However, no restricted free agent with a first-round tender has signed an offer sheet in the last decade -- that's an advantage for Pittsburgh. While a team hungry for a wideout could make him an excessive offer, I expect Wallace to remain with the Steelers. If there's a best-case scenario from a fantasy perspective, though, Wallace will go to New England.
Matt Flynn signs with the Miami Dolphins: As I said earlier, I'm expecting the Dolphins to go all in on Manning. But from a fantasy perspective, I'd rather see Flynn end up in South Florida and here's the reason -- he knows the offense, has a relationship with coach Joe Philbin and well, I think he'll be a bigger bust candidate if he goes anywhere else (Cleveland, Seattle). While he has shown flashes of potential, we have a small sample size of Flynn as a starter. I'd just be more comfortable fantasy-wise with Flynn playing in a system he knows inside and out.
Brandon Lloyd signs with the New England Patriots: Lloyd was never a true fantasy option until he played under Josh McDaniels. In 2010, he came out of nowhere to lead all wide receivers in fantasy points. In fact, his 77 catches were more than he had in his previous four years combined! So with Deion Branch slated to become a free agent and Chad Ochocinco a candidate to be released, Lloyd would be a perfect fit for the P-Men. Not only would he be back in McDaniels' offense, but he would also have some guy named Tom Brady throwing him the football. Not too bad.
Randy Moss signs with the New Orleans Saints: In the event that the Saints lose Colston and Robert Meachem as free agents, Moss could be atop the team's wish list to replace them. With little cap space, Moss could sign an incentive-based deal and ultimately "sing for his supper." He reportedly looked great at a recent workout for the Saints, and being the No. 1 wideout on a pass-laden team with a superstar like Brees under center is a best-case scenario for this potential fantasy appeal. I'd still be a little worried about his age (35) and 2010 disaster, however.
Reggie Wayne signs with the Arizona Cardinals: If Manning is a shark, then Wayne is a pilot fish -- I think he's going to follow the veteran quarterback and his teammate for the past 11 seasons. Wayne, who went to the University of Miami, might prefer to end up with the Dolphins. And while I think there's a good chance of that happening, I'm sticking to my guns with my preference of Manning and Wayne to the Cardinals. He is in the latter stages of his career at age 33, but Wayne still has another productive year or two left in him in the right situation.
Mike Tolbert signs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs and fantasy owners learned a painful lesson last season -- LeGarrette Blount isn't good enough to be a featured back. He's not a good pass catcher, and his pass protection leaves much to be desired. Enter Tolbert, who excels in both of those areas and would bolster the backfield for new coach Greg Schiano. If the Bucs land Richardson in April, then this move won't happen. But assuming Tolbert does leave San Diego, that does nothing but improve the fantasy breakout potential of Ryan Mathews in 2012.