A little over a week ago, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles held out for about 6 minutes before Kansas City gave him a two year, $18.1 extension. It was a move that upped Charles’ cap number to a little over $9.5 million for 2014 (according to Over the Cap) after he was expected to only make about $4 million this season. However, further look at the contract shows that he is only guaranteed about one and a third million dollars out of the $21 million he is set to receive between 2015 and the end of the contract (2017). In other words, Charles was given Monopoly money. How much of that he sees is at the full discretion of the Chiefs, and it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that they cut their All-Pro back to clear cap space to pay players like quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston.
This kind of forward thinking leads me to believe that Knile Davis should be a dynasty add wherever you can get him. He should cost you very little, and has a chance to be the lead back in an Andy Reid offense as soon as next year. This kind of forward thinking can lead to acquiring cheap fantasy starters and even studs. It also can help you to move on from players before their value plummets. Here are nine more forward thinking moves based on running back contract situations from 2015 on:
1. Peterson’s Last Year in Minny?
The Skinny: Adrian Peterson is owed a ridiculous $47.4 million over the last 3 years of his contract. He will be 29 at season’s end, and has already accumulated over 2,000 career carries. The Vikings may be better off releasing their future Hall of Fame back, who they only owe $2.4 million to after this season, rather than pay 15+ mill a year for his declining seasons.
How to Play it: I would be looking to acquire talented backup Jerick McKinnon wherever I could in dynasty leagues. He was one of my favorite prospects last season at running back and absolutely obliterated the combine. A starting job could very well make him an RB1 for 2015 and beyond. McKinnon is a late round rookie pick that could pay huge dividends for your team, and it may be worth reaching on him to ensure his acquisition.
2. Lynch to be Mar-gone in 2015
The Skinny: As if you needed any more reason to believe that Marshawn Lynch would be out of Seattle within a calendar year, he is guaranteed just 1.5 out of the $9 million owed to him in 2015. It is expected that he will be released to make room for extensions for players like quarterback Russell Wilson.
How to Play it: Assuming the members of your league have a pulse, they probably are aware of who Christine Michael is, making him an expensive player to acquire at this point. However, I still think you can convince a contending dynasty owner to trade young assets for Lynch. Even if you find yourself in contention, I would look to move Beast Mode if I could get pieces back I liked. It is just as likely that Lynch falls off or gets hurt this season as it is that he brings you the title you seek.
3. Forte the Weakest Link?
The Skinny: Bears runner Matt Forte will be 29 at the end of the season has run the ball 1,551 times, and is scheduled to make $8.8 million in the last year of his contract next season. The Bears just signed Brandon Marshall to an extension, and will probably be looking to do the same for Alshon Jeffery and Kyle Long, who will be entering their final season in 2015. They may look to cut Forte for the small price of $1 million in order to lock their younger talent up with the team.
How to Play it: The Bears just drafted workhorse Ka’Deem Carey from Arizona and he would stand to be the major beneficiary from a Forte release. He is cheap and worth acquiring in rookie drafts. It would be difficult to advise moving on from Forte before this season since he is my number one back for 2014, so I would first look to get Carey via either the draft or trade. He would make for a good hedge. It wouldn’t hurt to shop him around a little to see if someone will overpay as well.
4. Toby Could be One and Done
The Skinny: The Jaguars just signed Toby Gerhart to a three year contract this offseason, and he is expected to be their workhorse for 2014. However, he is owed just $500,000 past this season, putting Jacksonville in a good position to move on from him if he is ineffective or takes on too big of a load.
How to Play it: Gerhart is my 14th ranked running back for this season, and I expect him to live up to it. The Jaguars don’t seem to have a reliable back right now on the roster should he be cut (unless you like Storm Johnson), which means the starter next year is probably either Toby or some back not currently on the roster. I would squeeze all the juice I could out of him this season, and look to move him either near your league’s trade deadline (if you don’t think you’ll make the playoffs) or immediately after the season.
5. Murray on Deck
The Skinny: The Raiders’ running back situation is a huge mess this year, but after 2014 Darren McFadden’s contract will expire and Maurice Jones-Drew will have no more guaranteed money on his deal. It would be easy to see Oakland move on from both players with the former a constant disappointment and the latter declining after 1,804 career carries.
How to Play it: I mentioned Latavius Murray in the Jam Sportz running back preview podcast as my favorite Oakland back for this season, so you know he’s my favorite in dynasty. He is an elite athlete (121 speed score, 11.17 agility score at 223 pounds) and should have a clear path to a starting role in 2015. Best of all, he is incredibly cheap in dynasty and could probably be had as a throw in to a trade. Pounce now before your league-mates wise up.
6. Bush Not Long for Detroit
The Skinny: Reggie Bush fared well last season as a member of the Lions, but is owed $9.5 million over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Detroit has one of the worst cap situation in all of football, and could save $6.5 million by cutting the USC alum. He will be 29 at season’s end and has accrued almost 1,200 career carries.
How to Play it: I recommended Theo Riddick as a Zero RB play this season, and he makes for a good dynasty target as well. He has already received buzz as a Darren Sproles type of player in former Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi’s offense. I’m not sure if he can lock that spot down in ’14 without an injury, but should Bush be released, Riddick would have nobody in his way and could immediately become a PPR asset. There is a decent chance he is still on your league’s waiver wire, so look to add now if you can.
7. Panthers in a Bind
The Skinny: The Carolina Panthers have one of the most mismanaged cap situations in the NFL as it pertains to running backs. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are guaranteed a combined $34.9 million over the next 4 seasons (89% of the total value of their contracts). It is unlikely that either player will be moved anytime soon.
How to Play it: Don’t get hooked on any Carolina backup for at least the next two seasons. Kenjon Barner should be a complete after thought for your fantasy team, not that you needed prompting for that. The most important thing is that there may not even be a defined split in workload among the two backs. Sell at all costs.
8. Ravens Stuck with Rice?
The Skinny: After an off-season marred by a domestic dispute with his now wife and decline in his play, it is easy to assume that Ray Rice is not long for Baltimore. However, his contract is not conducive to such a move. Rice is owed $15.5 million over the next two seasons, with a whopping $14.25 million guaranteed. In fact, should the Ravens cut him next off-season they would owe almost $2 million more in dead money than his cap number is worth.
How to Play it: Rice could definitely be outplayed by Bernard Pierce or Lorenzo Taliaferro (in fact, I expect it), but his almost guaranteed presence on the roster could make him a good dynasty buy if his owner is trying to just get rid of him. At the least, it is worth poking around to see what he costs. If you own Rice and have held him this long, my advice would be to continue to do so.
9. The Grass is Not Greener in Tennessee
The Skinny: Shonn Greene only has one year remaining on his contract and the Titans can save over $3 million by cutting the disappointing veteran from Iowa after this season. In fact, there is a very real possibility he doesn’t even make it out of the pre-season given the knee troubles he has already had and the presence of rookie Bishop Sankey.
How to Play it: I doubt that you own Greene in any leagues, and Sankey is the clear favorite in Tennessee for work for the foreseeable future. However I think there is a window of opportunity here for Dexter McCluster to be productive in PPR leagues while Sankey is still green (no pun intended). If he is on waivers or very cheap, he is worth acquiring if you have the roster space. And if the Sankey owner is nervous at all about Greene, be sure to pounce.
Contracts are very rarely looked at in fantasy leagues, but they can have a tremendous impact on who is productive in fantasy. By keeping a close eye on them, you can stay a step ahead of your opponents and put yourself in a great position to be successful. It is just another reminder to keep researching, keep studying, and above all, keep thinking about fantasy football and you can unearth some gems.