Welcome to the 2020 Free Agency Review: IDP-style. We break down the major moves this offseason by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2019 teams ("Staying Put"), and players are ordered by their potential fantasy impact in each section. Don’t see your favorite DE or OLB? Be sure to check out the EDGE article for free agent pass-rushers.
Malcolm Jenkins (NO) — Jenkins returned to the team that drafted him on a four-year, $32 million deal.
Fantasy Points: Jenkins can do it all: play deep, play the run in the box, cover tight ends, and rush the passer. He was asked to do all of that with Philadelphia, causing his fantasy value to rise and fall based on the game plan. Still, Jenkins managed some monster years with the Eagles, and never had a season below 70 tackles there.
His role in New Orleans is likely to be versatile, but with P.J. Williams there as the slot specialist and Marcus Williams an elite deep safety, Jenkins should play more traditional strong safety. That’s good news for his tackle floor, and his fantasy prospects in general. Look for another productive year from the 32-year-old Jenkins, who is still playing at a high level.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Dal) — HHCD moves to his fourth team in three years, signing a one-year deal with Dallas.
Fantasy Points: Dallas has sorely missed a hard-hitting safety ever since Barry Church left, and they may have found that in Clinton-Dix. A plus defender against the run, Clinton-Dix was two tackles short of making it seven years in a row with at least 80 tackles. While not one for racking up big plays - it’s been three years since he had more than 1 sack and 3 INTs in a season - HHCD will make his money making tackles. He’s got another DB2/DB3 season ahead of him in tackle-heavy leagues.
Vonn Bell (Cin) — Bell exits New Orleans for the Bengals on a three-year contract worth $18 million.
Fantasy Points: Cincinnati continues to rebuild its secondary by pairing the veteran Bell with Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates. But unless my math is fuzzy (well, it IS fuzzy, but not THAT fuzzy), that’s three safeties for two starting spots. Bell might beat out either incumbent - both of whom underperformed last season - but he’s likely ticketed for a Big Nickel role on passing downs. That would kill his fantasy value unless the Bengals are adapting the Dime as their base defense, which is entirely possible and quite trendy these days.
So what do we glean from Bell’s move to tiger stripes? Put simply, it’s just too early to tell what his role will be. Stay tuned.
Karl Joseph (Cle) — Cleveland revamps their safety corps, signing the former Raider to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Fantasy Points: Before suffering a foot injury that ended his season, Joseph was having a strong 2019 campaign. In nine games with the Raiders, the 26-year-old posted 49 tackles, 3 PD, and an INT. Cleveland elected to let Damarious Randall walk and signed Joseph to step into the starting SS role. That role proved steadily productive in Cleveland (Randall averaged almost 6 tackles per game), so if Joseph can continue his progress and remain healthy, he’s got DB2/DB3 potential.
Damarious Randall (LV) — Randall swaps places with Karl Joseph, as he signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with Las Vegas.
Fantasy Points: Never able to get much going during his time in Green Bay, Randall found a starting role in Cleveland. And although injuries and coach’s decisions shortened his 2019 season, Randall proved serviceable for fantasy. In his 26 games for Cleveland over two seasons, Randall posted 147 tackles, 4 INTs, and 15 PD. That’s steady DB3 production.
Will Randall automatically be handed a starting role? That remains to be seen, as the Raiders also have Jonathan Abraham, S/CB LaMarcus Joyner, and newly-signed Jeff Heath.
Jeff Heath (LV) — Heath joins a crowded safety room in Sin City, signing a two-year, $6 million deal with the Raiders.
Fantasy Points: In his three years as a starter for Dallas, Heath was as steady as they come. Unfortunately for fantasy, that steady production wasn’t very valuable. Heath averaged 5 tackles in each of his three seasons, and provided almost no big plays. Other than his 7 PD, Heath registered no other big plays last season.
He’ll be in the mix for playing time, but between the versatile leader of the secondary LaMarcus Joyner (who played CB and S), up-and-coming deep safety Jonathan Abraham, and the freshly-signed (and slightly more productive) Damarious Randall, there’s no guarantee Heath will be a full-time player. His barely-there fantasy value is hanging on by a black-and-silver thread.
Eric Murray (Hou) — Murray signed a curious three-year, $18 million deal with the Texans.
Fantasy Points: Murray has been a replacement-level starter (at best) for his four-year career. In his seven games last season (in which he started four), he posted 23 tackles with just 1 PD and 1 sack. He has just 1 INT in his career and hasn’t recorded more than 5 tackles in a game.
So why did Houston sign him to a deal that is comparable to established starters with much better historical production like Tre Boston and Vonn Bell, while also having two above-average starting safeties in place (Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson)? There are three plausible explanations. Either the Texans did what the Texans do and they completely overbid, or they have a lot of 3-safety packages in mind and Murray fits those plans, or they signed him to be a more of a special teams ace.
For fantasy purposes, none of those are particularly appealing.
Justin Simmons (Den) — Simmons was Franchise-Tagged by the Broncos.
Fantasy Points: Simmons was a rock solid DB1 last season, with 93 tackles, 4 INTs, and 15 PD. It’s his second season in a row of playing every snap and posting 90+ tackles. A good mix of high tackle floor and big-play upside, Simmons has 11 INTs and 28 PD in his four seasons (only two of those were as a starter). All signs point to the 26-year-old Simmons continuing his dominance at safety for Denver.
Jimmie Ward (SF) — Ward re-signed with the 49ers on a three-year, $28.5 million.
Fantasy Points: Ward had his best season in 2019 but barely registered in fantasy, with 63 tackles but not much else. In his six seasons, Ward has just 2 INTs, 2 FFs, 3 sacks, and 29 PD. Only once has he registered double-digit PD. Part of that is health. Ward can’t stay on the field. But if he couldn’t get something going big-play wise last season in 13 games as a 28-year-old on a dominant defense, it’s just likely not in the cards for the veteran safety to be a playmaker.
What Ward can do is move around a secondary with ease. He’s a versatile and talented defensive back who has a lot more football value than fantasy value. His versatility might open up an opportunity though, as he sometimes gets a CB designation. If you can get Ward as a CB, then those tackles can make him a CB2/CB3 in tackle-heavy leagues. Ward is talented and a big piece of SF’s defense; he’s just not particularly useful for fantasy.
Anthony Harris (Min) — Minnesota franchise-tagged the hard-hitting safety.
Fantasy Points: Harris impressed in his first season as a full-time starter. He racked up 60 tackles to go with his league-leading 6 INTs, 11 PD, and 1 TD. While INTs are generally flukey, it’s worth noting that he posted 3 INTs in limited action in 2018, so he clearly has a nose for the football. Harris has steadily come into his own over the last few seasons, and has been part of a once-dominant secondary that he recently lost three of their cornerbacks. This might lead to more opportunities on the backend for Harris if more passes get completed downfield against his defense.
Still, Harris needs SS Harrison Smith to stop beating him to the ball (or retire) and get those tepid tackle numbers up to be more than a DB3.
Devin McCourty (NE) — The veteran safety re-signed with New England on a two-year, $23 million deal.
Fantasy Points: McCourty is staying with the only NFL team he’s ever played for. The 32-year-old safety will continue to anchor the back of the defense, but there are more bodies in the secondary to contend with. The team signed Adrian Phillips to likely spell the veteran next to Patrick Chung. While still playing at a high level, McCourty’s numbers have declined in recent years. After peaking in 2017 with 93 tackes, his production has dropped each year since, with just 58 last season. His saving grace for fantasy was his 5 INTs, but those are hard to bank on going forward. Likely still a solid backed DB option, McCourty was a top-10 safety on the field, so he should still get plenty of snaps if his veteran frame holds up.
Rodney McLeod (Phi) — McLeod re-signed a two-year, $8.65 million deal with the Eagles.
Fantasy Points: The rangy free safety has been holding down centerfield for Philly at a high level for the last few years, though he did take a step back in 2019. He posted a respectable 76 tackles last year, but with very few big plays. He was overshadowed by stud safety Malcolm Jenkins, but now that Jenkins flew the coup for New Orleans, there may be a little more meat on the bone for McLeod. Jalen Mills is slated to start next to McLeod.
Tre Boston (Car) — Carolina re-signed their veteran safety to a three-year, $18 million contract.
Fantasy Points: Boston was a DB1 in Arizona before going down with injury in 2018. The move to Carolina put a dent in his tackle numbers - partly due to the poor stat crew and partly due to fellow safety Eric Reid soaking up 123 tackles - but he partly compensated with 3 INTs and 11 PD. With Reid still a free agent, Boston could see his tackle numbers bounce back, making potential a DB2+ next season (depending on who plays across from him come Week One).