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Fantasy outlook could change for these UFAs

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Recent posts by Michael Blunda

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Posted Feb. 22, 2010 @ 10:02 a.m. ET
By Michael Blunda

This should be an offseason like none before.

With no Collective Bargaining Agreement likely and the league set to embark on an uncapped season, teams will be able to spend like crazy if they so choose in an attempt to instantly upgrade their rosters. Unfortunately for the clubs with deep pockets, the lack of a new CBA also means that the pool of available talent isn't nearly as deep as it would have been otherwise.

Thanks to the last labor agreement, a number of players set to become unrestricted free agents now will be restricted in 2010, making it much more difficult for other teams to sign them away. This includes a long list of skill players who might have been tempted to find new homes but now probably won't be going anywhere.

There are still, however, a healthy amount of potential key fantasy contributors who are UFAs and could be on the move this offseason. Here is a look at each of the top unrestricted skill guys and what the best-case scenario would be to maximize their fantasy value.

Bills WR Terrell Owens
Save for one excellent stretch in November, Owens' lone season in Buffalo was a fantasy disaster. His final numbers weren't terrible (55-829-5), but T.O. had a whopping 10 games of less than 50 yards and scored only once through the first 10 weeks. It's just about a lock that he won't be wearing a Bills uniform in 2010, and even though his talent level at age 36 is far from what it once was, he still could be a solid No. 2 WR for receiver-needy club. If he lands in the right situation, Owens' fantasy value could increase next season, but don't consider him as any more than a mid-round pick.

Ravens WR Derrick Mason
Unlike Owens, the 36-year-old Mason remained at the top of his game in '09, hauling in 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven TDs. Fantasy owners could count on a stellar performance from him most weeks, and he showed no signs of slowing down. Having briefly retired prior to last season, there's always the chance that Mason could call it a career, but it appears now that he desires to continue playing, and the Ravens certainly want him back. Staying in Baltimore, where he has put up consistently productive numbers for three consecutive seasons, with rising QB Joe Flacco would seem to be the optimal fantasy situation for him, as it's unlikely another club would feature him as prominently.

Patriots TE Ben Watson
With the CBA circumstances restricting some top tight ends set to hit free agency, Watson suddenly becomes the premier UFA at his position. Considering that he had just 29 receptions for 404 yards and five scores last season, that says a lot about the 2010 TE class. That said, Watson is a smart, athletic player who was rarely utilized in the Patriots' offense, so a new home might be exactly what he needs to give his career a shot in the arm. At 29, he likely has a couple of good years remaining, and there is no shortage of teams in need of a quality tight end. Keep an eye on what transpires with Watson, as he could have sleeper potential in 2010.

Texans WR Kevin Walter
After breaking out with back-to-back 800-yard seasons in '07 and '08, Walter stumbled a bit last season, posting 53-611-2 in a pass offense that ranked No. 1 in the league. With head coach Gary Kubiak praising WR Jacoby Jones after the season, it's possible that Houston could decide to go with him as its starter and let Walter walk, but that's far from a sure thing. Walter is still a relatively young 28 (he turns 29 in early August) and is as hardworking as they come at wideout, making him an attractive option on the open market. He'd be hard-pressed to find a better situation than his current one, though, so his value likely would decline with a move.

Chiefs WR Chris Chambers
Early on last season, it looked like Chambers' days as a fantasy contributor were over as he sputtered in San Diego. But a move to Kansas City proved to be the solution to his problems — the veteran excelled as a Chief, putting up 36-608-4 receiving in nine games. Given the club's current dearth of wideouts, the Chiefs will make every effort to bring the 31-year-old back to K.C., where he proved to be a good complement to Dwayne Bowe and could see his numbers improve with the addition of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Unless a high-octane pass offense is willing to hand Chambers a starting job, his best bet for fantasy success is to stay put.

Vikings RB Chester Taylor
A backup for the past three seasons to one of the league's premier backs in Adrian Peterson, Taylor is set to hit free agency at the age of 30. While that is typically the age at which rushers begin to decline, Taylor has relatively few carries under his belt, making him less likely to break down. As Minnesota's primary third-down back, he racked up close to 400 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards in each of the past two campaigns, touching the ball nine times per game. However, Taylor has proven in the past to be a productive featured back (303-1,216-6 in '06) and probably will be looking for that opportunity again. Landing a starting gig somewhere would catapult his value in '10.

Seahawks WR Nate Burleson
Burleson has never been a superstar at any point in his seven-year career, but he has put together three quality seasons, including '09, when he caught 63 passes for 812 yards and three TDs in just 13 games. Injuries have been an issue for Burleson the past couple years, but at age 28, he presents a nice combination of youth and ability compared to the rest of the 2010 receiving class. Considering their lack of receiving talent behind T.J. Houshmandzadeh, it's likely the Seahawks will try to keep Burleson, and unless he receives a much more lucrative offer elsewhere, he'll probably want to stay put. If that plays out, he'll once again be a dependable mid-round fantasy choice.

Buccaneers WR Antonio Bryant
Following his 2008 explosion (83-1,248-7), preseason knee surgery doomed Bryant in '09, limiting him all season long and resulting in a major drop-off in production. The Bucs don't seem interested in franchising him again or locking him up long term, meaning he is likely bound for a new club next season. While the knee injury and a lack of overall consistency are concerns, Bryant turns 29 in March, so plenty of teams are going to show interest. At this point, a move away from a rebuilding Tampa Bay franchise might be Bryant's best option to squarely get back on the fantasy radar, as he could be a legitimate No. 2 WR on many teams.

 

The third issue of PFW's new Draft Newsletter series, focusing on underclassmen in the upcoming draft and an exclusive 20-year analysis of how underclassmen have panned out over the years, is now ready. Produced by PFW's player personnel department under the direction of Nolan Nawrocki, the series consists of four information-packed issues. For more info or to subscribe — click here for PDF e-pub or here for print format. You can also find details about other draft-related publications in the PFW store.

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