Free agency can be a helluva drug. Big contracts combined with more team-to-team player movement than any other month of the year make for one fun charade during the middle of March.

The dominos that fall over the course of the next few weeks will influence all things fantasy football in addition to the real-life aspirations of all 32 NFL squads, but then again, there are far more players simply getting better at home and reaping the benefits of continuity.

Maybe free agency is a bit like choosing to eat Chipotle: fun in the moment, but ultimately regrettable when it’s all said and done.

What follows is a breakdown of whether or not high-priced free agents have historically gone on to produce big-time fantasy numbers with their new employers or if the grass maybe isn’t always greener on the other side. 

Note that trades won’t be included; there’s a difference between a team actively choosing not to re-sign a player vs. going to the trade market in order to get a potentially more valuable return.

Special thanks to Spotrac and Over The Cap for all salary cap-related information.


There have been roughly 97 QBs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2022 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or minimal competition.

For this reason, we'll focus on the cases in which a team signed a QB with the intention of making him their Week 1 starter, even if it was more of a bridge situation than anything else. Those 19 instances were as follows:

  • 2016: Brock Osweiler (Texans)
  • 2017: Brian Hoyer (49ers), Josh McCown (Jets), Mike Glennon (Bears)
  • 2018: Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Sam Bradford (Cardinals), Case Keenum (Broncos)
  • 2019: Nick Foles (Jaguars), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Dolphins)
  • 2020: Tom Brady (Buccaneers), Philip Rivers (Colts), Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers), Cam Newton (Patriots)
  • 2021: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Commanders), Andy Dalton (Bears), Tyrod Taylor (Texans)
  • 2022: Jameis Winston (Saints), Marcus Mariota (Falcons), Mitchell Trubisky (Steelers)

Note that 2017 Nick Foles (Eagles) and 2017 Case Keenum (Vikings) would ultimately go on to lead their respective squads to plenty of success, but they weren't signed to be their team's Week 1 starter.

Neither Newton, Hoyer, Fitzpatrick (x2), McCown, Dalton, nor Taylor received over $12 million for their services; they were more or less spot starters who could occasionally move the offense while their teams groomed or attempted to find a better long-term solution. 

A similar sentiment is true for Mariota (2 years, $18.8 million) and Trubisky (2 years, $14.3 million) from last season: Neither was ever considered a realistic franchise QB.

This leaves us with 10 players over the past seven offseasons who were signed to big-money contracts on new teams to be the QB1:

  • 2016 Osweiler (Texans): 4 years, $72 million
  • 2017 Glennon (Bears): 3 years, $45 million
  • 2018 Cousins (Vikings): 3 years, $84 million
  • 2018 Bradford (Cardinals): 2 years, $40 million
  • 2018 Keenum (Broncos): 2 years, $36 million
  • 2019 Foles (Jaguars): 4 years, $88 million
  • 2020 Brady (Buccaneers): 2 years, $50 million
  • 2020 Rivers (Colts): 1 year, $25 million
  • 2020 Bridgewater (Panthers): 3 years, $63 million
  • 2022 Winston (Saints): 2 years, $28 million

Obviously, not all NFL contracts are created equal. 

There are plenty of outs and non-guaranteed salaries that essentially allow teams to judge the QB for a season or two before having the opportunity to part ways if they desire. 

This reality makes the Glennon contract, in particular, a bit easier to stomach.

Kirk Cousins

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) prepares to throw during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Other than that: Cousins, Rivers, and of course, Brady are essentially the only QBs who have changed teams through free agency, landed a big-money deal, and provided anything resembling above-average production. 

The Osweiler and Bradford situations were comically awful, Keenum was traded after one very meh season, Foles struggled to keep sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew on the bench, Bridgewater ultimately threw just 15 scores in 15 games despite being surrounded by high-end receivers, and Winston broke his back shortly into the 2022 season and never got another chance under center.

The free agent QB market has yet to be kind to buyers in recent history. Our only examples of moderate success involved: 

1). A mistake from one of the league's worst-run franchises

2). The undisputed GOAT moving to a loaded offense

3). Old man Rivers game-managing the Colts to a first-round playoff loss

If a team has had the opportunity to groom a QB for an extended period of time, didn't try to fetch a solid trade package, and ultimately didn't want to cough up the sort of long-term money to keep him around, there's a good chance that player won't suddenly take his game to the next level in a brand new environment.

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Running Back

There have been roughly 110 RBs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2022 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition.

This leaves us with roughly 36 cases in which a team signed an RB with the intention of making him their starter or at least a key part of the offense:

  • 2016: Chris Ivory (Jaguars), Lamar Miller (Texans), Matt Forte (Jets), Robert Turbin (Colts)
  • 2017: Latavius Murray (Vikings), Danny Woodhead (Ravens), Eddie Lacy (Seahawks), Rex Burkhead (Patriots)
  • 2018: Jerick McKinnon (49ers), Dion Lewis (Titans), Carlos Hyde (Browns), Isaiah Crowell (Jets), Chris Ivory (Bills), LeGarrette Blount (Lions), Damien Williams (Chiefs), Frank Gore (Dolphins)
  • 2019: Le'Veon Bell (Jets), Mark Ingram (Ravens), Latavius Murray (Saints), Tevin Coleman (49ers), Frank Gore (Bills), Kareem Hunt (Browns)
  • 2020: Melvin Gordon (Broncos), Todd Gurley (Falcons), Jordan Howard (Dolphins), J.D. McKissic (Commanders), Peyton Barber (Commanders), Carlos Hyde (Seahawks)
  • 2021: Kenyan Drake (Raiders), Jamaal Williams (Lions), Mike Davis (Falcons), Cordarrelle Patterson (Falcons), James Conner (Cardinals)
  • 2022: Chase Edmonds (Dolphins), Raheem Mostert (Dolphins), Damien Williams (Falcons)

Intriguingly, there doesn't appear to be a ton of difference in production based on how much money each of these players made. There have been more than a few instances of cheap RBs making major impacts with their new squads:

  • Turbin scored eight TDs in 2016 while making just $760,000.
  • Hunt rebounded from his suspension to provide top-level production as a complement to Nick Chubb down the stretch in 2019.
  • Williams, as well as Burkhead, went on to help their respective teams with clutch playoff performances despite not having anything resembling a huge contract.
  • Gordon and McKissic both put forward plenty of solid performances during the 2020 and 2021 seasons—even if fantasy managers would have preferred their respective team’s younger option had more of the touches.
  • Both C-Patt and Conner were largely excellent in 2021; just realize long-in-the-tooth veterans historically aren’t the sort of players to be betting on in fantasy land.

Still, each of these ultimately-positive situations was a bit unique and required a number of factors to fall in that RB’s favor. 

Generally, backs with contracts under $10 million haven't received featured Week 1 roles. The exceptions clearly show this isn't always the case, but usually, money talks.

Only 14 RBs have gone to a new team and received a contract worth at least eight figures since 2016:

  • 2016 Chris Ivory (Jaguars): 5 years, $32 million
  • 2016 Lamar Miller (Texans): 4 years, $26 million
  • 2016 Matt Forte (Jets): 3 years, $12 million
  • 2017 Latavius Murray (Vikings): 3 years, $15 million
  • 2018 Jerick McKinnon (49ers): 4 years, $30 million
  • 2018 Dion Lewis (Titans): 4 years, $19.8 million
  • 2018 Carlos Hyde (Browns): 3 years, $15.25 million
  • 2018 Isaiah Crowell (Jets): 3 years, $12 million
  • 2019 Le’Veon Bell (Jets): 4 years, $52.5 million
  • 2019 Mark Ingram (Ravens): 3 years, $15 million
  • 2019 Latavius Murray (Saints): 4 years, $14 million
  • 2020 Melvin Gordon (Broncos): 2 years, $16 million
  • 2021 Kenyan Drake (Raiders): 2 years, $11 million
  • 2022 Chase Edmonds (Dolphins): 2 years, $12.1 million

Note that the Jaguars were so far under the minimum salary cap threshold in 2016 that they essentially had to overpay Ivory to reach the required percentage of money spent. Good for him!

This has, by and large, been a mess. 

The likes of Edmonds, Ivory, Lewis, and Hyde were outplayed and eventually surpassed by teammates. Veteran backs like Forte, Murray (twice), Crowell, and Gordon provided some value but were still utilized as committee backs despite their fairly high-priced deals. 

It took poor McKinnon two seasons to even find his way into a backup role in San Francisco due to injuries.

There have been basically three examples of RBs receiving a bunch of money from a new team and accordingly getting a featured role that led to any amount of fantasy goodness: Miller, Bell, and Ingram. 

The former two backs suffered massive efficiency declines behind their suddenly porous offensive lines (funny how that works). 

The latter rusher was great in Baltimore in 2019, but then the likes of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins emerged as more viable ball carriers and rendered the longtime Saints veteran a healthy scratch down the stretch of the following season.

RBs *matter* in that they need to be good enough to beat out competitors for a starting job. Still, recent history tells us that even the league's perceived more-talented backs haven't managed to provide their usual value without the same caliber QB and offensive line around them in a new home. 

Big-money deals remain a solid sign that a player will probably receive a good amount of opportunity, but it appears evaluating the RB position independent of the player’s supporting cast remains as difficult as ever.

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Wide Receiver

Roughly 212 WRs signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2022 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition.

There are 67 cases of a team signing a WR who went on to have at least a decent-sized role in his new offense. Some low-cost players such as Mack Hollins (with the Raiders), Ted Ginn (Saints), A.J. Green (Cardinals), Marvin Jones (Jaguars), Danny Amendola (Lions), and Randall Cobb (Cowboys) proved to be plenty capable of filling their role as a more-than-solid complementary piece of the offense.

However, JuJu Smith-Schuster (Chiefs), John Brown (Ravens), Alshon Jeffery (Eagles), and Nelson Agholor (Raiders) are largely the only sub-$15 million players in this study to work as their new team's No. 1 WR. The former two receivers accordingly received much larger contracts after outperforming their one-year deals.

This leaves us with 25 cases in which a team signed a WR to a big-money deal ($15 million-plus) with the intention of making him their starter or at least a solid part of the offense:

  • 2016: Marvin Jones (Lions), Mohamed Sanu (Falcons), Travis Benjamin (Chargers), Rishard Matthews (Titans)
  • 2017: Pierre Garcon (49ers), Robert Woods (Rams), DeSean Jackson (Bucs), Kenny Britt (Browns), Torrey Smith (Eagles)
  • 2018: Sammy Watkins (Chiefs), Allen Robinson (Bears), Paul Richardson (Commanders), Taylor Gabriel (Bears), Albert Wilson (Dolphins), Michael Crabtree (Ravens), Jarvis Landry (Browns)
  • 2019: Tyrell Williams (Raiders), Golden Tate (Giants), Adam Humphries (Titans), Cole Beasley (Bills), Jamison Crowder (Jets), John Brown (Bills)
  • 2020: Robbie Anderson (Panthers), Emmanuel Sanders (Saints), Randall Cobb (Texans)
  • 2021: Kenny Golladay (Giants), Corey Davis (Jets), Curtis Samuel (Commanders), Nelson Agholor (Patriots), Kendrick Bourne (Patriots)
  • 2022: Christian Kirk (Jaguars), Allen Robinson (Rams), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Chiefs), Russell Gage (Buccaneers), Zay Jones (Jaguars), Cedrick Wilson (Dolphins), D.J. Chark (Lions)

Among these WRs, Britt and, most recently, Wilson are really the only players who couldn't even find a full-time role with their new team. 

Sure, guys like Benjamin, Richardson, Humphries, and Gage hardly proved worthy of their high-priced deals, but they were each at least regulars in their team's three-receiver sets when healthy.

Christian Kirk

Oct 2, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Still, it's tough to call a lot of these guys successful signings, particularly when we take a closer look at the best-of-the-best contracts worth at least $30 million:

  • 2016 Jones (Lions): 5 years, $40 million
  • 2016 Sanu (Falcons): 5 years, $32.5 million
  • 2017 Garcon (49ers): 5 years, $47.5 million
  • 2017 Woods (Rams): 5 years, $39 million
  • 2017 D-Jax (Bucs): 3 years, $35 million
  • 2017 Britt (Browns): 4 years, $32.5 million
  • 2018 Watkins (Chiefs): 3 years, $48 million
  • 2018 Robinson (Bears): 3 years, $42 million
  • 2018 Richardson (Commanders): 5 years, $40 million
  • 2019 Williams (Raiders): 4 years, $44.3 million
  • 2019 Tate (Giants): 4 years, $37.5 million
  • 2019 Humphries (Titans): 4 years, $36 million
  • 2021 Golladay (Giants): 4 years, $72 million
  • 2021 Davis (Jets): 3 years, $37.5 million
  • 2021 Samuel (Commanders): 3 years, $34.5 million
  • 2022 Kirk (Jaguars ): 4 years, $72 million
  • 2022 Robinson (Rams): 3 years, $46.5 million
  • 2022 Gage (Buccaneers): 3 years, $30 million
  • 2022 Valdes-Scantling (Chiefs): 3 years, $30 million

There are certainly more hits here compared to QB and RB. At the very least, these WRs were almost exclusively signed to work as one of the top two or three pass-game options in their new offense. 

Still, the hit rate clearly isn’t overly pretty, especially when looking at things in the last four seasons (aside from Kirk—for now).

Most players don’t post career-best seasons after changing teams. Perhaps that could change with better QB play in the future, but keep in mind, even the highest-priced WRs haven't always provided a steady source of value or production in their new homes. 

Continuity continues to seem awfully underrated when accessing the fantasy landscape.

Tight End

There were roughly 126 TEs who signed a contract with a new team during the 2016-2022 offseasons. Of course, plenty of those players were brought in to either provide backup depth or competition.

It's honestly easier to just point out the few stories of success than to approach the group as a whole: 

  • Eric Ebron had a great season with Andrew Luck in 2018.
  • Jared Cook did some good things with both the Raiders as well as the Saints over the years. 
  • Ben Watson proved to not be washed just yet during short stints with both the Ravens and the Saints.
  • Gerald Everett mostly helped the Chargers as long as they weren’t forcing him to stay on the field when obviously gassed.
  • Evan Engram was reborn in Jacksonville under noted TE whisperer Doug Pederson.

Other than that: It's a bloodbath. Pretty much every TE to garner a contract worth at least $15 million since 2016 has been a disappointment when it comes to putting up high-end counting numbers:

  • 2016 Coby Fleener (Saints): 5 years, $36 million
  • 2016 Ladarius Green (Steelers): 4 years, $20 million
  • 2017 Martellus Bennett (Packers): 3 years, $20.25 million
  • 2017 Dion Sims (Bears): 3 years, $18 million
  • 2017 Rhett Ellison (Giants): 4 years, $18 million
  • 2018 Trey Burton (Bears): 4 years, $32 million
  • 2018 Jimmy Graham (Packers): 3 years, $30 million
  • 2018 Eric Ebron (Colts): 2 years, $15 million
  • 2019 Jesse James (Lions): 4 years, $28.5 million
  • 2019 Tyler Kroft (Bills): 3 years, $18.75 million
  • 2019 Jared Cook (Saints): 2 years, $15.5 million
  • 2020 Austin Hooper (Browns): 4 years, $42 million
  • 2020 Jimmy Graham (Bears): 2 years, $16 million (and a no-trade clause)
  • 2021 Jonnu Smith (Patriots): 4 years, $50 million
  • 2021 Hunter Henry (Patriots): 3 years, $37.5 million
  • 2022 C.J. Uzomah (Jets): 3 years, $24 million
  • 2022 Tyler Conklin (Jets): 3 years, $20.25 million

As was the case with QB, RB, and most WRs: The grass is typically not greener on the other side when free-agent TEs switch teams.

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Ian Hartitz
Ian Hartitz
Ian is a senior fantasy analyst at Fantasy Life and he truly believes every day is a great day to be great. He's spent time with Action Network, NBC Sports and Pro Football Focus over the years, writing and podcasting about all things fantasy football along the way. Ian's process relies on a mix of film analysis and data study; whatever is needed to get the job done (job done). There's no reason fun can't be had along the way — we do live on a rock floating around a ball of fire after all. Outside of football, Ian enjoys MMA, his dachshund Lilly and candles.