Taylor, Burleson gain in free agency
Chicago Bears' flurry of early moves could hurt value of Forte, Olsen
Thoughts from the first morning and afternoon of NFL free agency:
• The biggest loser in the opening moves is, without question, Matt Forte. With Chester Taylor signing with the Chicago Bears for $7 million guaranteed and Mike Martz coming on board as offensive coordinator, it's not hard to see a platoon coming, which might be a best-case scenario for Forte. As the bigger man (6-foot-2, 216 pounds, compared with Taylor's 5-foot-11, 213), he'll probably still get first crack at being the team's goal-line back, but remember: Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in '06, his first year with the Minnesota Vikings before some guy named Adrian Peterson came along.
Taylor has skills to be an every-down back. We know he's an elite third-down and receiving option, something Martz loves. Of course, Forte can catch well, too (63 and 54 receptions his first two seasons). I guess what I'm saying is that it's tough to divine a situation where one of these guys earns a full starter's reps without an injury to the other. Add in the fact that the Bears' O-line has big question marks (although it does have decent upside), and neither Forte nor Taylor belongs in your top 20 running backs next season, unless you're in a point-per-reception league. In a PPR, I think I actually might prefer Taylor.
• Nate Burleson, last seen playing 14 of a possible 32 games for the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons, somehow swung $11 million guaranteed from the Detroit Lions, who acknowledged the failure of their Bryant Johnson experiment last season. Burleson is a straight-line guy with historically shaky hands (although he seemed to improve in that area last season) who won't distract opposing defenses from double-teaming Calvin Johnson, at least not until he puts together several good games in a row. Can Burleson by himself be a fantasy factor? I still think he's bench fodder, but he probably earns a spot in my top 50 receivers because he moves to a club whose quarterback has the arm to get it to him deep.
• The Carolina Panthers cut Jake Delhomme on Thursday night, admitting that signing him to that huge contract ($20 million guaranteed) after his playoff implosion against the Arizona Cardinals last season was stupid. But give the team credit for acknowledging the mistake; there are NFL franchises (paging Oakland Raiders) who regularly refuse to give up on lost causes, and Delhomme was a lost cause. Matt Moore has already been named Carolina's starter in '10, and A.J. Feeley was also kicked to the curb, so it wouldn't appear that Moore will have much competition for snaps. But he's also never played a full season, he has only Steve Smith to throw to, and the Panthers are a run-first team. Right now, I don't view him as a top-20 fantasy option.
• The Philadelphia Eagles retained fullback Leonard Weaver, which in a roundabout way could be good news for LeSean McCoy. With Brian Westbrook gone, McCoy is the presumptive starter, but there's been speculation that the Eagles have doubts about his ability to assume a Westbrook-esque workload, which could lead the team to draft or sign another back. That could still happen. But by retaining Weaver, who got 70 carries in '09, the Eagles could also be signaling that they're comfortable with him as the de facto backup. Until further notice, McCoy remains inside my top 20 running backs for '10.
• The Chicago Bears have had a busy first day: They also signed former San Diego Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Now, Manumaleuna isn't going to be a fantasy factor; he's one of the league's premier blocking tight ends. But his becoming a Bear could be very bad news for Greg Olsen's future in the Windy City. Could the team keep both guys and run a lot of two-tight-end sets? Sure, if its new offensive coordinator wasn't some guy named Martz. Either Olsen's fantasy value just dropped even lower, or he'll be leaving town via trade.
• A few teams made defensive splashes in the first hours after midnight. The Chicago Bears signed Julius Peppers to a six-year contract with $40 million guaranteed. ... The New York Jets traded a conditional draft pick to the San Diego Chargers for corner Antonio Cromartie, an All-Pro in '07 but an underperformer the past two seasons (and an off-field knucklehead). If Cromartie turns it around in Gotham, he'll only add to a scary fantasy defense; I think it's likelier that teams are going to pick on him for 60 minutes every week. ... And the Detroit Lions signed former Tennessee Titans (and Arizona Cardinals) defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who was a strong performer two years ago when he played with Albert Haynesworth, but who was invisible for an awful lot of the '09 season. ... The Lions also traded a late-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for Corey Williams, once a burgeoning star for the Green Bay Packers who flamed out in the 3-4 defense. In his return to a 4-3, he may very well be effective again. ... The Jets were already my No. 1 fantasy defense for next season. The Bears made strides toward becoming at least a top-15 fantasy defense with the Peppers signing, though they need secondary help, too. Is the Lions' D now fantasy-relevant? Um, no. They released their only decent corner (Phillip Buchanon) and haven't replaced him yet. For now, it still looks ugly in the Motor City.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
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2010 Fantasy Football Offseason
ESPN.comkeeps you connected to fantasy football all offseason long with updated rankings, mock drafts and analysis of all the important moves.
NFL Draft• Day 1: Ryan Mathews the big winner
• Day 2: Toby Gerhart now a handcuff
• Day 3: Rounds 4-7 can yield sleepers
• Matthew Berry's Top 150, updated June 4
• Christopher Harris' Top 200, updated May 11
• Fantasy Staff Top 200, updated April 30
• Christopher Harris' Top 200, updated April 19
• Matthew Berry's Top 100, April 8
Analysis from Christopher Harris
• Don't expect much from T.O. in Cincinnati
• Vincent Jackson no longer a top 25 receiver
• Jason Campbell is still bland in Oakland
• LenDale White, Leon Washington in Seattle
• Brandon Marshall deal to Miami boosts Henne
• Santonio Holmes' value falls with trade to Jets
• Donovan McNabb's stock drops with Redskins
• Willie Parker joins Redskins veteran RBBC
• Browns wheeling and dealing potential options
• LDT signing with Jets muddies Greene's value
• Larry Johnson still irrelevant with Redskins
• Derrick Mason's re-signing helps Flacco
• Antonio Bryant decent fit with Bengals
• Thomas Jones loses lots of value with Chiefs
• Reggie Brown intriguing with Tampa Bay
• Boldin trade doesn't do much for his value
• Taylor, Burleson open free-agency season
• NFL scouting combine fantasy review