Players with the Most at Stake in Super Bowl XLVIII
Every single individual involved with either organization playing in Super Bowl XLVIII has a lot at stake.
The winner will take with them a life-long honor that only a select few will ever experience. Some of the greatest players of all time have never even had the chance to participate in the big dance.
This one game might not make or break a player's legacy, but winning the world championship certainly only bolsters the victors' career resumes. Those who come up short in the game's biggest moments, on the other hand, could face both short- and long-term ramifications.
Here's a breakdown of the players with the most at stake on Super Bowl Sunday.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Will one game, Super Bowl or not, actually make or break the career of someone as accomplished as Peyton? Absolutely not.
Nonetheless, as Manning draws consideration as the greatest quarterback in league history, every element to his game becomes significantly more imperative. As of now, Peyton is not universally considered the greatest quarterback of all time. In fact, he doesn’t even hold the honor of being hands-down the greatest quarterback of this generation. Tom Brady makes a fine argument in that regard.
When looking at the entire package of what defines greatness, however, Super Bowls are where it's at. Think about it: What is the point of all this talent and all these games anyway? Winning the granddaddy of 'em all.
As long as Peyton has only one Super Bowl victory to his name, he will likely be considered a player who could always do great things but hardly ever in the greatest of moments.
Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Michael Bennett’s 8.5 sacks in 2013 certainly fell in line with Seattle’s expectations when they signed him to a one-year contract worth $4.8 million after he rendered similar statistics a year earlier with Tampa Bay.
His one-year contract is interesting for a player in the prime of his career. Most free agents at the pinnacle of their abilities opt for security in a long-term contract—while at the same time, teams generally prefer having a talent of his caliber locked away for at least a few years.
Bennett becomes a free agent after the Super Bowl, and although he has been outstanding all year, a big game in a winning performance could mean a lot of extra dollars in his pocket for 2014 and beyond. This game could very well be worth millions for the 28-year-old defensive end.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver Broncos
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is currently in the midst of a full-blown resurgence with the Broncos. At just 27 years of age, DRC has seen his career rise, fall and rise again. Denver is his third NFL destination since joining the league in 2008.
When he signed a big free-agent contract in 2011 to join the Philadelphia Eagles, many viewed that roster as the NFL equivalent of the “Dream Team” (that’s what former Eagles quarterback Vince Young called them, anyway).
DRC will become a free agent after the Super Bowl and has even mentioned the possibility of retirement, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. He backed down from any retirement talk during Super Bowl Media Day, per NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, presumably after his agent reminded him of how much money he might cost himself by opening his mouth.
Now, perhaps more than ever, DRC will need to put on a good show in the Big Apple if he hopes to recoup any of that money. After all, what team would want to sign him to a long-term deal if he may retire in a year or two?
A stellar performance here would go a long way for the corner, who has already put together a season worthy of a considerable amount of attention come free agency.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Golden Tate is not only entering the biggest game of his brief football career, but also the final game of his rookie contract. His value to the Seahawks has been well established as their best playmaking receiver, outside of Percy Harvin.
Tate’s elusiveness and ability to break tackles is huge for an offense that has struggled at times over the last few years. He had a team-high 64 catches for 898 yards as a receiver, while continuing to demonstrate his skills as a productive punt returner. His 11.5 yards-per-return average ranked 12th in the NFL, per Pro-Football-Reference.
At Super Bowl Media Day, Tate offered some insight into how he was handling the looming free-agency process, via Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times:
Right now really my future doesn’t matter. Winning a Super Bowl is the only thing that matters to me because this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal. Obviously I plan to come back. … I mean there’s been guys that played 20 years that haven’t even gone to the playoffs. I feel like it would be selfish for me to be thinking about my future and that would be taking away from this team.
Though he may not be thinking about free agency with a classic Super Bowl matchup pending, his performance in this game will carry a lot of weight with any potential offseason suitors.
Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos
While Sunday will mark Champ Bailey's first Super Bowl appearance, he should already be considered a champion of attrition.
This 12-time Pro Bowler has annoyed receivers with uncanny athletic ability and impeccable concentration for over 15 years, yet something quite significant continues to elude his trophy case. A Super Bowl ring could indeed be the clincher for Champ Bailey’s claim to Canton, Ohio. Consider this the final chapter in the 35-year-old's fantastic career.
It’s hard to imagine Denver retaining Bailey after this season. His game fell off considerably this year as he began exhibiting all the signs of a man nearing his end.
With Champ's career winding down, this may be his last, best shot to secure a Super Bowl ring. Considering the injuries in the Broncos secondary, the team needs him to have a huge performance on the biggest stage in American sports.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
If the Seahawks hope to compete against the most prolific offense in NFL history, they’ll need a big day from Marshawn Lynch.
The man known lovingly as Beast Mode is the total embodiment of what the Seahawks strive to be as a football team. His effort and relentless style of running fuels the entire team as they feed off of his energy.
Through thick and thin, this hard-nosed running back has only one gear—a gear that delivers punishment to any defender who attempts to get in his way.
In seven years as an NFL running back, Marshawn Lynch has amassed over 7,000 yards rushing while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Yet with Lynch, his unique combination of power and elusiveness defines him, not his stats.
What better stage than the Super Bowl for this reclusive enigma to take command of the spotlight and shine? After all, it’s nice to see a player who does his talking with his body rather than his mouth.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos
Many believe the New England Patriots would have won another Super Bowl had Wes Welker not choked in the final drive of Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. Welker dropped a wide-open pass that would have kept New England's drive alive in the final minutes of the game. The Pats eventually lost, 21-17, and Welker was ridiculed endlessly in the weeks that followed, even by Brady’s own wife.
As you can imagine, a big game by Welker is definitely in order as he looks to redeem himself from past blunders.
If the Seahawks focus their attention on Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas, that leaves Welker with one-on-one matchups all night long. Welker is likely to be considered the weapon least likely to burn Seattle for deep plays, which means it can afford to give him less attention.
The diminutive receiver must take advantage of those opportunities and give the Broncos an edge over the most feared secondary in the NFL. If he can do this, he might be able to hoist the ever-elusive Lombardi Trophy.
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
When you talk as much as Richard Sherman does, you have to walk the walk. The boisterous cornerback proclaims to be the best cornerback alive. Come Sunday, he will be given ample opportunities to prove how good he really is.
Peyton Manning is a smart man in terms of recognizing favorable matchups. It’s feasible to believe that Manning will simply avoid Sherman all game long, which, by default, would perpetuate Sherman’s perceived greatness.
However, if Demaryius Thomas is matched up with Sherman, Peyton may like his odds, considering Thomas is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. His combination of size, strength and speed are enough of a challenge to keep Sherman on his toes each and every play.
If Sherman happens to get burnt for a big play or two by Thomas, the backlash that would ensue may never fully dissipate for the arrogant corner. His infamous rant following the NFC Championship Game inspired many casual NFL fans to root against him in this year's Super Bowl.
Once you punch a bully in the mouth, he typically loses his power and quickly resides into the shadows. Will this ultimately be the fate of the biggest bully in the Seahawks secondary in Super Bowl XLVIII?
The direction of Sherman’s career and his growing reputation both hinge upon having a strong performance this Sunday.
Note: All contract information and knowledge of pending free agents came courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for B/R.
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