Santonio Holmes' off-field decisions made the Steelers' front office decision on what to do with him easier to make. With a year left on his contract, the team simply decided to punt on him and give him to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. He's one less headache for the franchise to worry about.
But Fantasy owners have a headache of their own as this was one of the rare trades where only a handful of players have a better outlook than before the deal. In a nutshell, this deal (along with his four-game suspension which was a precursor to the deal) crippled Santonio Holmes' Fantasy expectations and also threw a bunch of question marks into the status of other Steelers and Jets, including Ben Roethlisberger.
Holmes might be happy for a fresh start with the Jets, but his numbers aren't expected to be anywhere near as good as they were last year. Conside this: Last season the Steelers threw the ball 536 times with Holmes targeted 138 times. That's essentially a rate of one out of every four passes thrown his way (Hines Ward had the same rate by the way). The closest Jet to receive that kind of attention was Jerricho Cotchery with 115 of the measly 393 pass attempts they had. One would argue that the Jets will pass more in 2010 considering their beefed up receiving corps, but team officials have said as recently as Holmes' introductory press conference that the "ground-and-pound" approach will stick. Besides, even if the Jets do throw, say, 75 more times than last season, Holmes will still have to share the ball with Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller.
And he'll have zero catches between Weeks 1 through 4, plus no catches during his bye week. Suddenly, Fantasy owners are without Holmes for five weeks. If your Fantasy regular season is 13 weeks long, you're drafting a benchwarmer for 38% of the year. Taking all this into account, Holmes is not going to be a popular pick in drafts.
But when he is active he'll help the Jets' passing game quite a bit. After all, he is someone defenses must account for (Rex Ryan learned that the hard way in his years defending against Holmes while with the Ravens). That means deeper play for opposing safeties and good opportunities for tight end Dustin Keller. He came on strong for the Jets last postseason with 12 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns, displaying some of the potential owners have clamored for over the last two summers. He's going to be a sleeper -- again -- in 2010.
The rest of the Jets' receivers don't gain much. Cotchery holds steady as a low-end No. 3/top-end No. 4 choice if only because he's established chemistry and timing with Sanchez, and he has the best hands on the team but doesn't score much. Braylon Edwards takes a big hit as we figure Holmes will replace him in many situations. And for good reason: Edwards finished '09 with 51 catches of 108 targets -- he caught less than half of the passes thrown his way. How reliable can he be? That question was answered when the Jets acquired Holmes.
Now typically when a quarterback has a receiving corps as strong as this, expectations are sky-high. But that's not the case for Sanchez. Again, the Jets intend to run the ball a ton in 2010, much as they did last season. Not having the opportunity to throw the ball means not having the opportunity to post good Fantasy totals. Even if we gave quality projections to Holmes, Cotchery, Edwards and Keller based on their recent play, Sanchez would still only total around 18 touchdowns or so. He's worth taking late just in case he does end up owning his fair share of 250-yard, multi-touchdown games but there are obviously safer Fantasy quarterbacks out there.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have a hole in their starting lineup. Replacing Santonio Holmes is not as easy as plugging in Mike Wallace and calling it a day. Wallace had great success last season as a mismatch deep-ball threat as 14 of his 39 catches were good for at least 20 yards. He practically averaged 20 yards per catch, too. Putting him in as a starting split end will mean more receptions but almost certainly a reeled-in receiving average. Simply put: Wallace should see more targets and catches, but not necessarily better yardage and touchdowns.
And if Wallace replaces Holmes, who replaces Wallace? That's almost a bigger question for the Steelers since Wallace really stretched defenses last season and made it easy for Ben Roethlisberger to accumulate his gaudy totals. On-staff candidates include Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle and third-year receiver Limas Sweed. All have drawbacks, however: Randle El and Battle are old and without a great statistical track record and Sweed hasn't gotten up to speed on the NFL game thus far. None of these guys can be trusted in Fantasy outside of being a late-round flier in a deep draft.
Many Fantasy owners expect Hines Ward to be unaffected. We're not so sure. Ward's best seasons came when he played opposite either Plaxico Burress or Holmes. Getting a quality split end to take some pressure off of him has been a key to his success. Wallace will still draw coverage, but until he proves he's explosive, Ward could struggle. He's also not getting any younger and really is a high-reception target with potential for a good amount of touchdowns. He's a No. 2 Fantasy receiver.
So if Wallace's stats are in for a decline, and if Ward's stats could be capped and if replacements in the offense aren't appealing, does this mean a reversal of fortune for Ben Roethlisberger? We say yes. Obviously without a player he targeted often and trusted all over the field, Roethlisberger is going to have to lean on others, and that could put a hammerlock on his chances to have another big season. He'll need to cultivate another receiver to give him a fearsome foursome in the passing game, or else he'll be good enough to start, not good enough to consider a second-tier Fantasy quarterback like he was in '09. Throw in a possible team-mandated suspension for his off-field problems and he's effectively the Santonio Holmes of Fantasy quarterbacks, albeit without as big of a drop-off.
Is there anyone in Pittsburgh who benefits from the trade? One guy is tight end Heath Miller -- provided that the Steelers do not draft another receiver or get good play from one of the aforementioned "replacement receivers." Miller really stepped up last season as an easy target for Roethlisberger, especially with Holmes and Wallace stretching defenses. He should continue to put up nice numbers, and with Holmes gone, his role in the red zone might increase.
But it's Rashard Mendenhall who stands to get the most out of the deal. As Jamey Eisenberg pointed out in one of our recent Fantasy Football podcasts , the Steelers have done their best when they run the ball effectively. Mendenhall himself ran extremely well last season in spite of the fact that the Steelers leaned on their pass attack. Again, if the team doesn't pick up another receiver, Mendenhall should see more touches as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians utilizes him and takes some pressure off of Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense. That will almost certainly be the case if Big Ben misses games with a suspension.
What remains to be seen is how this trade impacts other trades involving receivers leading up to the draft. Brandon Marshall especially sticks out as a player who seems to be on a crash course with the transactions report, and like Holmes, Marshall is a free-agent-to-be with a history of off-field problems. Will this trade create a market for Marshall now that Holmes was taken for a fifth-round pick? Is Marshall worth a second? A third? Granted, we think Marshall will do well no matter where he plays because he's a tremendous talent (a big difference between him and Holmes), but we might be surprised again if he goes on the move this offseason.