The game featured 10 free agents, but only a few really helped themselves in terms of building a case for a strong new contract. It’s not like the other guys aren’t talented players—I mean, it’s the Pro Bowl—but there were only a few who put on great performances.
New Orleans Saints hybrid tight end/receiver Jimmy Graham had a great game that couldn’t have come at a better time. The Saints have not been giving up the type of contract that Graham wants, although their minds may have changed since this time yesterday.
Graham, along with a handful of others, made a solid case for a new contract in this game.
Jimmy Graham, TE
New Orleans’ resident big man was already due for a big payout with his next contract, but further solidified his worth with a notable performance in this year’s Pro Bowl. Jimmy Graham reeled in five catches for 51 yards and scored the first touchdown of the game for Jerry Rice’s squad.
Graham and the Saints have been at a standstill contractually, but his performance in this game only bolstered his case. New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis has said that Graham will receive the franchise tag if the two sides cannot reach a deal.
Graham has expressed his disinterest in being franchised, considering the tight end tag is only worth about $6 million.
“That would be really unfortunate, but that's really all I have to say about that. That's real unfortunate. If that happens, it doesn't really matter what I prefer,” Graham said, according to Sports Illustrated (via NFL.com). His unhappiness is understandable, as he lined up as a wide receiver more often than not and did extremely well; his numbers even rival some of the league’s top receivers.
It’s hard to argue that there are many guys in the league who are more effective than Graham, and he’s right to want the money he is deserved. Although the Pro Bowl doesn’t mean much, Graham may have just used it to twist the arm of New Orleans’ front office.
Jordan Gross, OT
The Carolina Panthers’ blindside protector had a solid game on Sunday, and he helped to open up a big-time run game for Team Rice. Their offense featured eight different ball-carriers who combined for 114 yards on 20 carries—an average of 5.7 yards per attempt.
Gross did a great job against guys like Greg Hardy and Mario Williams, and he held down the left side late in the game. Gross helped ward off Williams’ bull rush late in the fourth quarter, which allowed Alex Smith to find DeMarco Murray for the game-winning touchdown.
The 33-year-old has mentioned that he will either re-sign with the Panthers or retire, although Riverboat Ron may have something to say about that. Gross was an integral part of the Panthers’ potent running game and would be a huge loss should he retire.
After putting on another solid performance in the Pro Bowl, Gross will likely garner a favorable contract from Carolina, keeping him out of retirement.
Jason Hatcher, DE
Jason Hatcher had a breakout year in 2013, and capped it off with a strong Pro Bowl. He tallied two tackles and a sack in the All-Star contest, and put pressure on Team Sanders’ quarterbacks consistently.
He was initially added to the Pro Bowl’s pool of players as a replacement to Haloti Ngata, but he arguably played just as well as the Baltimore Raven would have.
Hatcher will be seeking big money in free agency, whether it be with the Dallas Cowboys or another team.
At 31 years of age, he was one of the most effective 3-techniques in 2013 and really found his way as a pass-rush specialist. Considering the Cowboys will be strapped in terms of cap space, that will not be appealing to a man in a position such as Hatcher’s.
He will more than likely be brought in by a team with some money to blow and, after proving he can hang with the best in this year’s Pro Bowl, Hatcher could become of one of the league’s highest-paid defensive ends.