NFL free agency: Instant fantasy reaction

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Below is a rolling list of NFL free agency signings and what they might mean for fantasy purposes in 2024.

This list will be updated as transactions are made across the league. Keep up to date with free agency news on the Rotoworld home page.


Falcons sign Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal

For Patrick Daugherty’s breakdown of Cousins’ move to Atlanta, click here.

Steelers sign Russell Wilson to a one-year, $1.2 million deal

For Denny Carter’s analysis of what Russ means for the Steelers offense, click here.

Raiders sign Gardner Minshew to a two-year deal worth up to $25 million.

Minshew will reportedly compete with Aidan O'Connell for the starting gig. It's a competition Minshew will assuredly win because he's passable as a starting NFL quarterback and O'Connell is most definitely not. That Minshew is getting $15 million guaranteed suggests O'Connell stands next to no shot to claim the Week 1 job.

Minshew will understand the assignment in Vegas: To feed Davante Adams no matter what. There's reason to believe he'll accomplish this task, considering Minshew targets Michael Pittman last season on 29 percent of his pass routes, the seventh highest rate in the NFL. Pittman had nine games with double digit targets in 2023.

Minshew should represent a major upgrade over O'Connell, who by nearly every measure was a bottom-three starting QB in 2023.

Vikings signed Sam Darnold to a one-year, $10 million contract

In a move that will surely generate online lolz, the Vikings appear ready to replace Kirk Cousins with journeyman Darnold, at least for one year in the team's so-called competitive rebuild.

Before you engage in the various lolz, recall that Darnold was actually good the last time he had a starting job. He led the NFL in completion rate over expected and as top-10 in drop back EPA from Week 12-18 as Carolina's starter in 2022. That nice little run included impressive tight-window throws and good decision making we had not seen during Darnold's disastrous years with the Jets.

Darnold drew persistent praise from Niners coaches and beat writers last summer while prepping to start for San Francisco with Brock Purdy still recovering from a serious elbow injury. Niners QBs coach Kevin Christianson said last summer that Darnold had

He should be more than capable of managing Kevin O'Connell's pass-first offense and force feeding the football to Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson. Darnold is a downgrade for Vikings pass catchers, but not a breathtaking one.

Wide Receiver

Chiefs sign WR Marquise Brown to a one-year deal worth up to $11 million.

Somehow only 26 years old, Brown will be the Chiefs' first viable downfield threat since the team traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins two years ago. Hollywood will presumably replace cardio king Marques Valdes-Scantling, whose role in the KC offense was to run fast in a straight line and "clear out" space for Patrick Mahomes to pick apart defenses with a never-ending series of check downs.

Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson in 2023 ranked first and second, respectively, in air yards per target. Their ineffiency was the stuff of legends: Only two wideouts had a worse air yards conversion rate than MVS; Watson was in the bottom 20.

Enter Brown, a speedy deep threat who has a 1,000-yard season on his otherwise underwhelming NFL resume. Over his two forgettable seasons in Arizona, Brown's air yards conversion rate (35 percent) was better than Valdes-Scantling's, but not much. That could be related to the quality of targets Hollywood saw in Arizona. Kyler Murray over the past two seasons has been among the NFL's worst downfield passers (Murray in 2023 ranked 33rd out of 39 qualifying QBs in downfield passing accuracy).

Brown would seem to be a small upgrade over MVS as the Chiefs' primary deep threat. Unless his receiving profile includes some intermediate opportunities, Hollywood's target share could be sparse: Mahomes is among the league's most conservative passers against two-high safety coverages.

Jaguars sign WR Gabe Davis to a three-year, $39 million deal

It looks like Davis is going to be the Calvin Ridley replacement in Jacksonville. Davis was always going to be too expensive to re-sign with the cash-strapped Bills, and the Jaguars pounced on the fifth-year wideout as soon as free agency got off to its unofficial start.

However frustrating for fantasy purposes, 2023 saw Davis post a career high success rate. He never proved to be much of a target earner in Buffalo’s offense, ending his Bills career with a 15.2 percent target per route run rate. Davis will be a big play-reliant WR3 in the balanced Jaguars offense. Trevor Lawrence in 2023 was one of five QBs with more than 1,000 passing yards on deep shots. His adjusted competition rate on those attempts ranked ninth in the league.

Patriots re-signed Kendrick Bourne to three-year, $19.5 million deal

Bourne had finally come on in the Patriots offense last season when he sustained a season-ending ACL injury. The veteran had 16 catches for 152 yards in the two games before said injury.

Always good after the catch, Bourne could have hidden volume-based upside in a new Pats offense in 2024. He would be a nice complement to a top receiver taken in the NFL Draft.

Running Backs

Ravens sign RB Derrick Henry to a two-year deal worth up to $20 million.

Not nearly the metrics darling he was early in his career, Henry, 30, is still a productive NFL back. If you don't believe me, consider the Big Dog was second in regular season rush yards just last season.

But back to the metrics: Henry in 2023 was 17th in rush yards over expected per attempt; he was 22nd in 2022; and 17th in 2021. Whatever Henry is headed into his Ravens career, he's not the hyper-efficient runner he was for the Titans in 2019 and 2020.

There's reason to believe, however, that a vastly improved offensive environment could do a world of good for Henry. The Ravens in 2023 were third in rush yards before contact — a metric closely correlates to explosive carries. Henry's Titans, for the record, ranked 25th this category last season. The terror that Lamar Jackson strikes into the hearts of opposing defenses should provide Henry with room to run in Baltimore. To put it more succinctly, the Big Dog could get a head of steam on his 2024 rushing attempts — something he largely was not able to do over the past three years.

That OC Todd Monken turned the Lamar-led Ravens into a balanced and sometimes pass-first team doesn't mean Baltimore didn't want to establish the run when the opportunity arose in 2023. Their 45 percent pass rate while leading by at least one point was the second lowest rate in the NFL last year. It could translate to hefty workloads for Henry if the Ravens are once again a buzzsaw in 2024.

Packers sign RB Josh Jacobs

Jacobs is conservatively a top-five fantasy back as a potential workhorse in the ascendent Jordan Love-headed Green Bay offense.

Jacobs, 26, should see a hefty workload with the Packers after the team cut ties Monday with Aaron Jones and will likely let the terribly ineffective AJ Dillon walk (probably to his pal Aaron Rodgers) in free agency. Jacobs should be accustomed to big workloads after a whopping 393 touches in 2022. Last year, he averaged nearly 21 touches per game before injuring his quad in December.

Green Bay’s backfield is fertile ground for a productive back. The Packers were tenth in rush EPA last season and 11th in rushing success rate. The team’s running backs in 2023 averaged 1.5 yards before contact per rush, the ninth highest rate in the league. They combined for a 17 percent target share. It’s the kind of role that could make Jacobs an elite fantasy option.

Eagles sign RB Saquon Barkley to a three-year deal worth up to $46.75 million

Barkley, who now gets two Revenge Games against the Giants every year, should be Philly’s unquestioned lead back, though Nick Sirianni’s predilection for split backfields shouldn’t be put totally out of mind.

While Barkley’s peripheral stats have fallen off bigly over the past two seasons, it’s tough to separate his performance from the complete offensive ineptitude that has plagued the Giants in the Brian Daboll era. Maybe Saquon was just weighed down by a bad offense without a viable NFL quarterback under center.

In Philadelphia, Barkley will run behind an offensive line that created the fifth most yards before contact per rush (1.79) in 2023 and had the NFL’s second lowest rate of stuffed runs. Barkley should see more favorable defensive fronts thanks to Jalen Hurts and his tandem of dominant wide receivers combined with a top tight end. Barkley should see solid opportunity as a pass catcher too. Hurts last year averaged 3.6 screen passes per game and Philly running backs commanded a combined 17.6 percent target share.

Bears sign RB D’Andre Swift to a three-year, $24 million deal

It’s tough to get excited about Swift considering the maddening three-way split that defined the Chicago backfield in 2023. Fantasy managers could hardly squeeze a usable game from a running back on a team with the fifth-lowest neutral pass rate.

Swift should be the lead back for the Bears in 2024, whatever that means. And Caleb Williams under center instead of Justin Fields means a lot more red zone carries and overall touches for Bears running backs -- maybe more screen passes too. It should be a good rushing environment for Swift and the other Bears backs: In 2023, no team created more rush yards before contact than Chicago.

Titans sign RB Tony Pollard to a three-year, $24 million deal

It seems like a bit of a redundancy for the Titans, signing a pass-catching specialist like Pollard when they have the ultra-efficient Tyjae Spears coming off a quietly superb rookie campaign.

Nevertheless, the Titans saw fit to throw a considerable amount of money at Pollard following his deeply inefficient and fantasy-disastrous 2023 season. Look for Pollard to take on a reduced role in the Tennessee offense after he showed last season that he is not fit for a traditional workhorse job in the NFL.

Another year removed from a catastrophic January 2023 leg injury, Pollard could get back to his formerly explosive self with the Titans. Over the final six weeks of the 2023 regular season, Pollard was 12th in rushing success rate and saw an uptick in his yards after contact per rush. He certainly takes the upside shine off Spears.

Patriots sign RB Antonio Gibson to three-year, $11.25 million deal

The new-look Patriots have one of the league’s best pass-catching running backs so they immediately signed a pass-catching running back to play alongside him while sporting the NFL’s worst wideout room by a wide margin.

Gibson to New England makes no sense for any party involved unless the Pats plan on making Rhamondre Stevenson -- who was fourth among RBs in receptions ad sixth in receiving yardage as recently as 2022 -- an early-down banger. Gibson has and will continue to be a pass-catching specialist even though he has shown some promise as a rusher during his four NFL seasons. Just last year, Gibson ranked fifth among backs in yards after contact per rush.

Stevenson and Gibson are bound to cannibalize each other’s opportunity and production in the New England backfield. If one guy misses time, the other could easily be a top-12 fantasy back, as Ezekiel Elliott was last year following Stevenson’s season-ending ankle injury.

Chargers signed RB Gus Edwards

Gus Bus will almost certainly serve as LA’s No. 2 back behind what I would guess will be a running back Jim Harbaugh lands in the upcoming NFL Draft.

That doesn't mean Edwards, a bulldozing back who had 13 rushing scores last season and a respectable career rushing success rate of 58 percent, won’t hold fantasy value in 2024. In what will certainly be Greg Roman’s run-heavy Chargers offense, Edwards could see a decent weekly workload and could suffice as the team’s RB1 if injuries strike Harbaugh’s backfield. Edwards, who played in Roman’s 1980s-style offense in Baltimore, will be a perfectly fine bench stash.