2023 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers of Free Agency (So Far)
The first overall pick has been traded, and a Hall of Fame quarterback is expected to be on the move. Yet even with that, the 2023 offseason has so far been less “throw it all against the wall”-style crazy than last year’s insanity, where by this time, Davante Adams and Russell Wilson had already been traded and Tyreek Hill was on the block.
Still the legal tampering/first week of the new league year wasn’t without its share of excitement. There is still plenty of dust to settle around the league (Where will Odell Beckham land? Does Ezekiel Elliott get a starting job? Does anyone even remember Dalton Schultz’ phone number?), but with a week of transactions in the book, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the free agency period so far.
(We’re also including trade activity in this, and for the sake of simplicity, we’re acting as though Aaron Rodgers is on the Jets, even if that trade is not yet finalized and giving Trey Wingo plaudits for having said it was done is extremely weird.)
2023 Free Agency Winners
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins rushed to say they were not in on Lamar Jackson like they were hitting the buzzer in Jeopardy! Tom Brady shut down any return rumors about as fast as they surfaced. And then Miami exercised its fifth-year option on Tua Tagovailoa, all but locking him in as the starter for at least a while longer. (Mike White is a backup, not a threat.) The receiving offense is still intact (save Mike Gesicki, who was never that involved), and the team re-signed all four of its running backs from last year in one fell swoop. Take out the games he was concussed, and Tagovailoa averaged 20.2 fantasy points per game last year. If he can stay healthy, that’s right there again.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After his struggles in 2022, there was definitely a scenario where the best Baker Mayfield could do this offseason was as a backup in hopes that the starter would get hurt and he’d get a shot. (I had him pegged for Arizona as the “while Kyler Murray is injured” option). Instead, he landed in Tampa, where he is ostensibly in a training camp battle with Kyle Trask, but it’s a battle Mayfield should win. And assuming he does win, he gets to try to rebuild his value throwing to one of the best receiver duos in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Pollard will stick around with the Cowboys on the franchise tag, which means he will once again get the virtue of having one of the league’s better offensive lines blocking for him. And now the specter of Ezekiel Elliott is gone after his release. The Cowboys will certainly add a relevant running back between now and the season, whether in free agency or the draft, and we’ll need to see how Pollard fares in his recovery from his postseason ankle injury, but that was always going to be a question. His situation is now one that offers him top-five fantasy upside.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots
The team made basically lateral moves at pass-catcher (more on that below), while bringing in James Robinson in free agency to replace the departing Damien Harris. Robinson has had flashes, but it looked pretty clear last year that his role is as a backup, not as a guy who will split time or steal work from Stevenson, who finished as the PPR RB7 last year. This offense will run through Stevenson in 2023.
Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Leonard Fournette is gone, and the team went out and signed disappointing 2022 free agent Chase Edmonds, which says to me they aren’t going to be jumping on a running back early in the draft. This will be Rachaad White’s job.
James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals
A year ago in this very space, we called James Conner a winner because the Cardinals didn’t add any kind of threat to his workload despite having the opportunity. That’s exactly true again, and he has the added virtue of not losing carries to Kyler Murray for at least part of the year (and who knows how much Murray runs when he returns). Add in the expectation that DeAndre Hopkins is dealt, and Conner could be the key cog in this (admittedly subpar) offense.
Allen Lazard, WR, New York Jets
Make powerful friends, kids. There was a chance Allen Lazard re-signed with the Packers this offseason or ended up in a bad offense as a second or third banana where he might not get a lot of targets. Instead, it appears he’ll be paired back up with his quarterback and friend Aaron Rodgers, and even if Garrett Wilson (at least) is above him in the pecking order, Lazard should still get his healthy share.
2023 Free Agency Losers
Russell Wilson, QB, Denver Broncos
Every move the Broncos have made so far seems specifically designed as anti-“let Russ cook” measures. Sprinting to sign Mike McGlinchey and following that up with Ben Powers. Bringing in Jarrett Stidham as a decent backup. Signing Samaje Perine. Popping up in rumors to deal one or both or Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Russell Wilson should be better in 2023 than he was in 2022 (you’d think), but it sounds like Sean Payton isn’t about to totally unleash him either way.
Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
When the Dolphins weren’t sure if Tua Tagovailoa was the guy but wanted to give him every opportunity, they traded for Tyreek Hill and doubled down on his weaponry. When the Eagles weren’t sure if Jalen Hurts was the guy but wanted to give him every opportunity, they traded for A.J. Brown and doubled down on his weaponry. The Patriots probably aren’t sure if Mac Jones is the guy, and this week they … shuffled the deck chairs. For my money, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki are better than the guys they replaced in this offense (Jakobi Meyers and Jonnu Smith, respectively), but … barely. These aren’t remotely “go get a star pass-catcher to paper over our quarterback’s deficiencies” moves.
(That said, a sleeper winner: Tyquan Thornton. A second-round talent entering his second season as the only speed option in this offense? Keep an eye on him.)
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry is probably still going to be a Titan this season, but there were some small rumors of a potential trade, and it’s worth noting — there is no team in the league that will give Henry as much work and as many fantasy points as the Titans. But he’ll probably be a Titan, where … there’s not much around him. The bad offensive line hasn’t improved (Nate Davis out, worse Andre Dillard in), and the receiving weapons have gotten worse. Henry averaged over 5.0 yards a carry in 2019 and 2020, but that number was only 4.4 last year (ignoring his 2021 injured season). He’s 29 now. Tread carefully.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
The possibility of a suspension is still hanging over Alvin Kamara’s head, which is certainly a big part of the reason the team brought in Jamaal Williams. So we can probably subtract at least a few games from Kamara’s expectation in 2023. But even setting that aside, Williams is likely to command more work as the No. 2 in the New Orleans offense than the ancient remains of Mark Ingram did last year. Kamara has averaged 3.9 yards per carry the last two years after 5.0 in his first four. He’ll be 28 in Week 1. And the team added Derek Carr and retained Michael Thomas and Juwan Johnson to go with Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed. This offense won’t run through Alvin Kamara first, last and everything like it has in some recent years.
D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions
It feels like D'Andre Swift is a perpetual injury risk, but he’s actually played 40 of a possible 50 games through his three seasons, at least 13 each year. He’s not an iron man, but he’s not just vanishing either. Despite that, he’s topped 16 carries in a game exactly once (an out-of-nowhere 33-carry game in 2021) and averaged under 10 carries per game (even when ignoring games he left with injury). Jamaal Williams stole a massive workload from him last year, and now they bring in David Montgomery, who is Jamaal Williams-plus. Swift will have his ceiling games, but it increasingly looks like he’ll never be a down-to-down workhorse or a reliable weekly fantasy option.
Jakobi Meyers, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
Maybe Jakobi Meyers loved Josh McDaniels (I’m open to the idea he was promised a few more passing trick plays, I guess). But his biggest virtue with the Patriots was the fact that he was the best receiver in the offense. That could not possibly be less true now, lining up alongside Davante Adams in Las Vegas. Meyers is better than Hunter Renfrow (probably? A lot of people didn’t think that a year ago), but he’s at best the No. 2 in this offense, and it’s No. 2 behind maybe the most target-dominant receiver in the league. Meyers isn’t good or efficient enough to thrive for fantasy in that sort of role.
Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Maybe Michael Gallup never becomes the potential star it looked like he might have become a year and a half ago. But with another offseason to recover from the torn ACL that ended his 2021 season, and with Dalton Schultz, Ezekiel Elliott and Noah Brown all apparently moving on, it was easy to look at Gallup as a potential post-hype sleeper for 2023. That is much harder to do now after the Cowboys traded for Brandin Cooks. CeeDee Lamb is the clear No. 1 in this offense, and Cooks is now the pretty clear No. 2. There's still room for Gallup to produce as the No. 3, but his ceiling got way lower in the wake of that trade.
Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears
Cole Kmet’s top virtue in 2022, when he finished as the PPR TE8, was a lack of competition in the Chicago offense. When he had to share the field with Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney and the TE position with Jimmy Graham in 2021, Kmet all but disappeared. In 2022, Robinson and Graham were gone and Mooney was oft-injured, with little else there, and Kmet thrived. Now, DJ Moore is in town, as is Chase Claypool for a full season. Mooney should be healthy. And then the team brought in known end zone weapon Robert Tonyan to share TE snaps. Those touchdowns Kmet got in 2022 because “Who else will get them?” should now be much more spread around.