The start of the 2014 NFL year is quickly approaching, which means that free agency and the draft is not far away.
For the die-hard football fan, this can be a very exciting time of year as it brings the excitement of the unexpected.
For NFL front office personnel, however, this uncertain time of year can also be a major headache as it inevitably brings about the potential for contract holdouts.
It seems that every year at least one high-profile player decides to stand up to his team in pursuit of a contract upgrade or a change of scenery. While not every situation is the same, the threat levied by the involved player is usually the same. He will not play until his demands are met.
While trying to predict this year's crop of contract holdouts is far from a sure thing, a look at some veteran situations around the league can allow us to make an educated guess.
Players likely to hold out are typically those entering the final year of their contract, those who are eligible for contract renegotiation following the first three years of a rookie deal or those likely to receive the one-year franchise tag.
Over the next few pages, we will examine some of the players who could threaten to hold out over the coming months.
* All contract information via Rotowolrd.com
DT, Denver Broncos
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton made a huge impact in his first year with the Denver Broncos, strengthening the defensive front and helping the team make a run to the Super Bowl.
According to Brandon Krisztal of Mile High Sports, Knighton believes he has outplayed his contract and will seek a new deal this offseason.
A source close to #Broncos DT Terrance Knighton told me he & his reps feel he's outperformed his contract & seeks a new deal— Brandon Krisztal (@BKDenverSports) February 11, 2014
Knighton is scheduled to make just $1.5 million in 2014, but the Broncos may not be in a rush to meet his financial demands. This is because the team has to address a bevy of free agents that includes running back Knowshon Moreno, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, wideout Eric Decker, cornerback Chris Harris (restricted) and safety Mike Adams.
Knighton may be inclined to threaten a holdout in order to get Denver's attention.
SS, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns face the possibility of losing two Pro Bowl players—center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward—to free agency this season.
However, new general manager Ray Farmer can keep both for another season by negotiating a new contract with one and simply applying the franchise tag to the other. Because all offensive linemen fall under the same franchise tag category, Ward is the more likely to receive a one-year deal (according to NFL.com, the lineman tag was worth $9.82 million last season).
While the franchise tag comes with a lucrative salary, we have seen plenty of players protest it's use in favor of long-term financial security. (New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees threatened to holdout in 2012, Buffalo Bills safety made a similar threat last season when faced with the franchise tag.)
If faced with the franchise tag this offseason, Ward may very well choose to hold out for a long-term deal because any injury could significantly hurt his value on the open market next season. Ward has already missed 10 games due to injury in his four-year career.
TE, New Orleans Saints
Another player who may be inclined to consider a holdout if faced with the franchise tag is New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
"I'm not keen on the franchise tag, that would be really unfortunate." Graham said shortly before the Pro Bowl, via Kevin Patra of NFL.com. Part of the problem is that Graham will likely fight his designation as a tight end when it comes to the tag.
As ESPN's Mike Triplett recently pointed out, Graham could potentially be tagged as a wide receiver because he was lined up as a receiver for 67 percent of his snaps last season. The Saints, of course, could counter that a modern tight end is expected to line up in multiple positions so he should be tagged as a tight end.
How Graham is designated could mean a difference of nearly $5 million. This could be enough of a financially based dilemma to cause Graham to hold out if the Saints to not choose to bypass the situation altogether with a long-term deal.
CB, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson just finished the third year of his rookie deal, which means he is now eligible to renegotiate his contract.
Considering the three-time Pro Bowler is scheduled to make just $2.88 million in 2014, it would not be altogether surprising if negotiation tactics include a holdout.
“I can’t speak on that right now,” Peterson recently said when asked about a holdout, via ProFootballTalk.com. “Me and my agent, we haven’t talked about some of those possibilities."
Peterson's agent is Joel Segal, who helped guide Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson through his holdout in 2011. This is a fact worth noting because Segal only recently became Peterson's agent.
The Cardinals star fired longtime agent Pat Lawlor shortly before the end of the 2013 season.
CB, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is another player eligible to enter contract talks after finishing three years of his rookie deal.
A two-time AP All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl champion, Sherman has quickly become one of the most high-profile pass-defenders in the league. However, the Seahawks appear intent to make safety Earl Thomas and not Sherman their offseason priority, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
This may not sit well with Sherman, who is playing on a four-year deal worth just $2.22 million.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, Sherman has yet to approach with team with a request to renegotiate his contract. It would be a little surprising if the request does not come soon and not entirely surprising if the request comes with the threat of a holdout.