When GOATs Leave: What happens to the fantasy output of legends after they switch teams?

Mo Castillo
·16 min read

Throughout the wide sprawling history of sports, legendary figures have emerged. These athletes, through a combination of their performance on-and-off the field/court/rink, go on to define a generation.

They’re almost always involved in the conversation of “Greatest Player Of All Time.” They’re known beyond just the sport they played. They become synonymous with an athletic move, a city, a jersey number. The casual observer and the die-hard fan alike know who these players are. Oh, and they probably have a cool nickname, too.

Kobe Bryant = Black Mamba = 24/8.

Tom Brady = Tom Terrific = TB12.

You get the idea.

And that idea is why we’re left in shock whenever one of these once-in-a-generation talents leaves the team where they built their legend. It’s rare for a team to let their franchise cornerstone go — it’s even rarer when one spends their entire career with one team.

Tom Brady looked like he’d be the next GOAT to ride off into the sunset with the team that drafted him; the team he won so many championships with, the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots
Tom Brady's tenure as a New England Patriot came to an end in 2020. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Instead, one mutual goodbye later, Tom Brady is set to be the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 (if you think that’s still weird to read, imagine how it feels to write).

Tom Brady finished with 271.6 fantasy points in 2019, his final season as a Patriot, good for 12th amongst quarterbacks. Not horrible, but not great either.

What will he bring to the Buccaneers? At age-43, will he continue an oft-discussed decline? Or will he emerge renewed, motivated to turn back the clock and deliver another GOAT-level season?

Let’s take a look back at some GOATs of the four major sports throughout history to see how their fantasy output changed after leaving the team that drafted them.

Maybe we’ll get a hint at what’s in store for Brady — or what he has in store for us — in 2020.

(Note: To qualify, each of these players spent a minimum of 10 seasons with the team that drafted them.)

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers (16 seasons)

Considered by most to be the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice’s resume speaks for itself. The NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (1,549) and receiving touchdowns (197), Rice was an absolute force. His first season as a full-time starter (1986): 86-1,570-15. Talk about making your mark quickly.

Rice scored over 200 fantasy points eight times throughout his illustrious career; all told, he delivered 14 seasons of over 150 points. But after all those accolades and three Super Bowl rings, Rice signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent following the 2000 NFL season. He was 39 years old.

So, without knowing anything, one would reasonably expect Rice to be washed-up. He’d failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards in his final two seasons with the 49ers, so what would he do in Oakland when he was so old (in sports years, of course)?

Oh, just put together two incredible seasons in a row: 175 total catches, 2,350 total yards, 16 total touchdowns. He scored over 160 fantasy points in both those years before calling it a career in 2004.

Certified GOAT.

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts (13 seasons/1 missed season)

Before being known as the hottest booth commodity this side of Tony Romo and a connoisseur of chicken parmesan, “The Sheriff” was slicing, dicing, and filling defenses with sheer terror throughout his career as a Colt. After stumbling through an interception-filled rookie season, Manning recovered and never looked back. He frequents many a “Best Quarterbacks of All Time” list, and if not for a complicated playoff legacy, we could be looking at him as the GOAT of GOATs.

He scored over 300 fantasy points two times during his tenure with the Colts. Then, after missing the entire 2011 season due to a neck injury, the Colts released Manning. He signed with the Denver Broncos.

Manning — coming off serious neck surgery and surrounded by questions about his arm strength — had three consecutive 30-plus touchdown, 300-plus fantasy point seasons. The 5,477 yard, 55-touchdown 2013 at age-37. Over 400 fantasy points scored in 2013. That incredible seven-touchdown game. He also played in two Super Bowls during his time in Denver, winning one.

Manning is living proof that a player — an elite, generational talent — coming off an injury and supposedly over-the-hill, can still do wonders on a new team for the first time in a decade, especially if they’re in the right situation. Will Brady do the same in Tampa Bay?

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (12 seasons)

Before the likes of Zach Ertz, George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Gates, the fantasy tight end landscape was dominated by Tony Gonzalez. He scored over 150 fantasy points four times throughout his illustrious career, scoring less than 120 points just five times. A true iron man (he only missed two games his entire career), he is the NFL’s all-time leader in total receiving yards by a tight end.

He shattered records during his time with the Chiefs, but eventually, not even his prowess on the field could help Kansas City improve upon two straight losing seasons. He subsequently requested a trade.

Gonzalez was dealt to the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 when he was 33 years old, and if you thought he was suddenly going to plummet in production due to his age and his departure from the team that drafted him, you had another thing coming. Instead, Gonzalez rattled off five straight 100-plus fantasy point seasons, and he never scored less than five touchdowns during that period. In his last year in the league, Gonzalez finished second-overall among tight ends in fantasy scoring (2013).

We might be spoiled now with Ertz, Kittle, and Kelce — perennial 1,000-yard tight ends — but Gonzalez will forever be known as legend and lynchpin of what it is to be a do-it-all tight end.

Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys (13 seasons)

In case it wasn’t evident already, the Dallas Cowboys have been really, really good at this whole running back thing. Smith is a three-time Super Bowl champion. 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons. Two consecutive 20-pljs rushing touchdown seasons. An otherworldly 4,409 career carries. Six straight seasons of 200-plus fantasy points (eight total). Three 300-plus point seasons.

Oh, and he’s the all-time leading rusher, and the only running back in league history to win a Super Bowl, a rushing title, an MVP, and a Super Bowl MVP IN ONE YEAR.

He signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, and, thanks to a shoulder injury, missed six games and rushed for only 256 yards. He played much better after returning healthy in 2004, but at 35, Smith’s final stat line of 267 carries for 937 yards (3.5 yards per carry average) was a far cry from the outputs of his heyday (his fantasy value that season was buoyed by nine rushing touchdowns — and surprisingly, one passing touchdown).

Smith is clearly deserving of being one of the 3-5 best running backs of all time.

Michael Jordan, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls (13 seasons/1 season in MiLB/retired for 3 seasons)

“His Airness.” “The G.O.A.T.” “M.J.” No matter the moniker you know him by, the argument can be made that Michael Jordan is the single most impactful athlete of all time. Before LeBron James came around, you could ask 50 people in the street who they thought the best player in NBA history was and it’s safe to assume 99% of them would reply with Jordan. Considering that most fantasy basketball leagues were played with a pen and pad back in Jordan’s prime, you can only imagine how many times ink was plastered to paper for the rights to draft Jordan in the first round.

We don’t need to talk about rings — they’ve been talked about enough. His bottomless pit of accolades (multiple scoring titles, multiple MVPs, etc.) is an online search away.

Yet, Jordan walked away from the game he dominated twice, and when he finally returned the second time, he looked very different from the Jordan of old.

At age-38, Jordan came out of retirement to join the Washington Wizards. It was shocking to see him outside of the iconic red-and-black Bulls colors. He averaged 21.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.4 blocks on an average of 35.9 minutes per game in two seasons with the Wizards. His PER plummeted from the high 20s-low 30s of his heyday to an average of 20 in those two seasons — the lowest of his majestic career.

So, long story short, he didn’t have the fantasy twilight that someone like Rice had, but hey, can we really complain?

Allen Iverson, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers (11 seasons)

Selected No.1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA Draft, “The Answer” was one of the most talented basketball players to ever grace the court; a highlight waiting to happen — in fact, if meme culture was around back then, imagine the field day that would have occurred with this. To this day, the Iverson crossover remains the stuff of legend, and most people wear shooting sleeves because of him.

Yes, from the late-90s to the mid-2000s, Iverson collected four scoring titles, three steals titles, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and 11 All-Star appearances. From 1999-2006, it was hard to argue against A.I. being a first-round fantasy draft pick.

Unfortunately, injuries, coaching changes, early playoff defeats, personal off-the-court issues, and his bombastic personality (which coincidentally also helped make him a fan-favorite) assisted in creating a rift between A.I. and the Sixers, and he was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2006. He played four seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to the Detroit Pistons, but Iverson’s unwillingness to come off the bench (and reports of a lingering back injury) led to him signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Denver Nuggets Allen Iverson against Memphis Grizzlies at Pepsi Center on Monday.
Seeing Allen Iverson outside of a 76ers jersey is always an odd sight. (Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

It didn’t work out with Memphis either, and ultimately Iverson would find himself back with the team that drafted him, where he played 25 games before calling it a career in the NBA.

It was a rocky road from 2006 onward for the once-phenom player, making him hard to trust in fantasy, even though he was still relatively young. Nonetheless, we all remember what a healthy, locked-in A.I. was: The undersized guard who struck fear in the entire NBA and influenced generations.

Wayne Gretzky, C, Edmonton Oilers (10 seasons)

“The Great One” nearly missed the cut here, but we’ll count his season with the World Hockey Association’s Oilers (EDO) as his “rookie” season for this exercise (he was just 18 years old). Very much like his NBA counterpart, Michael Jordan, Gretzky has a long laundry list of accolades that we don’t really need to get into here ...

... Okay, well, maybe we can talk a little about how his all-time points (2,857) and goals scored (894) records have stood the test of time. To put things in perspective, Alex Ovechkin — the only active player on the top-10 all-time goals scored list — is still 188 goals away from Gretzky’s mark (Ovi is 34; Gretzky retired at 38). Gretzky also delivered an unreal 10 straight season stretch of 100-plus assists, which undoubtedly helped him accumulate more helpers than any other player in NHL history. He’s also the only player in league history to score over 200 points (and he did it four times).

Gretzky accumulated most of his unreal production as a member of the Oilers, but when the team shockingly traded him — and it was shocking — to the Kings in 1988 (he was just 28 years old), Gretzky hardly missed a beat.

While his goal-scoring output reduced, he kept his assists up, resulting in him maintaining his 14-year, 100-plus point stretch, which finally ended in the 1991-92 season. Gretzky helped put hockey on the map in California but never matched the success he had in Edmonton. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues when he was 35 and then signed a free-agent deal with the New York Rangers for the final three seasons of his career.

He was no longer a fantasy monster the final five seasons of his NHL career but Gretzky was still a serviceable player, even helping the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997. From 1978-79 all the way to 1998-99, Gretzky’s plus-minus was negative just six times.

Suffice it to say, what Jordan is to basketball, what Brady is to football — Gretzky is to hockey.

Jaromir Jagr, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins (11 seasons)

It feels unreal to think how many legendary players the Pittsburgh Penguins have had over the years (some teams just have all the luck — or organizational smarts), but that’s a conversation for another time.

Jaromir Jagr is one of those legendary players — not just for the Penguins, but in NHL history. His name can sometimes get lost behind the Gretzkys and the Orrs and the Lemieuxs and the Howes, but he more than belongs in that group. Just check out the resume: Two-time Stanley Cup Champion, 13-time All-Star, a Hart Memorial Trophy winner, a three-time, Lester B. Pearson award-winner, the second-most points in NHL history, a member of the Triple Gold Club, and he’s the oldest player ever to record a hat trick in a game — all in a 24-year career.

Jagr did most of his damage from 1994-2001 when he was consistently one of the best players in the NHL. Then, he was signed by the rival Washington Capitals to a lucrative seven-year contract in 2001 at the age of 29. Jagr proceeded to go through quite possibly the three most unproductive seasons of his career, accumulating less than 80 points in three consecutive campaigns after six straight 95-plus point seasons. He was traded to the New York Rangers in 2004.

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Then, a resurgence at 33 years old. Jagr produced a whopping 123 points in his second season with the Blueshirts and helped carry them to the playoffs. He followed that up with another 90-plus point season in 2006-07.

Another decline commenced in 2007-08, and this one would stick, with injuries playing a big part. Jagr would go on to join six different teams for the remainder of his career, and although he didn’t have the shocking late-stage success of someone like the aforementioned Rice, Jagr was still productive in both fantasy and reality into his 40s.

Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers (13 seasons)

It can be easy to forget that Verlander has been around since 2005, considering his otherworldly ability to remain consistently elite. But he has been around that long heading into his age-37 season, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any slowing down to be had. Not even after a World Series title, two Cy Young awards, an MVP, a Rookie of the Year award, and pitching’s Triple Crown.

Verlander dominated while a member of the Tigers, but when he was traded to the contending Houston Astros in the middle of a 10-8, 3.82 ERA 2017 season, it was hard to predict the stretch he was about to go on at 34 years old. It began with a 5-0 run in 2017 that ended in a championship ring.

In two full regular seasons with the Astros, Verlander has put together an unreal 2.55 ERA, a preposterous 0.85 WHIP, and a 37-15 record.

Most incredibly, JV has seemingly been hellbent on defying the expectations of experts — he has consistently outrun both his FIP and xFIP projections for the last five seasons.

Take last year, for example: Verlander carried a seemingly unsustainable .218 BABIP (his career mark is .281) along with a 3.27 FIP and managed to finish the year with this line: 21-6, a crazy 7.14 K/BB ratio, a 2.58 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP.

Where is the decline?! When will it come?! This is not normal, people!

All jokes aside, Justin Verlander is not human; rather, he is of an analytics-defying species which Father Time is absolutely terrified of. A delayed season is no doubt helping him heal from his current injuries too, so don’t expect him to fall too far in your fantasy baseball drafts this year.

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, St. Louis Cardinals (11 seasons)

Albert Pujols is both one of the greatest hitters of all time and arguably the greatest Cardinal of all time. From 2003-2010, “The Machine” put together a legendary stretch: a .334/.433/.635 slash line with a 1.067 OPS and a ridiculous 337 home runs. To say that Pujols was a perennial first-round fantasy draft pick during that span is an absolute understatement. The three-time MVP and two-time World Series champion went on to sign with the Los Angeles Angels after the 2011 season when he was 31 years old.

After eight straight seasons with an OBP above .400 and a batting average above .300 for 10 straight, Pujols hasn’t reached those marks while in an Angels uniform (the closest he got to a .400 OBP was .366 in his first season at LA).

But to say it was an automatic downfall would be ridiculous.

Even after he left St. Louis, Pujols provided category juice for six straight seasons in LA, especially in home runs (169) and RBI (589), and he didn’t kill your batting average either (.262 during that span).

Heading into his age-40 season, the 20-plus homer power remains, but not much else, leaving his current ADP in the late-20th round. Yet, even with his decline, Pujols has solidified his place as one of the greatest players in MLB and fantasy baseball history.

Which departing GOAT impacted you the most? Let us know in the comments below and hit us up @YahooFantasy!