During this offseason of turmoil, the New Orleans Saints have found some good news: They re-signed top wideout Marques Colston to a five-year, $40 million contract, $19 million of which is guaranteed.
Colston isn't a traditional outside receiver and doesn't typically get tons of separation when he's matched one-on-one with a defensive back. For that reason, had he wound up on another roster, one might've made the argument that he'd have been worth less in fantasy leagues, as the Saints use him a ton out of the slot to get him open. Still, you also could've made a counterargument: If Colston had landed on an efficient passing offense that spread the ball around less than the Saints do, his targets likely would've gone way up, including red zone looks that in 2011 were often taken by tight end Jimmy Graham. As a result, I think we're probably looking at a wash for Colston's fantasy value; he should remain a midrange No. 2 fantasy wideout in ESPN standard leagues, a productive player who's also a pretty major injury risk. Colston finished 21st in targets per game last season (7.64) but missed two games with a broken collarbone. He has a history of bad knees and has played a full 16 games only twice in six pro seasons.
Perhaps the biggest fantasy effect this has is on Darren Sproles. When it appeared the cap-strapped Saints were in danger of losing both Colston and Robert Meachem, it seemed to me that Sproles was setting up to be a de facto receiver, especially with rushers Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas expected back and healthy this season. Sproles caught 86 passes last season, highest of any running back in the league, and with only the likes of Devery Henderson and Adrian Arrington around in the receiving corps, I was envisioning Sproles easily topping the record for catches by an RB, which is currently 101 by Larry Centers in 1995. Now I'm a little less sure about the week-to-week steadiness of Sproles' workload. Based on this move, I shifted him down out of my top 20 RBs, from No. 17 to No. 21, which correspondingly drops him about 15 spots in my overall ranks. He's still likely to be, at minimum, a wonderful fantasy flex, but I would've loved to see how he'd have been used without Colston around.
Of course, all this Saints talk is moot if Drew Brees isn't in New Orleans, but I expect that contract mess to get figured out relatively soon. Graham's value probably doesn't change; the guy had an amazing 149 targets last season, which was easily tops among tight ends and registered No. 6 among players at all positions. I still assume that Meachem is gone, while players like Henderson and Arrington, who might've been in line for fantasy boosts simply by a sheer lack of WR alternatives in the Big Easy, probably go back to being mainly deep-league flyers.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.