2020 Offseason Notes

Future Free Agents and Hold-Outs

By Dan @AWLsabermetrics

January 10, 2020

In Dynasty leagues, player contracts and team salary caps are a vital piece of information that can help you place better value on particular players. Everyone always knows to look for who the potential free agents are, but it is also important to look another year ahead and see what contract talks are coming down the pipeline. With that in mind, I have examined the contract status of 12 fantasy relevant players that all fit the criteria of someone that may potentially holdout in 2020. By that, I mean a player who either just had a massive season, or has been over performing their contract and are set to be an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) in 2021. I am not saying every one of these players will holdout, frankly I think many will get a contract extension, but having them on your radar of a potential offseason story line is something that can help you buy/sell players during the next several months.

1. Chris Godwin (23 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $966K, 2021 UFA)

    • Leading off with a doozy, but take a quick pause and his potential holdout would not be that shocking. Godwin has put together increasingly impressive years and truly broke out this season (86 receptions for 1,333 yards and 9 TDs), all while having Mike Evans opposite him crushing it as well (67 receptions for 1,157 yards and 8 TDs). He is set to be an unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) in 2021, and will only pull in $966K in 2020. What is going to be interesting is what happens with the rest of the Tampa Bay expenditures in the offseason. Winston is due to get paid, as well as higher cost players like OLB Lavonte David, and C Ryan Jensen. It will be interesting to see if they attempt to build the running back position through free agency, or the draft, the latter of which would certainly be a cheaper option, unless they manage to strike a deal with David Johnson for an Arians reunion. According to OverTheCap, Tampa Bay will have $88 million in cap space so Godwin could see the available money and want to take advantage of his growing stardom.

2. JuJu Smith-Schuster (23 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $1.3 million, 2021 UFA)

    • JuJu is an interesting case. Personality wise he doesn't exactly scream "holdout" guy, but at the end of the day his situation fits the criteria. With a healthy and competent NFL quarterback he showed what he is capable of in 2018 (111 receptions for 1,426 yards and 7 TDs). Although he is still very young at just 23 years old, this past season was lost due to injury, and a blackhole at the quarterback position could work against him if he wanted to hold out. Even so, he is still only set to make $1.3 million in 2020, which is very low for the talent he has shown. Aside from him not seeming like a holdout guy, another factor in this is that OverTheCap shows the projected cap space to be a real problem for the Steelers, with only $6.1 million currently open. Obviously money will be moved around as always, but it will take some real restructuring and player movements (Big Ben) for them to have the space to make a big splash for JuJu.

3. Keenan Allen (27 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $12.6 million, 2021 UFA)

    • Keenan is someone that I included because he is up for free agency in 2021 and at age 27, may want to try and solidify a last payday before he gets any older. He is the lone person on this list making any real money though, $12 million in 2020, so his need to holdout is significantly less than the others. The Chargers also feel like a team in limbo right now. Rivers looks spent and they have zero fanbase support since being moved from San Diego. Allen could be looking at his contract and just be happy to play it out and find a new team, especially with the uncertainty at the QB position in LA. According to OverTheCap, the Chargers will have $58 million in cap space, they do have several people that need to be paid, but they could make a move or two that makes him want to stick around long term, but more than likely he feels like a free agent to be in 2021.

4. Kenny Golladay (26 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $930K, 2021 UFA)

    • Golladay is similar to Keenan Allen in the sense of being a little older, but still feels football young. He continued his performance in 2019 as the clear-cut WR1 in Detroit catching 65 passes for 1,190 yards and 11 TDs, with a decent portion of that being completed with the second and third-string quarterback. In another similarity to Allen, it wouldn't surprise me if he just wants to play out his last year and get out of Detroit to a better organization so it doesn’t turn into yet another Barry Sanders or Megatron case where careers are called off a few years early because they just can’t stand playing for the Lions anymore. But, I believe he is a holdout/ extension candidate because he is set to only make $930K and may want to lock in some real money to better compensate for his talent and role on the team. OverTheCap shows 2020 to be pretty wide open for the Lions, with a projected cap space of $42 million. He is much better than his price tag shows and players have been more and more willing to sit out, or at least threaten to do so, to get what they feel they deserve. A few missed OTA’s or just the hint of missing some time may help lead to a contract extension for Golladay and bring some more certainty to his dynasty value.

5. Cooper Kupp (26 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $1.19 million, 2021 UFA)

    • Kupp went from 2019 early season darling to mid-season dud, to finishing the season on a quiet high note (94 receptions for 1,161 yards and 10 TDs). All of that accomplished after coming back exceptionally fast from an ACL injury in 2018, which players typically don't fully recover from until a full season after the surgery. Kupp is still young, tied to a great offense, and whatever you think about Goff, Kupp is the #1 option in the McVay offense. With all of those positives, OverTheCap shows he is only set to make $1.1 million in 2020, which is quite the steal. One issue could be slightly ego driven, the top WR (or any skill position) on a team making by FAR the least amount of money is a rarity when the players have a say about it. The Rams have a very large contract tied to Cooks ($16 million in 2020) and Woods ($8 million in 2020), with Kupp only at $1.1 million could be an issue. But, how much flexibility the Rams have is going to be the x-factor. OverTheCap has them at $25 million in cap space for 2020, so it isn’t impossible for the Rams to pay Kupp, but they do have some guys that will need to be paid as well such as Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr.. What remains to be seen is how long the Rams can continue to seemingly play the dynasty football version of trading picks for players, and being able to pay all of their guys. Eventually it may come back to bite them.

6. George Kittle (26 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $809K, 2021 UFA)

    • Kittle is another person that doesn't strike me as someone who would holdout, but a pay raise should certainly be coming for him in one way, shape, or form this summer. He has cemented himself as arguably the best tight end in the NFL, with the only real arguments being 3 and 4 years Kittle's senior. So not only is Kittle younger, he is also doing it for relative peanuts as he is only scheduled to make $809K in 2020. The 49ers aren’t in cap hell by any means with a projected $23 million in cap space in 2020 according to OverTheCap, but if you think Kittle gets paid his $10-12 million, the cap space starts to shrink with other guys having to get paid as well. So they should definitely have enough to pay the man, the interesting part is where the players after him fall in. I would imagine a mutual decision to extend early would make the most sense for Kittle and the organization, the guy has earned it.

7. Joe Mixon (23 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $1.7million, 2021 UFA)

    • This one seems like a no brainer to me to be honest. It shouldn’t turn into a holdout as much as they just mutually come to big extension before it comes to anything worse, but Mixon may have to force their hand to at least get the ball rolling, because he should get paid. He is only on the books for $1.7 million and being young and talented, solidifying a long term contract is definitely something that fits for what he'd (and the Bengals should) want. Looking at OverTheCap, the Bengals look to have $62 million in cap space in 2020, they just locked up Tyler Boyd, and probably taking Joe Burrow 1.01, getting the all important rookie QB deal to build around. Solidifying Mixon as a key playmaker for their new franchise Quarterback makes all too much sense, which now that I type this, makes me worry that I’m trusting the Cincinnati Bengals to make an easy extension decision.

8. Alvin Kamara (24 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $1.2 million, 2021 UFA)

    • For all of the talk of Kamara having a down year or being a fantasy bust, he was still an RB1 and was still productive on the field in real life, all while missing a few weeks due to injury and playing through a high-ankle sprain. The touchdown regression hit extremely hard but he is still averaging 4.7 yards per carry (ypc) and is going to finish his third year in a row with exactly 81 receptions (crazy). He is a key playmaker in the New Orleans offense, and he is doing all of that making very little money. His 2020 cap hit is only $1.2 million and as we know the shelf life of running backs is relatively short, so guys have to holdout if they want to get paid before it's too late. The big problem is the Saints may want to pay Kamara his worth, but finding a way to do it is a different story entirely. Brees is the obvious issue here. What he decides to do this offseason makes for a massive impact on the amount of money they have to spend, if he comes back, that is going to eat into a large chunk of the Saints cap, and he isn’t the only player that needs to get paid. Right now, OverTheCap has the Saints at $11.7 million available for 2020. Brees and Bridgewater are clearly the two big pieces that will impact that number, because only one will be returning. The money left over will become the issue facing Kamara and the Saints.

9. Dalvin Cook (24 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $2 million, 2021 UFA)

    • Continuing with another high profile running back, Dalvin Cook presents an interesting possibility. He has shown his elite talent this year, but he also popped back on the injury report yet again, something that has plagued his career thus far. He is still young and the injury prone label is one that is “true” until it isn’t (a la Keenan Allen), so even with a tough career so far, he still could have the juice to threaten a holdout. Now, this is where the hard part comes in. The Vikings are in a bad spot in regards to the salary cap. OverTheCap has their current 2020 salary cap at $2.6 million… in the red. Cook is only set to make $2 million in 2020, so it isn’t nothing, but it is also way less than his free market value. In 2021, aside from Cook, Kirk Cousins is also set to be a free agent which could really set the stage for the Vikings for years to come. The next few years the Vikings have a lot of guys they will need to pay, and it looks like it will be difficult, at best, to achieve. We could see a lot of contract restructuring in Minnesota over the next two to three seasons if they want to keep the team together as much as they can. They may prioritize Cook over others but the Cousins contract places them in a difficult position. But as we know and have seen especially recently, running backs have a very finite timeline to get paid, this moment presents itself as a chance for Cook to try and make it happen.

10. James Conner (24 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $934K, 2021 UFA)

    • Conner, like a few others, is a added to this list based on circumstance rather than jumping off the screen as a distinct possibility. When on the field he has shown the ability to be a playmaker, but the 2019 season didn’t really do him any favors in the holdout to get paid scenario (frankly that seems like a nice way to put his season impact). With that said, he still looks to be the lead back in Pittsburgh and he is only set to make $934K before becoming a free agent in 2021. The Steelers don’t currently have a lot of extra cap space, only $5.4 million according to OverTheCap, but a moderate pay bump for Conner doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities. He is still young, and a mutual and moderate pay bump could be in store. But, just like I said in the JuJu blurb, the Steelers cap space isn’t the most desirable. The other wrinkle being they are now the main show in town after replacing Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, two holdout/ big contract guys of their own, and James’ and JuJu’s persona’s seem to be the exact opposite of the previous two. It could make for an interesting offseason in Pittsburgh for sure, especially if they both want to get paid.

11. Marlon Mack (23 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $839K, 2021 UFA)

    • Mack is someone that makes the list once again for circumstantial reasons, but I don’t think he really has the juice to sit out. He looked good, but not great this season, and his overall lack of major involvement in the passing game really hurts him in the big payday aspect. Unless you are Derrick Henry and just truck everyone, you gotta catch passes if you want to get paid in today’s NFL. But, with that said, he has still shown promise in Indy and is only set to make $839K in 2020. The Colts have a ton of available cap space (seriously though, it is insane) and have been smart with how they have spent their money. They could look to come to a moderate extension and pay bump to lock up their young running back for a few more years without breaking the bank. Mack could be the beneficiary of a cheap and easy extension. Or the victim of the Colts going out and nabbing a higher profile running back since they really do have the money to spend.

12. Aaron Jones (25 years old, 2020 Cap Hit of $785K, 2021 UFA)

    • Jones had both a secretly very good, and also a roller coaster of a year, with some real down games bolstered by some massive booms, most recently winning trophies and breaking hearts in Week 16. But, his playmaking ability is tough to ignore, and still at a relatively young age of 25, locking him up for the next few years seems pretty likely for the Packers. His 2020 cap hit is only $785K which is far below what his market value would be. OverTheCap shows Green Bay to have $27 million available for the 2020 salary cap and though a few guys will need to get paid, none are really top dollar contract guys. The Packers should have the money available to give Jones a pay bump and contract extension. As Rodgers gets older, locking down a young back to run the offense through, or at least be more of a focal point, could always be a great way to help extend Rodgers’ career.