7 Impending Free Agents with Millions on the Line in Super Bowl XLVIII
There isn't a more pressure-packed game in a football player's career than the Super Bowl.
It's not only the culmination of a lifetime's work, but there's also no other game quite like it.
The spotlight, the circus, the distractions—all are magnified tenfold leading up to the Super Bowl.
As if that isn't enough, for a number of players on both teams, Sunday's game is their last before their current contracts run out.
Not only is there one last chance to state their case for a lucrative new deal, but they also get to do it on the biggest stage in sports.
Big games are magnified in the Super Bowl too.
If the players on this list can pull one off Sunday, it will make a ton of difference in their checkbooks come this spring.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos
On one hand, Eric Decker has already made a pretty strong case where his value to the Denver Broncos is concerned.
In each of Peyton Manning's two seasons in Denver, Decker has topped 80 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns.
With that said, though, the argument can be made that Decker's stats are inflated by where he plays, that he's a "luxury" on a loaded Denver offense that the Broncos might no longer be able to afford.
As ESPN's Rich Cimini points out, Decker will (coincidentally) be spending time this week at the New York Jets' facilities, one of the very teams that may be vying for his services in a few months.
Richard Sherman and Demaryius Thomas will likely see a lot of one another Sunday evening, but whereas the Broncos move their wide receivers around a lot Sherman usually sticks on the left side.
That means plenty of showdowns between Decker and Sherman, and an opportunity for Decker to show he's more than capable of filling the top receiver role for an NFL team.
Michael Bennett, DT/DE, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks beefed up their already-strong defense before the 2013 NFL season with the help of more than a few "prove-it" deals.
The Seahawks signed a number of veterans to one-year contracts, among them defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who was coming off a career year in Tampa in 2012.
Bennett started the year slowly thanks to a torn rotator cuff, but by season's end, he had racked up 8.5 sacks while starring at both end and tackle for the Seahawks.
As Brendan Prunty of The Star-Ledger reports, Bennett's brother, Martellus, who plays for the Chicago Bears, has been "recruiting" Michael to come to the Windy City.
Bennett, for his part, is saying all the right things. He "loves" Seattle, and it would be a "dream come true" to play with his brother in the NFL, but he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I don't think about the money because it's not in my account," Bennett said. "You do want long-term deals, but I don't think about it as much as some people think I think about it. I think about winning the game."
Pressuring Manning is a big key to victory for the Seahawks. A sack or two from Bennett on Super Bowl Sunday can only help his chances of getting the long-term deal he seeks.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos
There isn't a player on this list who helped himself more in 2013 than Denver running back Knowshon Moreno.
Heading into this year, Moreno was the poster child for the folly of taking a running back in the first round, a fifth-year bust who had never topped 1,000 yards on the ground in a season.
This year, not only did the 26-year-old get that 1,000 yards on the ground, but Moreno also chipped in 60 catches and nearly another 550 yards through the air.
For the former New Jersey high school star, returning home to play in the Super Bowl is sure to be an emotional affair, but Moreno told Reuters (via the Chicago Tribune) he's trying to keep everything in check:
It will be through the roof. Listening to other guys who have been in this position before playing in the Super Bowl, it's a lot going on. They say you have to hold your emotions down, you're going to be fired up, but there is so much going on that sometimes you've got to calm down. I think that will be my toughest battle, just being able to stay composed until the fires start burning down.
The Broncos drafted Montee Ball last year to serve as Moreno's replacement, but Moreno's breakout season delayed the changing of the guard.
A big game from Moreno in front of the hometown crowd will only make it harder for the Broncos to continue delaying handing Ball the, well, ball.
Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman may be the faces of Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary, but it's lesser-known players like cornerback Walter Thurmond who could be among the biggest stories of Super Bowl XLVIII.
With Brandon Browner injured and/or suspended for much of the year, Thurmond has been pressed into more action in his fourth NFL season. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported back in November that more than a few NFL teams have interest in the 26-year-old.
We play a lot of man coverage, so we know they're going to have a lot of crossing routes. We're preparing for that situation to occur. We know that kind of contact is going to happen because we play so much man, and we'll be ready for it.
If Thurmond and the Seahawks can slow Manning and that Denver offense down, it would certainly add momentum to the bidding for Thurmond's services in free agency.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver Broncos
At least one impending free agent is reportedly ready to call it a career.
If the Broncos win, that is.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, nearing the end of his sixth NFL season, told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport he's considering retirement if Denver wins the Super Bowl.
If Rodgers-Cromartie were to follow through on the pledge, it would mean walking away from a lot of money.
Rodgers-Cromartie recaptured the form that once had him regarded as one of the NFL's top cover men in 2013, bouncing back from a disappointing stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In fact, Rodgers-Cromartie ranked as one of the very best at his position this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), finishing inside the top five in both pass coverage and overall ranking.
In today's NFL, that sort of coverage ability can equate to a fat paycheck, one that will be very hard for Rodgers-Cromartie to pass up.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks
It isn't all that often that the leading receiver for a Super Bowl team enters the week of the game with next to no hype.
Well, meet Golden Tate of the Seahawks.
The return of Percy Harvin has hogged most of the headlines, and it was Doug Baldwin who was the hero of the NFC Championship Game, but it was Tate who paced the team with 64 catches for 898 yards during the regular season.
He doesn't mind the Seattle defense and Denver offense taking center stage, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk:
At the end of the day, in order to win they're going to need offense, defense and special teams. Like I said earlier, it's no secret that the number one offense is going against the number one defense. That's going to draw attention naturally. I'm excited to watch it myself. I can only worry about what I can control. I can control how I practice this week. I can control how I play on Sunday and I'm just going to leave it all on the field.
With Harvin (and his robust contract) in Seattle, there may not be much left over to pay Tate, which leaves the four-year veteran headed into a very public job interview Sunday evening.
Shaun Phillips, DE/OLB, Denver Broncos
With Elvis Dumervil off to Baltimore and Von Miller beginning the year on suspension, the Denver Broncos were in dire need of pass-rush help entering 2013.
Enter Shaun Phillips, who may well be the team's defensive MVP.
The 32-year-old, who joined the Broncos late in free agency last year, paced the team with 10 sacks, only the third time in Phillips' 10 seasons he's hit double digits.
Phillips continued to anchor the front seven even after Miller was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Teammate Robert Ayers credits Phillips as a steadying force on the defense all season long, according to Connor Orr of The Star-Ledger:
Oh man, a tremendous amount of leadership. I'm always asking him questions, learning from him. The things he sees that I've never seen before, he gives me that advice. He helped me to understand situational football as far as what teams are trying to do to me. He's a true student of the game. He's always giving me a lot of knowledge.
With that said, Phillips may be the least likely player on this list to wind up playing elsewhere in 2014.
Given Phillips' age, it's unlikely that many teams will pony up long-term deals, and if Phillips is playing on a short-term contract, it might as well be for a winner in Denver.