Originally posted: June 30, 2017
If you want it put frankly, the notion of a “contract year” being a major motivating factor for a player has no real statistical backing in the grand scheme of things.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t led to big years from players in the past; it’s just that the proof is more anecdotal than indisputable by the numbers. It’s impossible to find out which player will be affected, or to generalize and assume a player will be motivated for a big year when he’s in the final year of his contract. Given that information, it’d be foolish to predict a player listed in this article will produce a fantasy explosion just because he wants to get paid. Still, knowing a player might be a little more motivated than usual can help.
Plus, for fantasy players, there’s value in trying to get inside the heads of teams – namely, which situations warrant deeper looks for the future. It’s important to know the contract status of big-name players for keeper and dynasty owners looking to capitalize on the right time to trade a player.
When breaking down a player, consider his contract status way down the list of things that matter, if you even consider it at all.
TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT QBs
Matthew Stafford (Det, 29) – Stafford said in the middle of June that he has no timetable for reaching an extension, and Lions GM Bob Quin said a few days later that he’s confident the team will reach terms with their franchise QB. Stafford may have been waiting for Derek Carr to set the market when he signed the richest deal in NFL history on June 22, with his five-year, $125 million deal with $70 million in total guarantees. Stafford is likely to follow right behind Carr and sign a similar deal, and his deal may be even richer.
Kirk Cousins (Was, 28) – Cousins is tentatively set to play the 2017 season on the franchise tag. He has until July 17 to work out a long-term deal with the Redskins before he has to sign his franchise tag. There seems to be a lot more optimism this summer about the two sides reaching a deal, with Cousins meeting twice with team President Bruce Allen. Also, new VP of Player Personnel Doug Williams seemingly wants to get a deal done. There’s some positive momentum to getting a deal done compared to a summer ago, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported at the end of June that it is still a “long shot” that they get a deal done. If he would hit the open market next off-season, he would be a hot commodity, and we’ve heard whispers that not only is his old coach Kyle Shanahan the most likely to pony up to get him, but that Cousins to S.F. will happen in 2018. In Cousins’ case, we do think there’s a little more motivation this year.
Jimmy Garoppolo (NE, 25) – Jimmy G seems to be in the Patriots’ future plans, especially if Tom Brady would decide to hang it up after this year. Brady’s retirement after 2017 has started to gain some momentum after his wife Giselle Bundchen talked about the concussions her husband suffered last season. Also, the Patriots were much more aggressive this off-season – including trading for Brandin Cooks – meaning they could be gearing up for one last run with Brady before they hand the keys to Garoppolo in 2018. If Jimmy G does hit the open market, he’d likely be the most coveted QB to hit the market in some time, not bad for a QB who has basically played six meaningful quarters of football since joining the league in 2014.
Drew Brees (NO, 38) – The Saints gave Brees a two-year, $44.25 contract extension last September, so he’s yet again looking for another extension. He told Sirius XM NFL Radio back in March that he’s taking his career year to year at this point, but thinks he can play until he’s 45. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Brees is to the point of his career where he’s playing for one- or two-year deals at the age of 38. Brees is a legend in New Orleans, and we can’t envision him playing anywhere else as his career starts to wind down.
Sam Bradford (Min, 29) – Bradford is looking to cement himself in Minnesota, and he’ll need another strong campaign to do so, especially with Teddy Bridgewater potentially in the mix at some point in 2017. ESPN Vikings beat writer Ben Goessling believes that Bradford will be seeking more than $20 million a year with at least $40-50 million guaranteed. Of course, Bradford will help his cause for a huge new contract by having another good season, and the Vikings could cost themselves more money the longer they wait to make the deal. On the flip side, they might want to see Bradford string together another strong, 16-game season before they commit a ton of money to him. Bradford’s play this season will significantly dictate just what kind of deal he receives.
Tom Savage (Hou, 27) – The Texans have said Savage will be their starter ever since they drafted Deshaun Watson in the first round. We’ll see how it all plays out in the preseason, but it likely won’t take long for Watson to officially take over as the franchise QB. Obviously, Savage could dictate his contract status for the future with how he plays if he manages to start some games this season. If he plays well in some starts this season, he could create a market for his services next off-season. If he struggles, he’d likely have to settle for a backup QB contract with the Texans or elsewhere.
Teddy Bridgewater (Min, 24) – Bridgewater still hasn’t been cleared for football activities, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Matt Vensel believes there’s a chance Bridgewater is cleared at some point in 2017. That would be great news for the 24-year-old QB, who some feared would never play again after his catastrophic leg injury. Still, while Bridgewater’s recovery has been encouraging up to this point, he’s unlikely to net any kind of long-term deal until he gets on the field and shows he’s healthy. The Vikings could also keep him around at $2.18 million for 2018 if he spends this season PUP list.
Josh McCown (NYJ, 38) – McCown will be 38 years old this season, and he’s obviously year-to-year at this stage of his career. He’s remarkably the favorite to begin the 2017 season as the Jets starter, but he’s clearly better off as a backup option at this stage of his career. McCown is capable of starting in a pinch without a drastic drop off in play, but his body can’t hold up if he’s asked to do much more than that. He’ll likely find work as a backup next off-season if he wants to continue to play.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (TB, 34) – Fitz Magic’s time as a starter is likely over after a miserable 2016 campaign with the Jets. He’ll be competing with Ryan Griffin for the backup job behind Jameis Winston, a competition he should win since he has plenty of experience under his belt. Fitz is at the stage of his career in which he’ll be getting one-year offers going forward to be a backup QB.
Mark Sanchez (Chi, 30) – Sanchez will be buried on the Bears depth chart this season, with the organization signing Mike Glennon and drafting Mitch Trubisky this off-season. Sanchez has had plenty of chances to be a starter in the league, and he’s also proven that he’s not a capable starter at this point in his career. Still, he’s more than capable of stepping in and playing a few games if needed, which will keep him around the league for the next couple years as a backup.
OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT QBs
- Matt Moore (Mia, 32)
- Chase Daniel (NO, 30)
- Blaine Gabbert (Ari, 27)
- Geno Smith (NYG, 26)
- Drew Stanton (Ari, 33)
- Chad Henne (Jax, 31)
- Derek Anderson (Car, 34)
- Case Keenum (Min, 29)
- EJ Manuel (Oak, 27)
- Matt McGloin (Phi, 27)
- Tyler Bray (KC, 25)
- Kellen Clemens (LAC, 34)
- Ryan Griffin (TB, 27)
- Joe Webb (Car, 30)
- Austin Davis (Sea, 28)
- T.J. Yates (Buf, 30)
- Kellen Moore (Dal, 27)
- David Fales (Mia, 26)
TOP RESTRICTED FREE AGENT QBs
A.J. McCarron (Cin, 26) – McCarron is one of the top backup QBs in the league, and they are unlikely to let him walk as a restricted free agent unless they receive some generous compensation in terms of a pick. The Bengals did reportedly shop him around last winter, but they couldn’t find anything to their liking because they were asking for a first-round pick. They are open to the idea of moving him if they can get some assets in return, but he’ll be sitting behind Andy Dalton for another season barring an injury.
OTHER RESTRICTED FREE AGENT QBs
None of note.
TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT RBs
Le’Veon Bell (Pit, 25) – Bell is set to play this season on the franchise tag unless he can come to terms on a long-term deal before the July 17 deadline when he’ll need to sign his franchise tag. Bell (core muscle surgery) skipped minicamp because he wasn’t under contract, but he put out a video of himself playing basketball in late June, suggesting he’s close to full health heading into training camp. The Steelers are a little hesitant to give Bell a long-term deal because he’s played just 18 games the last two seasons because of injuries and suspensions. The Steelers drafted RB James Conner in the third round, and OC Todd Haley said the team will try to find the right workload for Bell to keep him healthy for 2017 and beyond. As long as Bell doesn’t screw up off the field to get suspended again, he’s likely to get a big deal from the Steelers or another franchise.
Devonta Freeman (Atl, 25) – The Falcons and owner Arthur Blank are confident they’ll get a long-term extension done with Freeman by the first week of training camp. And Freeman also said he was optimistic a deal would get done, so it sounds like a deal might be imminent. It’s believed that Freeman is seeking at least $7 million per year. The Falcons must prefer Freeman over Tevin Coleman going forward because it’s difficult to imagine the Falcons tying up a bunch of cap space into two RBs going into the future.
Isaiah Crowell (Cle, 24) – HC Hue Jackson wants to commit more to the run this season, which must be sweet music to the ears of Crowell and his agent. He averaged a healthy 4.8 YPC but had just 198 carries with the Browns playing from behind so much last season. RB coach Kirby Wilson sung the praises of Crow in minicamp, and he believes that he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. Crow has been productive his first three seasons, but if he can have his true breakout campaign, he could set himself up for a nice contract this off-season.
Eddie Lacy (Sea, 26) – Lacy is trying to earn himself a multi-year contract with a bounce-back campaign in Seattle, and the Seahawks have kept him motivated and in shape in the early going with weigh-ins to keep him under 250 pounds. Lacy will continue to have the monthly weigh-ins throughout the season, when he’s expected to be under 245 pounds. Lacy is getting paid like a starter, and he’s expected to lead this backfield, but they have the talented C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls behind him if he slips up at all. Lacy showed in Green Bay that he’s capable of being an every-down player, but he needs to prove that he can stay out of his own way with his weight issue before he earns a multi-year deal.
Carlos Hyde (SF, 25) – Hyde’s situation in San Francisco is tenuous at best, with new HC Kyle Shanahan sending mixed signals about his future. Heading into training camp, Hyde is the starter but they aren’t handing him anything, which is a bit bizarre since he’s the incumbent starter. He dominated first-team reps in minicamp, but he reportedly struggled picking up the outside-zone scheme. A lot has to play out over this season, but it sure feels like Hyde isn’t part of the future plans for the 49ers, so he could be auditioning for his next team this season. Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for Hyde, who’ll have to fight for snaps and touches this year and for a new contract next year.
Jamaal Charles (Den, 30) – It took until May for Charles to find a home for 2017, so teams were obviously a little wary about a 30-year-old back who’s battled knee issues the last two seasons. Charles is not only looking to rehab his knee but also his career back to full strength, and the Broncos loaded his one-year deal with $2.75 million in incentives. He’s got plenty of motivation to get back on track, and while he was still limited to individual drills in the OTAs and minicamp, Charles in late-June revealed that he’s been cutting and that he’s close to full strength. His health will likely dictate just how much he plays this season in the Broncos rotation at RB with mainly C.J. Anderson, but a healthy Charles should have a healthy role on what looks like a run-heavy offense in 2017.
Dion Lewis (NE, 26) – The Patriots let LeGarrette Blount walk in free agency, but they replaced him with two back by adding Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. Lewis is expected to hang around here for another season, but his role could be reduced with James White also in the mix. Lewis has had a long history of injuries, and the Patriots are clearly looking to keep him healthy for the duration of the season by using a heavy rotation at RB. HC Bill Belichick loves Lewis, but his health this season will ultimately determine what kind of deal he receives next off-season.
Terrance West (Bal, 26) – West has had a bit of a bizarre start to his career, but he’s going to have a great opportunity to earn some money with Kenneth Dixon beginning the season with a four-game suspension. If West gets off to a hot start, he could keep the lead role ahead of Dixon and third-down back Danny Woodhead. There’s certainly an opportunity here for West to earn himself some money next off-season if he can grab hold off the Ravens starting job and never let go and he’s created positive momentum with a strong off-season.
LeGarrette Blount (Phi, 30) – Blount bided his time this off-season waiting for the contract he was looking. Well, that contract never came despite the fact that he was coming off a career-year in which he scored 18 TDs and ran for 1161 yards. Blount settled for a one-year, $1.25 million contract from the Eagles, effectively taking over Ryan Mathews’ old role in the offense. If Blount could only muster his measly one-year deal from the Eagles coming off a career year, it’s hard to imagine him doing any better next off-season with his numbers sure to dip in a lesser offense in 2017.
Chris Thompson (Was, 26) – The lead role in the Redskins backfield is up for grabs between Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley, but Thompson’s passing-back role is secure heading into the season. Thompson has turned into one of the better passing backs in the league, and he’s a favorite of HC Jay Gruden. They will likely look to keep him around in 2018 as long as owner Dan Snyder doesn’t blow things up, which is always a possibility. Thompson would likely have a decent-sized market if he’d hit the open market next off-season.
Charles Sims (TB, 26) – The Buccaneers backfield is pretty wide-open heading into the season, with Doug Martin hanging on by a string and suspended for the first three games of the season. Sims is best suited to be a passing-back, but he could have some competition for playing time from fifth-round pick Jeremy Nichols. It’s tough to tell just what the Bucs will do at RB going forward, with only McNichols seemingly in the fold for next season. Sims needs to return to his 2015 form if he wants to cash in next off-season.
Shane Vereen (NYG, 28) – Vereen is back to full strength heading into training camp after he tore his triceps twice last season. Vereen took a $1-million pay cut to stick with the Giants this season, and he’s looking to prove that he can stay healthy and once again be an effective passing back. The Giants backfield is very unsettled heading into the year, but it’s unlikely that Vereen will have much of a role as a runner – he’s topped 65+ carries in a season just once and he’s never topped 100+ carries. Vereen is looking to get back to being one of the better receiving backs in the league, which would create a market for himself next off-season.
Jerick McKinnon (Min, 25) – The Vikings brought in Latavius Murray and drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round, so McKinnon’s role should be reduced in 2017 and his time in Minnesota could be running short. He bulked back up to 212 pounds for minicamp after playing last season around 200 pounds after he physically broke down and was ineffective for much of 2016. McKinnon isn’t a lead back type at this point, but he’s still an explosive athlete, and he’d certainly get some looks if he hit the open market this off-season.
Jeremy Hill (Cin, 24) – Hill’s stock has plummeted the last two seasons after he looked like a potential break-out player after a strong finishing kick to his rookie season in 2014. There was even talk from Bengals beat writers that the Bengals could cut Hill before the season, but that’s unlikely to happen now with Giovani Bernard (ACL) uncertain for the start of the season. Hill has looked slow and plodding the last two seasons, so he needs to show some explosiveness if he hopes to land anything more than a one-year deal. His time in Cincinnati is likely done after this season, but he’s at least responding to the challenge and will report to camp slimmer and trimmer, which may help him.
Rex Burkhead (NE, 26) – Burkhead stunned many when he signed with the Patriots because they already have two good receiving backs in James White and Dion Lewis. Burkhead will look to prove that he’s an all-around back, who can consistently run between the tackles, but he’ll also be battling with Mike Gillislee for snaps as a runner. Burkhead’s most important work could come on special teams. He should get more chances to play and more exposure in New England than he ever saw in Cincinnati, so he could raise his profile for next off-season as an UFA.
Darren Sproles (Phi, 34) – It’s hard to believe that Sproles is entering his age-34 season because he seemingly hasn’t lost a step since he broke into the league with the Chargers back in 2015. Sproles hasn’t kept it a secret that he expects 2017 to be his last season, but there’s a possibility he could decide to hang around another year if his level of play stays steady.
Frank Gore (Ind, 34) – When Gore signed his three-year deal with the Colts back in 2015, not many thought that he’d play out the entire contract. But here we are entering Year Three and Gore is still going strong at age 34. Gore has seen 250+ touches in 11 consecutive seasons, a pretty remarkable run in today’s NFL with so many injuries and split backfields limiting the workloads of RBs. Counting out Gore for the 2018 season would be foolish, but he’s likely at the stage of his career in which he gets one-year deals going forward.
Andre Ellington (Ari, 28) – The Cardinals experimented with Ellington at WR this off-season, but it was short-lived, as they moved him back to RB in June. The Cardinals did draft similar player to him in scatback T.J. Logan in the fifth round, so it seems like Ellington’s time in Arizona could be coming to an end, especially if they were looking at him as a WR. HC Bruce Arians said he wants Ellington run tougher going forward, but Ellington has mostly been a space player since he broke into the league in 2013. It might be time for Ellington to get a change of scenery at this point in his career.
Ryan Mathews (Phi, 29) – Mathews faces an uncertain future after needing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. He’s still a cut candidate later this summer, so his future is in doubt even for the 2017 season. The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount, indicating that the franchise has moved on from Mathews. It’s not out of the question that Mathews’ playing career could be over, but we need to see how the rest of his summer plays out.
Tim Hightower (SF, 31) – Hightower revived his once dormant career – he was out of the league for three seasons from 2012-14 – filling in for and working beside Mark Ingram the last two seasons. He landed in San Fran this off-season, and he could push for playing time because new HC Kyle Shanahan is seemingly unimpressed by incumbent starter Carlos Hyde. At this stage of his career, it’s difficult to see Hightower getting much more than one-year deals going forward, but at least Hightower does have less wear and tear than most 31-year-old RBs.
Lance Dunbar (LAR, 27) – The Rams let Benny Cunningham walk this off-season and brought in Dunbar to replace him as a third-down back in passing situations. New HC Sean McVay could use Dunbar much like he used Chris Thompson in Washington last season. Dunbar didn’t have much of a role last season playing with Ezekiel Elliott, but he was headed toward a breakout campaign back in 2015 before he tore his ACL and patellar tendon after four games. Dunbar could certainly earn himself a bigger contract if he proves that he’s all the way back from his devastating knee injury from 2015.
OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT RBs
- Alfred Morris (Dal, 28)
- Damien Williams (Mia, 25)
- Branden Oliver (LAC, 26)
- Ka’Deem Carey (Chi, 24)
- Alfred Blue (Hou, 26)
- Matt Asiata (Det, 29)
- Orleans Darkwa (NYG, 25)
- Benny Cunningham (Chi, 26)
- Shaun Draughn (NYG, 29)
- Darren McFadden (Dal, 29)
- Travaris Cadet (NO, 28)
- C.J. Spiller (KC, 29)
- Mike Tolbert (Buf, 31)
- John Kuhn (NO, 34)
- Taiwan Jones (Oak, 28)
- Knile Davis (Pit, 25)
- Juwan Thompson (Den, 25)
- Kenjon Barner (LAC, 28)
- Bishop Sankey (Min, 24)
- Brandon Bolden (NE, 27)
- Bernard Pierce (Den, 27)
- Lorenzo Taliaferro (Bal, 25)
- Kerwynn Williams (Ari, 26)
- Jordan Todman (NYJ, 27)
TOP RESTRICTED FREE AGENT RBs
Thomas Rawls (Sea, 23) – Rawls will likely push for playing time this season, competing with Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise. Lacy signed just a one-year deal, so there’s no guarantee that he’s back next year. We can’t see the Seahawks letting Rawls walk next off-season since they have control of him as a restricted free agent. He also received rave reviews during OTAs, but his growing list of injuries to start his career have curbed his progressive.
Zach Zenner (Det, 25) – The Lions really needed Zenner to step up late last year, and he filled in admirably in the final two weeks of the season and in their playoff loss. He’ll still be behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick to start this season, but he should start training camp ahead of the underwhelming Dwayne Washington for the #3 RB job. Zenner is a good depth option for the Lions, and it’s unlikely that they’d let him walk as a restricted free agent next off-season.
OTHER RESTRICTED FREE AGENT RBs
- Andre Williams (LAC, 24)
- Fitz Toussaint (Pit, 27)
- Kapri Bibbs (SF, 24)
- Terron Ward (Atl, 25)
- Corey Grant (Jax, 25)
- Malcolm Brown (LAR, 24)
- Akeem Hunt (Hou, 24)
TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT WRs
DeAndre Hopkins (Hou, 25) – Texans GM Rick Smith said early in the off-season that the team is intent on signing Hopkins to an extension, and Nuk said in June that he loves playing in Houston and for the Texans. It’s tough to imagine Hopkins play anywhere else, especially after the franchise traded up to get him Deshaun Watson to lead this franchise for years to come. We could see a deal get done before the season starts, and he’s likely looking for $40-45 million guaranteed with around $14 million per year – similar to deals signed by Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas in recent years.
Jarvis Landry (Mia, 24) – Landry is seeking a contract extension before the season, and his agent said the two sides won’t negotiate a new deal once the season starts. The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero put the chances of an extension at 60% before the season starts. Landry’s agent said Landry won’t sit out during training camp or during the season and that the two sides have yet to discuss money. Landry is a good bet to be back with Dolphins next season, but if they don’t come to terms on a deal before the season,
Allen Robinson (Jax, 23) and Marqise Lee (Jax, 25) – Robinson told the Florida Times Union in April that he believes he’s earned a contract extension, but the Jaguars have some tough decisions to make when it comes to A-Rob and Lee. Robinson has been by far the best receiver in Jacksonville the last three years, ahead of fellow third-year WRs Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. Hurns got his extension last summer (five years, $40.66 million), so the Jaguars could be hard pressed to keep all three WRs around, especially if A-Rob looks for $10+ million per year, which is expected. Lee could be the odd man out if Robinson is indeed their top target to retain, but Lee could make the decision tough or earn himself a nice new contract by stringing together a second strong season in a row.
Davante Adams (GB, 24) – Adams will be just 24 years old at the start of this season, and he’s now in the good graces of QB Aaron Rodgers. Slot WR Randall Cobb has regressed the last two seasons and Jordy Nelson will be 32 years old in 2017. Adams is seemingly going to be a pivotal part of this passing game for years to come, unless they can’t come to terms on a new deal. The Packers will likely pay up to keep him around unless he regresses to his 2015 form. They also have one of the deeper WR depth charts, which should keep Adams plenty motivated to earn his extension.
Sammy Watkins (Buf, 24) – The Bills didn’t pick up Watkins’ fifth-year option this spring, which isn’t a great sign, but at least Watkins has added motivation being in the final year of his rookie deal. The Bills were clearly hesitant about giving Watkins another year because of his extensive injury history. Watkins’ days in Buffalo could be numbered because if he has a good season, he’ll likely want to cash in elsewhere. If he struggles with injuries once again, the Bills will have no problem letting him walk. Just about the only scenario in which Watkins plays for the Bills in 2018 is if the Bills use their franchise tag on him if he has a strong season this year.
Alshon Jeffery (Phi, 27) and Jordan Matthews (Phi, 24) – Jeffery has had two chances at having contract-year bumps, and he’s struck out twice the last two seasons. He’s trying it again by taking a one-year contract with the Eagles. Matthews and the Eagles have yet to talk about a contract extension, which isn’t too surprising since this passing game has been totally rebuilt since last season. The Eagles will need to decide who their priority will be to re-sign in the off-season. The Eagles obviously have a longer history with Matthews and he’d likely be cheaper, but Jeffery could become the top priority because he has the higher ceiling as a player. The Eagles will do everything possible to make franchise QB Carson Wentz feel comfortable in the future, so they will pay up to keep one if not both of these guys around.
Terrelle Pryor (Was, 28) – Pryor is moving to a new team, which can be disruptive, but we like how it’s a one-year, “prove-it” deal, since Pryor proved a lot in 2016. His growth last year was pretty remarkable; he went from running only a few routes early on to running damn near a full route tree by season’s end. Pryor will have to learn some new terminology, but it’s a similar system to Cleveland’s, as Brown HC Hue Jackson has ties to Redskin OC Jay Gruden from their days in Cincinnati. We were kind of shocked that no team anted up for Pryor last off-season, but we don’t think it will happen again if Pryor proves that his 2016 season wasn’t a fluke.
Martavis Bryant (Pit, 25) – Bryant is one mistake away from being out of the league for a long time, which could prevent him from getting the numbers of years and the money on a new contract he probably deserves. If Martavis can stay on the straight and narrow, Bryant projects to be the #2 receiver in Pittsburgh behind Antonio Brown, and he’ll be their top downfield and red-zone threat. Bryant might have to settle for a one- or two-year deal with his next contract until he proves that he can stay out of trouble for a season or two.
Donte Moncrief (Ind, 24) – Moncrief has been underwhelming to start his career, but he’s being given one last big chance to break out. He is just 24 years old entering his fourth season, and he could easily find his way playing with one of the best QBs in the league in Andrew Luck. Moncrief really needs to improve after the catch, as it looked like he lost a step last year after looking explosive in college and early in his career. The Colts have nothing behind T.Y. Hilton and Moncrief, with Phillip Dorsett starting to go down as a major bust, so Moncrief will be given every chance to succeed and earn a big long-term contract.
John Brown (Ari, 27) – Brown’s health is the biggest concern coming into 2017, but all reports seem to indicate that he’s in a much better place heading into this season, although he dealt with a hamstring issue in OTAs. If he can get back to his 2015 self, he’ll be the top option on the outside and a vertical threat for Carson Palmer. If he struggles with his health again, he could be reduced to a part-time player for the second straight year. His health will also dictate just how many years and how much money he’ll get on his next contract once he hits free agency. Brown has all the motivation to have a big campaign, but his body will need cooperate as he battles his sickle-cell trait.
Eric Decker (Ten, 30) – After the Jets cut Decker, he signed a one-year, $3.85 million contract with the Titans. He clearly wanted to play in Nashville, seemingly settling for less money for a chance to play and win (yes, we said win for the Titans). He’s also not tied to the organization past this season, and could leave for more money if he has a big bounce-back campaign. The most important thing for Decker this year is to prove he’s healthy coming off major surgeries to both his shoulder and his hip.
Mike Wallace (Bal, 30) – Wallace’s move to Baltimore revived his down-trending career last season, and he’s hoping to land one last big contract before the end of career. The Ravens must’ve been pretty happy with his performance in 2016, as they exercised a team option for $4.75 million this season. He should be heavily involved once again this year as a top target next to Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman, and as long as he can still fly, he should earn himself another big contract.
Larry Fitzgerald (Ari, 33) – Fitz said he will address his post-2017 future during training camp, which will be the only time he’ll address it during the season. If he decides to hang it up, the Hall of Fame should start to get his bust ready for his eventual induction. If he decides to play another season, the Cardinals will gladly bring him back for another season.
Taylor Gabriel (Atl, 26) – One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The Browns, of all teams, cut Gabriel at the end of training camp last summer, and by Week 8 Gabriel was making big plays left and right for the Falcons in 2016. His role could vary widely from week to week behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu at receiver this season, and we still need to see if new OC Steve Sarkisian will be able utilize Gabriel like Kyle Shanahan did. Gabriel isn’t likely to be paid like one of the top WRs, but he could continue to prove his worth with another strong season in 2017.
Kendall Wright (Chi, 27) – The Bears are having a wide-open competition for snaps behind Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, and Wright isn’t even guaranteed to make this 53-man roster out of camp. He also burned some bridges during his final two years with the Titans, so he could use a bounce-back campaign with the Bears on the one-year, prove-it deal that he signed this off-season.
Paul Richardson (Sea, 25) – Richardson has had a tumultuous first three seasons because of injuries, but he finally started to tap into potential at the end of last season after Tyler Lockett broke his leg. Now, Richardson needs to prove he can stay healthy and contribute for a full 16-game season before he scores anything more than a one-year deal after the 2017 season.
Kamar Aiken (Ind, 28) – Aiken settled for a one-year deal with the Colts, but he picked a good place to potentially play right away to bolster his market for next season. He’ll be in a battle with floundering first-round WR Phillip Dorsett and second-year undrafted WR Chester Rogers, so Aiken has a great chance to see significant snaps. He played relatively well in 2015 and didn’t have a role in with the Ravens in 2016, so he’s looking to reestablish some value as a slot receiver.
Michael Floyd (Min, 27) – Floyd is hanging by a thread right now, and his future even for this season is tentative after he violated his home arrest with multiple failed BAC tests. Floyd could face jail time and at the very least a suspension during the 2017 season. It’s tough envisioning him rehabilitating his life enough to earn anything more than a one-year deal after this season. He needs to clean up his life and take advantage of any playing time he might get this year to keep his career going.
OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT WRs
- Dontrelle Inman (LAC, 28)
- Brian Quick (Was, 28)
- Brice Butler (Dal, 27)
- Jeff Janis (GB, 26)
- Albert Wilson (KC, 24)
- Victor Cruz (Chi, 30)
- Danny Amendola (NE, 31)
- Charles Johnson (Car, 28)
- Michael Campanaro (Bal, 26)
- Corey Brown (Buf, 25)
- Cody Latimer (Den, 24)
- Deonte Thompson (Chi, 28)
- Tavarres King (NYG, 26)
- Ryan Grant (Was, 26)
- Andrew Hawkins (NE, 31)
- Justin Hunter (Pit, 26)
- Harry Douglas (Ten, 31)
- Jaron Brown (Ari, 27)
- Corey Fuller (NO, 26)
- Josh Bellamy (Chi, 28)
- Devin Street (NYJ, 26)
- Josh Huff (TB, 25)
- Bruce Ellington (SF, 25)
- Rod Streater (Buf, 29)
- Andre Roberts (Atl, 29)
- Rueben Randle (Chi, 26)
- Aaron Dobson (Ari, 25)
- Marlon Brown (Den, 26)
- Nick Williams (Atl, 26)
TOP RESTRICTED FREE AGENT WRs
Cameron Meredith (Chi, 24) – The Bears showed some faith in Meredith when they let Alshon Jeffery walk this off-season. He jumped up to the #1 WR role this season after he came out of nowhere to be a huge part of this passing attack in 2016. Meredith isn’t going anywhere as a restricted free agent next off-season, but the Bears likely want to see him put together two strong campaigns before they lock him into a big contract. The Bears are very high on him and will give Meredith plenty of chances to excel and grow with young QBs Mitch Trubisky and Mike Glennon.
Willie Snead (NO, 24) – Snead is looking to lock up a long-term deal before the start of the 2017 season. He told The New Orleans Advocate in June, “I think the guys upstairs are working on it. I’m hopeful, and I just have to keep worrying about myself and staying healthy and doing all the right things. I know it’s going to be a handled, it’s going to take time, but I feel like we’ll get it done sooner or later.” The Saints must feel comfortable going forward with Michael Thomas and Snead as their top WRs after trading away star WR Brandin Cooks during the off-season.
Tyrell Williams (LAC, 25) – Williams came out of relative obscurity to become a pivotal part of this 2016 passing attack. They won’t let him walk next off-season, since they have relative control of him as a restricted free agent, but the Chargers do need to figure out the pecking order of this WR corps. Keenan Allen has been one of the better WRs in the league when healthy, and they just used the #7 overall pick on Mike Williams. Tyrell likely slots in as the #3 priority here, but he certainly showed enough ability in 2016 to warrant consideration for a long-term deal. A strong 2017 would certainly strengthen his case to get a big deal.
Quincy Enunwa (NYJ, 25) – The Jets have gutted their WR corps by letting Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker walk this off-season. Enunwa is suddenly their top option, and they’re unlikely to let him walk after this season as a restricted free agent. The Jets will be flush with cap space next season, so they could even lock up Enunwa to a longer-term deal if he excels as the top dog.
Eli Rogers (Pit, 24) – Rogers is the top true slot receiver on the roster, but the Steelers will have an open competition for playing time after bolstering their WR corps significantly. His main competition will be second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is learning the position after spending most of his time on the outside at USC. Rogers doesn’t contribute much outside of his slot duties, so they Steelers could find him expendable if Smith-Schuster wins the slot job. This training camp and the 2017 season will be important for Rogers if he wants to keep his job.
Adam Humphries (TB, 24) – The Buccaneers went out of their way to boost their receivers this off-season, adding WRs DeSean Jackson and rookie Chris Godwin and drafting TE O.J. Howard in the first round. Humphries should still see snaps as the slot receiver, but he won’t have nearly the role that he had a year ago. Even though his playing time could be reduced next season, the Buccaneers will likely look to keep him around into 2018.
Seth Roberts (Oak, 26) – The Raiders like Roberts, but they need to upgrade their depth behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Roberts has played as the #3 WR out of the slot, but he ideally would be a #4/5 WR in the future. With that said, they won’t let Roberts walk as a restricted free agent unless he really disappoints this season.
OTHER RESTRICTED FREE AGENT WRs
- Bennie Fowler (Den, 26)
- Brandon Coleman (NO, 24)
- Jared Abbrederis (Det, 26)
- T.J. Jones (Det, 24)
- Lucky Whitehead (Dal, 25)
- Freddie Martino (TB, 25)
- Chris Matthews (Bal, 27)
- Walt Powell (Buf, 25)
- Rashad Ross (Buf, 27)
- Jeremy Butler (Buf, 26)
- Quan Bray (Ind, 24)
- Donteea Dye (TB, 23)
- Tre McBride (Ten, 24)
TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT TEs
Jimmy Graham (Sea, 30) – There’s been little talk about Graham’s future with the Seahawks after the 2017. We’re guessing that Graham will be looking for one last big deal as he enters the back nine of his career. There’s been some talk that the Seahawks could potentially franchise-tag Graham next off-season, although Seahawks GM John Schneider has been hesitant to use it in the past. Graham certainly proved to be resilient last season, as he didn’t lose a step coming off his devastating torn patellar tendon in 2015, which has been a career-ending injury for some. In fact, he admitted he didn’t even practice much last season, so he’s hoping to be even more explosive another year removed from the injury.
Tyler Eifert (Cin, 26) – Eifert is one of the more intriguing contract-year players because he could score a huge deal if he plays at his typical high-level and has a healthy campaign. Of course, having a healthy campaign has been the tough part for Eifert, and he’s still a bit of a question mark for training camp. The Bengals are a notoriously stingy organization, and they will need to be 100% sold on Eifert if they offer him a long-term contract. There aren’t many TEs of his caliber that hit the open market, especially at his age, and he’d likely see some heavy interest if he has a healthy 2017 campaign. Of course, the Bengals could franchise tag him next off-season if they want to keep him around but don’t trust in him staying healthy.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (Hou, 25) – CJF disappointed the Texans through his first two seasons, but he started to show some of his #65-overall potential in his third season. He primarily served as Brock Osweiler’s security blanket last season, averaging just 10.4 YPR, and he could stay pretty active for rookie QB Deshaun Watson. The Texans did give TE Ryan Griffin a three-year deal, $9 million contract this off-season, and he’s essentially the 1B to CJF’s 1A at the TE position in Houston. Fiedorowicz could play his way into a decent-sized contract, but the Texans won’t break the bank since they already have Griffin in the fold on a friendly contract.
Antonio Gates (LAC, 37) – Gates said in June that he’s fine with taking a secondary role to Hunter Henry at this point in his career, so it seems highly unlikely that the 37-year-old Gates would play anywhere else in 2018. Gates needs just 1 TD catch this season to set the NFL tight end TD record after he tied Tony Gonzalez last season with 111 TDs. We’d expect him to either retire after 15 seasons or sign a one-year deal to stick with the Chargers next off-season.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (NYJ, 24) – ASJ is barely clinging to his career as he enters in Year Four after being the #38 overall pick by the Bucs back in 2014. He’ll start the 2017 season suspended for the first two games, and the Jets won’t be obligated to keep him around through training camp if he isn’t worthy of the hassle. However, he received rave reviews during off-season workouts after quitting drinking and losing 25 pounds. He also has very little competition for playing time, so he could be primed for a mini-breakout campaign if he can stay healthy. ASJ is loaded talented, but teams we’ll need to see him play well before they give him anything more than a one-year deal. ASJ’s professional livelihood is hinging on this season.
Zach Miller (Chi, 32) – Miller’s time in Chicago is numbered with the organization drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round and the signing of Dion Sims in free agency. Miller has been an impact receiver when healthy, but his career has been littered with injuries – he didn’t play a snap from 2012-14. He’s unlikely to get anything more than a one-year deal wherever he lands next, and it might be most important for him to show he can play 16 games without a major injury.
Ben Watson (Bal, 36) and Crockett Gillmore (Bal, 25) – The Ravens are loaded with bodies at tight end, but at the same time they are a complete mess at the position and have yet to determine the rotation they will use this year. Dennis Pitta injured his hip yet again and it looks like his playing career is likely over, opening up some playing time for everyone else. Watson agreed to take a pay cut to stick around for 2017, and he’s a year-to-year player at this point at his advanced playing age of 36. Gillmore has proven to be injury prone early in his career, so the Ravens would be unlikely to give him a long-term deal even if he becomes the starter.
Virgil Green (Den, 28) – Green is in a battle for playing time this season with the likes of A.J. Derby, Jeff Heuerman, and Jake Butt. The Broncos seem to have a soft spot for Green after handing him a three-year, $8.4 million deal back in 2015. The Broncos ideally would like for one of the younger TEs to emerge as the top option here, but they’d also likely wouldn’t mind bringing Green back on a cheap deal to be there #2 TE.
OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT TEs
- Richard Rodgers (GB, 25)
- Trey Burton (Phi, 25)
- Luke Willson (Sea, 27)
- Troy Niklas (Ari, 24)
- Gavin Escobar (KC, 26)
- Clay Harbor (NO, 29)
- Lee Smith (Oak, 29)
- Anthony Fasano (Mia, 33)
- Darren Fells (Det, 31)
- Ed Dickson (Car, 29)
- Logan Paulsen (SF, 30)
- Jace Amaro (Ten, 24)
- Niles Paul (Was, 27)
- Luke Stocker (TB, 28)
- John Phillips (NO, 30)
- Derek Carrier (Was, 26)
- Jeff Cumberland (LAC, 30)
TOP RESTRICTED FREE AGENT TEs
Cameron Brate (TB, 25) – The Buccaneers drafted the future of the position for the organization when they selected O.J. Howard in the first round. Still, they aren’t about to let Brate walk next off-season, especially since they have some control of him as a restricted free agent. Brate and Howard should form one of the better TE duos in 2017, and we’d expect them to stick together for at least the 2018 season, as well.
OTHER RESTRICTED FREE AGENT TEs
- Nick O’Leary (Buf, 24)
- Sean McGrath (LAC, 29)
- MyCole Pruitt (Chi, 25)
Source: Fantasy Guru
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