Each and every season, we see several NFL stars continue to their play of dominance despite being vastly overpaid.
Out of every single major professional sports league, the National Football League is the hardest to come by when it comes to earning contract extensions with a solid chunk of guaranteed money.
Granted, these players want to contribute to their team's goals as greatly as they can, but they're definitely still thinking about how they could earn a contract extension, which isn't all that of a bad thing considering that should raise their level of play.
In that spirit, let's take a look at my prediction for NFL stars that will earn contract extensions during the 2012 season.
This is the year for Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Under first-year head coach Greg Schiano, I believe that Freeman and the Bucs can make a lot of noise in the NFC South this year, considering the additions of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, running back Doug Martin and offensive guard Carl Nicks.
Freeman had an incredible 2010 season when he posted a 95.9 quarterback rating while tossing 25 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions—but he took several steps back this past season, as he was picked off 22 times and posted just a 74.6 quarterback rating.
With Tampa Bay significantly improving this offseason, I see the 24-year-old Freeman upping his game and earning himself a brand-new contract.
Many of us feel that Victor Cruz is the most underpaid player in the NFL, which is understandable, as Cruz is earning just $540,000 in 2012 with the New York Giants.
Cruz had a phenomenal 2011 season with the Giants, as his 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns proved to be instrumental in New York's Super Bowl run.
If Cruz continues to put up those kind of numbers, then there's no doubt in my mind that New York will hand over a hefty contract extension for the Massachusetts product.
I'm a huge believer of Shonn Greene, and now that he's the undisputed lead running back for the New York Jets, I see him producing at a very high level in Tony Sparano's ground-and-pound offensive attack.
Entering 2012, the fourth-year running back is averaging a career 4.3 yards per carry while surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the first time of his career in 2011.
As long as Greene continues to improve, then he should find himself signing a contract extension at some point during the new year's offseason.
With the addition of Vincent Jackson, some might feel that Mike Williams' production will go down, but I actually feel that it's going to improve in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Williams has reeled in 65 passes in each of his first two seasons in the NFL while reeling in 14 career touchdown receptions and averaging 13.3 yards per-reception.
As of right now, Williams is earning just $490,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013. I could definitely see Williams and the Bucs taking part in contract discussions following the end of the season.
All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd is extremely underrated and is vastly underpaid.
Byrd is entering the final year of his contract, as he's set to earn $615,000 in 2012.
This past season for the Buffalo Bills, Byrd had a career year, as he recorded 98 tackles while picking off three passes and scoring one defensive touchdown.
As long as Byrd continues his stellar production, then I actually believe that the Bills will look to extend his contract during the regular season before he's even able to hit the open market in 2013.
Pat Angerer is an absolute monster of a linebacker.
The 25-year-old has a career year in 2011 with the Indianapolis Colts, as he racked up 148 tackles in just his second season in the NFL.
Angerer is currently set to earn $490,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013, which we can all agree is a massive underpayment. As long as Angerer continues his production, then he should earn a contract extensions from the Colts.
With the New England Patriots handing out a contract extension to Rob Gronkowski worth $55.23 million over eight years, I would assume that New England's other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, is next in line.
Hernandez had an unbelievable 2011 season for the Patriots, as he recorded 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hernandez has just two more years left on his rookie deal, and I would strongly advise the Patriots to look to extend him, as his asking price is only going to get higher and higher.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is a maniac on the football field. All in all, he is just a tackling machine.
Lee finished with a massive 104 tackles in 2011 for the Cowboys, as he also recorded an impressive four interceptions.
Lee is one of the most athletic linebackers in the game today, and I would assume that Dallas could love to lock up this 25-year-old for many years to come.
There's no doubt in my mind that the New Orleans Saints will be handing out a brand-new massive contract to tight end Jimmy Graham next offseason.
Graham is the real deal and is considered one of the best, if not the best, tight ends in the NFL entering 2012.
The 25-year-old recorded 99 receptions for 1,310 yards in 2011 for the Saints while he scored 11 touchdowns and averaged an incredible 81.9 yards per-game.
Graham is going to be a very rich man in the upcoming months.
When you think of the San Francisco 49ers, you probably think of Patrick Willis, but don't forget his partner in crime, NaVorro Bowman.
Bowman and Willis are without a doubt the NFL's most dominant linebacker corps that we have seen in recent memory.
Bowman, who's just 24 years old, recorded a career-high 143 tackles in 2011 in just his second season in the league.
Bowman's stats are only going to get better, and I would assume that the 49ers would love to lock this guy up for many years to come.
There's no question that DeMarco Murray is the Dallas Cowboys' new No. 1 running back—but there is question if he can repeat his stellar 2011 season.
If Murray can improve on his 897 yards in just 13 games from 2011, then there's no doubt in my mind that Dallas will extend the 24-year-old.
By watching Murray play, I can tell that this guy is something special and could be one of the next elite running backs that the NFL has to offer.
He might be in just his second season in the NFL, but I have no doubt that Cam Newton is the real deal.
He is the next elite quarterback in the National Football League—he's just that special.
During Newton's rookie season in 2011, he posted an 84.5 quarterback rating while scoring a combined 35 touchdowns as well as throwing an NFL rookie record 4,051 yards.
If Newton can improve his stats, which I certainly believe he will, then the Panthers will definitely lock Newton up for many, many years to come and make him a very rich man.
Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew continues to get better and better each season.
This past season, Pettigrew played in 16 games while reeling in 83 receptions for 777 yards and scoring five touchdowns. He might have been overshadowed by the stellar play from tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham.
Pettigrew is just 27 years old and should be entering his prime with just two years left on his current deal. I can definitely see Detroit extending him following the 2012 season.
Brandon Spikes is one of the most dominant and best playmakers when it comes to inside linebacker, but his only issue is that he's only played 20 out of a possible 32 games during his first two seasons in the NFL.
Either way, when Spikes is healthy for the New England Patriots, he competes at a very high level and is able to make a huge difference in each and every game.
If Spikes can play in all 16 games and rack up 100 tackles, then I can definitely see Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots handing him a brand new contract.
With Sean Weatherspoon set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, he's set to earn less than $1.5 million in each of those upcoming seasons despite racking up a massive 115 tackles in 2011 for the Atlanta Falcons.
Weatherspoon is just 24 years old and should only be getting better as he still has room for improvement, which is rather scary considering how he was so productive this past season.
As long as Weatherspoon continues his production or even increases it, then I'm sure Atlanta will look to extend his contract following this upcoming season.
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Be sure to check out Tony Santorsa's blog: PatriotsPlus.