There are some guys in the National Football League that have the good life. They come to work every day, focus on their craft and spend tons of time getting better, but in general, have only one target to laser-focus on: winning.
While Brady and Peterson have an enormous amount of room to maneuver, there are players who are walking a fine line between roster spot and the unemployment line, and that’s not a fun situation to be in.
These players who are in danger of losing their job or their spot at the top of the depth chart must constantly look over their shoulders and analyze every move made during both practice and a game. Too many slip-ups and it could be history.
Here’s a look at 10 NFL starters who are facing do-or-die seasons in 2013.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason has nothing to worry about in the talent department. When he’s on the field and 100 percent healthy, there are few in the NFL that can compare.
The issue with Beason is staying on the field.
After being taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Panthers, Beason erupted on the scene with four fantastic seasons. From 2007 to 2010, he played in all 16 games every season and averaged just over 135 tackles.
Then the injury bug set in.
In 2011, during Carolina’s Week 1 game in Arizona against the Cardinals, Beason tore his left Achilles tendon and missed the remainder of the season on injured reserve.
In 2012, after just four games, he was placed on injured reserve again with knee and shoulder issues.
The three-time Pro Bowler has played a grand total of five games over the last two seasons. With his current contract calling for him to make $41 million over the next four seasons, if he happens to spend the majority of 2013 on injured reserve, Carolina may have to make a difficult financial decision.
When healthy, Beason is a top-notch linebacker for the Panthers—"when healthy" being the operative and uncertain words.
Mark Sanchez is in trouble.
Don’t drop your jaw—news has definitely not been broken that Sanchez may no longer cut it under center for the New York Jets. Unlike 2012, when the Jets looked down the bench at backup quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy, there’s now a new weapon or two in New York’s arsenal.
The Jets brought in former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard via free agency and drafted West Virginia standout Geno Smith in the draft.
If Sanchez can’t improve on his 54.3 percent completion rate, his lopsided interception-to-touchdown ratio (18:13) or his plummeting passing yards per game average (Sanchez, for the first time since his rookie season, failed to throw for more than 200 yards per game), he’s going to have stiff competition from Garrard and Smith.
There’s not even a guarantee that Sanchez makes it out of training camp as the starting QB. But if he does, his leash and margin of error will definitely be a short one.
The Carolina Panthers are in a bit of a financial pinch.
When Marty Hurney was running the show as Carolina’s general manager, he thought it wise to tie up $89.211 million on three running backs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
According to Spotrac, Williams has $27.6 million remaining over the next three years on his contract. Stewart’s contract at $35.665 million over the next five seasons isn’t much better, but his cap hit of $3.015 in 2013 is easier to stomach.
Williams is going to cost the Panthers $8.2 million in 2013. If the upcoming year is comparable to 2012, he won’t produce enough on the field to make that paycheck worthwhile.
In 2012, Williams ran for 737 yards and scored five touchdowns. He added 187 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air as well. At 2013 salary numbers, he’d be paid $8,874 per yard gained or $1.17 million per touchdown, however you want to look at it.
Those numbers just don’t jive.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman’s job is on the line in 2013, and it probably shouldn’t be.
Freeman not only set career marks with 4,065 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes in 2012, he broke Brad Johnson’s single-season franchise record in both categories—records that had been in pace for almost a decade. But Freeman’s job isn’t safe.
Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik told 620 WDAE in Tampa that he wasn’t “in a rush to push” any kind of contract extension through for Freeman, who will enter training camp with no contract in place after the 2013 season. If nothing is done and Freeman shines this season, he could walk as a free agent at the end of the year.
Instead of trying to make Freeman feel safe in his job, head coach Greg Schiano decided to push him by announcing after the 2012 season that he planned to bring in competition at quarterback (Tampa Bay Times).
The Buccaneers did just that when they drafted North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of April’s NFL draft. Glennon will definitely push Freeman, who must show the Buccaneers that the 2010 season (Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions that season) or Weeks 6 through 11 in 2012 (Freeman tossed 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions) are the real depictions of what he could do.
Dallas Cowboys running DeMarco Murray carried the ball 42 times over the final three games of the season and averaged 4.69 yards per carry, which was a great way for the second-year player to end the season because his first two years haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows.
Said Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown to the Dallas Morning News in February:
We all know that the injury bug has bit him a little bit. We have to keep him healthy, and he and I will work together to just refine some of his things and get him better. Obviously he is a good, talented runner. We just want to shine up some of his things and get him to be an elite runner.
Brown’s also apparently began thinking about what kind of running back would be a good complement to Murray: “maybe more of a jitterbug type guy.”
If Murray can’t stay on the field, his new complement may take his job.
Because that was the way of the NFL financial world before the most recent collective bargaining agreement was negotiated, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford got absolutely paid as the first overall choice in the 2010 NFL draft.
Bradford’s cap hit for the 2013 season is high, but not extremely alarming at $12.595 million. However, in 2014, that figure spikes to $17.61 million.
If Bradford doesn’t produce elite-level numbers in 2013, is there any way the Rams can pay him that kind of money?
Sure, Bradford threw for 3,702 yards last year and 21 touchdowns, but his quarterback rating of 82.6 and touchdowns ranked him at No. 18. His passing yards total was good for No. 15 among NFL quarterbacks. Maybe Bradford’s output wasn’t high enough after all compared to his salary.
At $17.61 million in 2014, Bradford will be the eighth-highest paid quarterback in the league (Spotrac). If he doesn’t improve in 2013 and play like a top 10 quarterback, something’s going to have to be done in St. Louis.
New Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace turned 235 catches and 32 touchdown receptions during the first four years of his NFL career into a dandy pay day with a new team headed into the 2013 season.
The Dolphins signed Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract in March, but Wallace may only have one year to prove his worth in Miami.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, no receiver since 2009 (Wallace’s rookie season) has more 30-yard touchdown receptions than Wallace’s 19. It’s his ability to take the top off a defense that allowed Miami to open its pocketbook.
Since his rookie season in 2009, no receiver has more 30-yard TD receptions than Mike Wallace (19)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 12, 2013
But if Wallace can’t put up the same kinds of numbers in Miami than he did in Pittsburgh, he’ll quickly become a financial burden.
In 2014, Wallace’s cap hit jumps to $17.2 million. That’s an expensive figure for a guy who ranked No. 34 in receiving yards and receptions last season.
When the New Orleans Saints announced that they would be switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme, the player most negatively affected by the announcement was defensive end Will Smith.
Sean Payton: “Philosophically we are changing our defense to a 3-4 alignment” #Saints— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 24, 2013
Smith isn’t going to have to change positions, but his role of always attacking the quarterback will be altered in the 3-4 scheme where he’ll now be asked to occupy blockers and maintain gap integrity so linebackers can attack the passer.
Smith restructured his contract (taking a massive pay cut) in March so he could stay with the Saints (Times-Picayune). But his contract, includes a final year of $13.94 million in 2014 that’s a club option.
If Smith can’t find a way to thrive in the Saints new defense, he’s going to have to move on next offseason. The 2013 season is huge for the defensive end.
Brandon Weeden is the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns heading into the 2013 season, but his role is definitely not a long-term deal if the 29-year-old doesn’t show massive improvement.
As a rookie last season, Weeden threw for 3,385 yards and tossed 14 touchdown passes. He also threw 17 interceptions and had a sub-60 percent completion rate.
Sources told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that backup quarterback Jason Campbell “will be given a legitimate shot to beat out Brandon Weeden for the starting job.” What that really means is Weeden had better make training camp count this year and he’s going to have to look over his shoulder all season.
The Browns have a new regime in place with CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi. They weren’t the ones who drafted Weeden, and they won’t be emotionally attached to him if he’s not producing.
Former Missouri quarterback and first-round pick Blaine Gabbert has thrown for 3,876 yards and 21 touchdowns since being taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 10 selection overall.
Unfortunately for Gabbert and the Jaguars, he was a first-round pick in 2011, meaning those numbers above tell a story for two seasons of work, not just one. The Jacksonville offense was a train wreck in 2012, putting up only 4,788 total yards (only three teams were worse).
Gabbert hasn’t had a whole lot of talent to work with in his short tenure with the team. But that excuse (my word, not Gabbert’s) won’t carry much more weight.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has a new general manager in David Caldwell and, of course, seeks to put people in seats at EverBank Field. If Gabbert isn’t the guy to energize the franchise and fanbase, Khan’s going to instruct his front-office staff to go find someone who can.