When it comes to contract year players, the theory is that these players are more likely to put up a bigger year than they might otherwise have.
Not sure I’m buying that. If a player has underperformed, I’m not sure he waits until unemployment looms to suddenly improve his game. Likewise, if a player has been very good, no reason to think they won’t continue to be good.
However, there are countless examples of players that have seen a spike as contract year players.
Contract year players can take many different forms. Some are playing under the franchise tag. Others are finishing out rookie deals. Others might be nearing retirement. Those are just a few.
Regardless of the form, it is worth knowing who some of the top contract year player options are. If nothing else, it helps to know who your leaguemates might rank higher. Here are my Top 10 contract year players, broken up by category, starting with one of the simplest.
10 Contract Year Players You Should Know
Potential Retirement Group
These players don’t even warrant mid-round consideration in a dynasty start-up draft. They’re not really looking for that seven-year-long-term contract, probably a small contract extension at best. However, these players each probably have one more decent year in them, maybe more, and therefore are worthy of your consideration, especially in a redraft league.
Steve Smith Sr., WR, Baltimore Ravens
Of the three here, he is the most likely to retire. Senior originally announced his retirement last year. However, the ultra-competitive Smith refused to end his career short of 1,000 career receptions after an injury shortened his season. The 39 receptions he needs to hit that mark are his absolute basement. Expect a 75-catch 1,000 yard season from Smith since he’s done it over half a dozen times already, including as recent as 2014.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
File this under why you should read me and SCFE. Because of little but important nuggets like this: Technically, Fitzgerald has three more years on his contract. However, the two remaining years of his contract are a prohibitive $16 million a year and both voidable. If the 12-year veteran wants to see serious money in 2017, he’s going to need to prove to the Cardinals and the NFL that his 109-catch 1,200-plus yard season last year was not a fluke. He will be hard pressed to reach those heights again. However, his more than 750 receiving yard season the previous season is a reasonable floor. This makes Fitzgerald a WR3 at worst, but with the potential of a WR1.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Brees could make life easier for GM Mickey Loomis by walking away this year when his contract expires. But coming off his 10th year in a row of 4,000-plus passing yards, why should he? Furthermore, one of my favorite stats about Brees is that he is the only quarterback to finish in the Top 5 each of the last five years. It is one of the reasons I went on record saying I would bank on Brees again this year. The Saints, of course, might be stuck having to slap the franchise tag on Brees again like they did a few seasons ago. Speaking of the franchise tag….
Franchise Tag Group
Any player who is currently playing under the franchise tag is of course in a contract year. Players often get slapped with the franchise tag, followed by the two sides working out a pre-deadline deal. However, two players of note were unable to work out a long term deal with their current teams. Henceforth, this is a potentially huge contract year for each. One is a proven but often injured commodity, while the other is coming off a career year. Let’s start with the latter….
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
Cousin is asking for around $20 million higher in guaranteed money than Washington has offered. And now playing under the franchise tag, Cousins will need to do it again to prove to either Washington or some other team he is worth the money. The it I am referring to is throwing for over 4,000 yards while completing 69% of his passes with a 29:11 TD/Int ratio in 2015. I do expect his numbers to decline a little bit, but having new red zone threat Josh Doctson won’t hurt. Cousins should be a very serviceable backup on your Fantasy team.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
It’s pretty simple. When Jeffery plays, he is superb, like he was in 2014 when he racked up 1,133 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. And when he’s injured, like he was in 2015, he’s not so good, notching just four touchdowns and a smidge over 800 receiving yards. Still only 26 years old, if he can stay healthy, he’s going to get paid big next spring. Jeffrey comes with sizeable risk, but with an ADP of 19.5, he can give you top WR1 production.
RBs Finishing out Rookie Contracts Group
Sam Bradford’s insane rookie deal is a thing of the past. Bradford by the way is technically not in a contract year. But with team-friendly clauses in the deal, should the Eagles cut Bradford next year? Besides, Carson Wentz is waiting in the wings, so Bradford is essentially a quasi-contract year player. Most young players finishing up their rookie contracts are hoping to make that big payday leap. The best way to do so is perform well when you are contract year player. Below are five worth monitoring this season, starting with the RBs.
LeVeon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Let’s be clear on this—Bell will not be leaving Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh typically retains their own that produce. And we can all agree that Bell has produced. Still, expect Bell to produce once again this season, giving his agent as much leverage as possible. Expect Bell to make at least five times the amount of money he is making now a year from now. Moving on from the jewel of all contract players to others possibly worth their weight….
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
The good news for Lacy is he has this year to prove his first two years are what the Packers should expect. The bad news is he now has to prove it this year after a disastrous season last year. You’ve heard plenty about Lacy, P90X, and how much trimmer he is now. He might not rebound to generate the greater than 1,500 combined yards he did two years ago. However, 1,100 rushing yards and double digit touchdowns this year is a reasonable expectation. If so, Ted Thompson is likely to ensure Lacy stays in Green Bay.
Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders
Latavius Murray presents a challenge to both the Raiders and FFL-owners alike. He could easily top his numbers from last year, building on his Top 10 RB finish from last year. Or he could be surpassed by DeAndre Washington, whether by injury (last year was Murray’s first completely healthy year) or not. The Raiders seem to be moving in a smart direction and don’t be surprised if Murray gets a new contract, albeit one that might be heavily incentive-laden as Murray leaves enough room for doubt this year.
WRs Finishing out Rookie Contract Group
The pair below are different primarily from the trio above because they’re wide receivers. WRs typically have a longer shelf life than your average running back. Obviously though that doesn’t stop any rookie WR from looking for that new juicy check.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Think Robinson is going to match or exceed his 14 TDs and 1,400 receiving yards again this season? If so, please gently hand all sharp and shiny objects over to your loved ones now. However, his average during his first two years in the league is slightly over 950 yards, 64 receptions, and eight TDs. He should easily surpass those marks again this year, forcing the Jaguars to pony up and sign one of their best WRs since Jimmy Smith.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Like Murray above, the range of potential outcomes is pretty large. He could surpass 1,000 receiving yards like he did in 2013. It would enable Arizona to part ways with Larry Fitzgerald if they choose. Or Fitzgerald could see the bulk of the targets again. John Brown could easily surpass Floyd as the second best WR on Arizona. Even some of the Cardinals other weapons at WR like Jaron Brown could surpass Floyd. But I expect Floyd to thrive during this contract year. The number of 100-yard games he records has steadily increased, including five last year. Additionally, Floyd is always a threat to have a monster week (see what he did against that strong Seattle D last year). I would expect consistent and continued improvement, making him a must-sign by the Cardinals.
Contract Year Players: Some Other Notables
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
The Broncos have publicly said they are reluctant to give Emmanuel Sanders $10 million or more a year. Doug Baldwin and Allen Hurns, two less proven commodities however, both received more this past off-season. Not signing Sanders means losing a receiver who has contributed over 175 catches, more than 2,500 receiving yards, and 15 TDs the last two years.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
Joe Flacco’s previous understudy has had a front row seat to witness the value on betting on yourself in your contract year. If he can throw another 20 TDs and run for four more this year, expect Taylor’s bet to pay off.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
On the opposite end is Markus Wheaton. Many expect him to step up, but I’ve already said I’m not so sure. But if you disagree with me, he’s a contract year player worth grabbing.
Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens
I actually like Mike Wallace more this year, but Aiken is a very popular sleeper option. If you believe, his contract year player status makes him even more attractive.
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