NFL players know that every year could be their last, so all of them live with the pressure of performing to keep their jobs.
However, players entering the walk-year of their contracts have special incentive to put up huge numbers.
Here are the key AFC South players entering the final year of their current contracts in 2012. Remember that these players may never see the open market if their teams use the franchise tag on them.
This one has been discussed at length. Schaub's injury history and stellar play have put the team in an awkward position. On one hand, when he's healthy, Schaub is a top-shelf player. On the other hand, his age and injuries make him a risk.
With the departure of Eric Winston, it's all the more important for the Texans to keep Brown. He's now the anchor on an offensive line full of question marks.
A young pass-rusher coming off an 11.5-sack season? The Texans had better lock him up for a long time. He's a prime candidate for the franchise tag. Barwin would rightfully garner a $50 million deal on the open market.
The stat guys aren't as high on Quinn as Houston fans seem to be. His play this year will go a long way to determining if the Texans can afford to bring him back.
The only issue with Collie is his health. If the Colts worry that his concussions will cut his career short, they may choose to let him walk. They don't exactly have anyone ready to replace him, however. This season will go a long way to making Collie a rich man if he can excel.
Powers is a talented player at a position of need, but he can't stay healthy. If he plays 16 games, look for Indy to re-up him for big money.
McAfee is intensely popular and productive. Look for the Colts to franchise him if they can't work out a long-term deal.
When you are entering your contract year, don't get stabbed in the eye in a nightclub. Just a piece of advice from me to you.
Knighton is an on-the-fence kind of player. The Jaguars need more from him on the field if he hopes to stay in Jacksonville.
He's blessed his injuries weren't worse. If he can turn his near-tragedy into fuel for his betterment as a player, he could bring good money on the open market.
Even a decent corner can score big money if allowed to walk. Cox is the Jaguars' best corner right now, and a big season from him will make him a hot commodity and a potential target for the franchise or transition tag.
Like Powers in Indianapolis, he needs to stay healthy to cash in.
Cook could be a valuable commodity in free agency, and the Titans haven't started talking money with him yet (per 247Sports.com).
I look for him to have a huge season and get tagged next winter.
The Titans are smartly talking to him about a long-term deal, so don't expect him to go anywhere.
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