From 2001 to 2005, Shaun Alexander was one of the best players in fantasy football. In 2005, he was the best running back in the NFL and the centerpiece of many fantasy championship teams. When I won four fantasy championships in '05, including an undefeated season in one league, Alexander was leading the way.
His sharp decline over the past two seasons has been well-documented, and in the "what have you done for me lately?" world of the NFL and fantasy football, Alexander draws mostly negative attention. I believe he never got full credit for being a superstar in his prime because he played in the Pacific Northwest and didn't have an exciting running style. Yet just three years ago, I believe he was the best player on the best team in the NFL, one that certainly was worthy of a Super Bowl victory that many Seattleites think the Seahawks deserved.
Now Alexander's future is murky after the Seahawks moved quickly to add Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in free agency. Although the Seahawks can keep Alexander under their salary cap structure, realistically, a guy who has always been a workhorse won't fit well in a timeshare. The Tacoma News-Tribune said it's all but a foregone conclusion that Alexander is finished with the Seahawks, because he will earn $4.5 million in 2008. Cutting Alexander loose could free up some more needed cap room, and Jones didn't sign a four-year deal to sit. We likely will have to wait to see this situation resolved; Alexander is still recovering from a wrist injury, and NFL teams are not allowed to release injured players without a settlement. Plus, as the Tribune further outlined, he must be a June 1 cut to save the $4.5 million otherwise his full remaining $6.9 million signing bonus will be applied to Seattle's salary cap.
Even without the salary figures, it's hard to see how the Seahawks can keep Alexander now; he likely won't be happy battling for playing time. Some running back-starved team like the Lions can give him a chance to prove he can still be a competent No. 1 running back, despite his injury-linked slide over the past two seasons. Teams like the Bears or Panthers could bring him in to at least compete for more quality playing time. Alexander could conceivably share playing time with a guy like Cedric Benson or DeAngelo Williams and battle for carries.
From the fantasy perspective, Alexander must leave Seattle to have some true value as a rebound player. In the current situation, the Seahawks' backfield is obviously too crowded for him to be anything more than a fantasy backup. If he wears a new uniform, he can at least be drafted as a flex player or third fantasy running back with some remaining promise.
That would leave Jones as the main man in Seattle, and the favorite to win the starting job. Jones, however, has often been banged up in the past and cannot be counted on as a regular fantasy starter. He doesn't run inside consistently well, and would be best sharing carries with another physical runner like Duckett. Jones would have more appeal as a flex player or third back if the path is cleared for him to start with the Seahawks. Yet Duckett would figure to get many of the short-yardage and goal-line opportunities, hurting the fantasy appeal of both players and making them bench options initially in many leagues. Jones still has some upside; he will be only 27 when the new season starts, and could benefit from leaving Dallas and starting over with another NFC contender.
The Seattle Times reported Alexander was at the team's headquarters on Tuesday and is still on the roster. Yet fantasy players should simply wait and hope he lands elsewhere; a move to a new team can push Alexander to show he is not quite finished, while opening the door for Jones to show the Cowboys made a mistake by not bringing him back. Keeping Alexander, which many be a surprise at this point, can only hinder the fantasy outlook of the top three running backs on the Seahawks' roster, at least in the 2008 preseason.
Here's a look at some player moves made since last week's notebook.
Devard Darling, WR Chiefs: He has a real chance to be a sleeper in Kansas City. Darling, who caught three touchdowns in 2007, joins a Chiefs squad that is awfully thin at wide receiver, and he could surprise if he has a good camp and earns quality playing time.
Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers: He missed the 2007 season, and while Bryant still may be able to deliver a few quality performances and some big plays, he won't be reliable in fantasy leagues.
Ben Troupe, TE, Buccaneers: He never lived up to expectations in Tennessee. Yet Tampa Bay does value the tight end in its offense, so Troupe will be worth watching as a possible free-agent addition after draft day.
Tatum Bell, RB, Lions: He re-signed with Detroit for one year, and with the release of Kevin Jones, the opportunity is there for him to start even though he was unheard from when Jones returned last year. There simply has to be better options for Detroit, though, with another player move or draft pick. Bell might not be the front-runner for playing time once we start getting closer to the new season.
Chris Brown, Texans: The most the Texans can really hope for is that Brown can have the occasional good game or end up as a reliable part of a timeshare. They still have Ahman Green, and the Houston Chronicle reports the Texans are also expected to draft a running back. Brown simply comes in as veteran insurance and may get bumped down in the depth chart quickly if he can't earn time as part of a committee or pairing. He's strictly a late-round pick in yearly leagues.
Drew Carter, WR, Raiders: He's a big target who can make the occasional big play, but he won't contribute often enough to be a real fantasy factor.
Jesse Chatman, RB, Jets: He was briefly useful when pressed into action with Miami last season. He's a worthy pick in the final rounds for injury insurance; Chatman could produce quality totals if Thomas Jones gets hurt.
Justin McCareins, WR, Titans: Leaving Tennessee after the 2003 season turned out to be a mistake. Returning a half-decade later doesn't help his outlook at all.
David Carr, QB, Giants: If Eli Manning gets hurt, the Giants will have to rely heavily on the running game. Carr will hear lots of boos in the Meadowlands if he is needed to start at any point, and he will have minimal fantasy value.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Bears: Chicago is in dire need of receiving help, especially after losing Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. The Redskins, however, needed someone to step up, too, and Lloyd never came through for them, so he won't be draftable.
Dan (Toronto): I'm in a 10-team keeper league, standard scoring format with one exception. We award one point per reception. I won my fantasy league this past year but am now faced with a dilemma. We have to keep four players. So I'm not sure whom to keep. I have three stud running backs and three stud receivers to choose from: Joseph Addai, Larry Johnson, and Brian Westbrook, plus T.J Houshmandzadeh, Marques Colston, and Brandon Marshall. I have to keep four of the six and I'm leaning toward the three running backs and Houshmandzadeh.
Engel: Since it's a PPR league, you have to place a considerable emphasis on wide receivers. Nut you have at least two very good running backs, so keeping two at each position is the best answer for balance heading into your next draft. Westbrook is an obviously elite running back in PPR leagues, and Addai will be a staple starter for you as a progressively improving pass-catcher out of the backfield. Johnson, however, is coming off a disappointing year and the prospects are looking bleak for his offensive line and the support from his passing game next year. I would not retain him. I agree on keeping Houshmandzadeh, but then it becomes a difficult choice between Colston and Marshall, who will both be standouts for a long time. Each one caught more than 100 passes last year, but in a close call, I slightly prefer Colston to make a few more possession catches every year. So keep Westbrook, Addai, Houshmandzadeh and Colston.
Dupree (Pittsburgh): I'm in a dynasty league, and I have Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, and Brady Quinn as my quarterbacks. I hate tying up three spaces on my roster for quarterbacks. If you were to pick two of them, whom would you keep?
Engel: Roethlisberger is a certainty. He bounced back nicely in 2007 and should be a very dependable fantasy starter for a long time. Although I am confident Quinn will play well when given the chance, I don't believe he'll be as much a top fantasy player as an efficient game manager. All Young needs is better receivers, and sometime in the next few years, he will be one of fantasy's best quarterbacks, because of his added rushing skills. Keep Roethlisberger and Young.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.