Countless fantasy enthusiasts are now entrenched in their basketball and hockey leagues and preparing for baseball drafts, but football is never far from their minds.
The NFL is now a 365-day-a-year obsession. That's obvious in the extended and in-depth coverage of the Scouting Combine, which will be followed by the 2008 NFL Draft.
But while the next wave of rookies look to make their mark at the pro football level, numerous veterans are set to switch uniforms with the start of the free agent period.
These moves will have tremendous implications on the world of fantasy football.
Based on the successes of players such as Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, Randy Moss and Wes Welker last season, a change of scenery can sometimes be an absolute godsend. With that in mind, let's take a look at the 15 most prominent fantasy players who are scheduled to be free agents or could be released this offseason.
Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle: Rumors earlier this month suggested Alexander could be released, but Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren doesn't appear set to turn the page on his veteran back. In fact, Holmgren was quoted in the News Tribune that he is "not ready to buy into the fact that Alexander] hit 30 and all of the sudden he can't play anymore." Holmgren might not want to write off Alexander, but [fantasy footballers should do just that. He'll be no more than a No. 3 fantasy back or flex starter in the 2008 season.
Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland: Anderson, a restricted free agent, is reportedly looking for a six-year, $68 million deal with Cleveland, but the team has offered a three-year deal worth $18 million with over $10 million in incentives. Chances are he'll remain with the Browns, so Anderson should be considered a top 10 fantasy quarterback in 2008. Of course Brady Quinn still looms behind him on the depth chart, but Anderson's numbers were far too impressive last season to let him walk. This is a situation owners need to watch.
Marion Barber, RB, Dallas: Barber, who might be the hardest runner to tackle in the NFL, is schedule to become a restricted free agent. However, there's little chance he will leave Dallas this offseason. In fact, the Dallas Morning News reports that Cowboys are expected to offer him a three- to five-year deal with Barber. He'll be the team's starter next season and a solid No. 2 fantasy runner, but the Polks will add a free agent or rookie runner to pair with Barber as Julius Jones is slated to leave this offseason.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Chicago: Berrian is considered the top option in what is a weak crop of free-agent wideouts, so he'll garner a ton of attention. A speedster that can make some noise in the vertical pass attack, teams like Denver, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Washington could look to add him as a potential home run hitter. In a best case, he would be a nice low-end No. 2 fantasy wideout. With Muhsin Muhammad out the door and Berrian possibly next, Mark Bradley could be Chicago's No. 1 wide receiver next season.
Alge Crumpler, TE, Free agent: It was a bit of a shock when Atlanta released Crumpler, but he'll find a new home sooner than later. In fact, reports out of Tennessee have suggested the Titans will make a run at the veteran tight end in the next few weeks. With Ben Troupe scheduled to be a free agent, Crumpler would be a nice addition to the offense as a short to intermediate option for Vince Young. He won't be drafted as a No. 1 fantasy tight end, but Crumpler could be a nice value pick if he lands in the right situation.
DeShaun Foster, RB, Free agent: Foster was released late last week, and reports indicate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hot on his trail. Such a move could hurt the value of Earnest Graham, who would consider to start but lose at least some of the workload to Foster. The fact that Foster is in their sights could be an indication that the team is worried about the status of Cadillac Williams. San Francisco is also heavily in the mix for Foster, who could become a complement for Frank Gore. Foster would be a fine late-round handcuff for either Graham or Gore.
D.J. Hackett, WR, Seattle: Injuries have been a real issue for Hackett, but he has shown the skills and abilities to produce solid numbers when in a prominent role. While Seattle would like to have him back due to the uncertain status of Deion Branch, it appears Hackett will hit the open market. He'll be a tremendous fit for a team with a West coast offense, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him in Washington with new head coach Jim Zorn. Hackett could become a terrific sleeper candidate if he lands in the right situation.
Rudi Johnson, RB, Cincinnati: Johnson dealt with an injured hamstring and the emergence of Kenny Watson last season, both of which caused his numbers to fall hard across the board. However, the fact that Chris Perry and Kenny Irons remain question marks due to injuries makes it more likely that Johnson will be back in Cincinnati next season. At 28, Johnson still has some fuel in the tank if he can avoid long-term injuries. However, he could find himself in a backfield committee situation with the more versatile Watson.
Julius Jones, RB, Dallas: It appears that Dallas will let Jones leave as a free agent, so teams in need of a viable but unimpressive starter or complement to a current featured back could look to add him. Wherever he lands, Jones will find himself in a committee situation and with little more than reserve value in fantasy land. The Cowboys must regret not adding Steven Jackson in the 2004 NFL Draft, as Marcus Spears will be the lone player still on the roster from the J.P. Losman trade with Buffalo once Jones is out.
LaMont Jordan, RB, Oakland: The re-signing of Justin Fargas and return of Michael Bush to action next season will mean the end of Jordan's short tenure in Oakland. He did show flashes of brilliance at the start of last season and doesn't have the wear and tear of a typical 30-year old runner, but Jordan will be hard pressed to land with a team that will utilize him in a featured role. Look for him to find a reserve and committee role with a new team this offseason and be seen as a late-round flier in most fantasy drafts.
Randy Moss, WR, New England: Moss was not franchised last week and is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but rumors indicate he and New England might have already agreed on a contract. Moss, who set an NFL record for 23 touchdown catches last season, would be hard pressed to be in a better situation than he is now. I would be a little more than shocked if he is in anything but a Patriots uniform in 2008, but if Moss does leave as a free agent he'll lose value across the board. The same will hold true for Tom Brady.
Jerry Porter, WR, Oakland: Porter quietly recorded 705 yards and six touchdowns last season in what was a bad Oakland offense, so he can still make an impact for fantasy owners. An unrestricted free agent, the veteran out of West Virginia would be a nice fit in Tampa Bay with former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Porter should also see quite a bit of interest from Minnesota, which will look at just about any veteran wideout in the offseason. A viable red-zone threat, Porter could be fantasy relevant with the right team.
Donté Stallworth, WR, Free agent: New England declined to exercise Stallworth's $6 million option, so he is now an unrestricted free agent. He has the speed and skills to post nice numbers, but Stallworth has never been able to avoid injuries at the NFL level. There will be some teams out there that can use him, but Tennessee could be the favorites to land him this offseason. The Titans had interest in Stallworth in the 2007 offseason before he signed with the Patriots. At best, he could be a viable No. 3 fantasy wideout.
Michael Turner, RB, San Diego: There will not be a hotter fantasy name on the free agent market than Turner, who has shown some serious flashes of potential in his time in San Diego. He'll have no shortage of suitors around the NFL, but whether or not he'll be utilized as a true featured back will determine his true draft value. Atlanta could add him if it decides not to draft Darren McFadden, but Detroit, Houston and Seattle could also have interest. At best, Turner could warrant second- or third-round consideration.
Javon Walker, WR, Denver: Reports out of Denver suggest the Washington Redskins could have interest in trading for Walker, who missed much of last season with what was a problematic knee. The Broncos and Redskins have done quite a bit of offseason business in the past, so this report could hold some water. Other rumors have Walker headed to Dallas, which would unite him with Terrell Owens. Walker, whose health status is uncertain, has the tools to be a solid fantasy wideout but will be considered a risk-reward selection in drafts.