There’s a popular theory that players entering the last year of their contracts tend to perform at a higher level than they do in non-contract years. The obvious reason for this is that players are looking to cash in on their next deal and are determined to take their game to a higher level in an effort to maximize their monetary value.
While many people have tried to debunk this notion, I’ll admit I’m one of the believers.
It isn’t that I believe players entering the final year of their contracts will play better; rather, I feel they will be more motivated, focused, and in better shape in the hopes of performing at the highest possible level.
Think about it. In a league where Bentleys, $30,000 watches, and "makin’ it rain" are the norm, wouldn’t you expect a player looking to land a new deal to show up focused and ready to play?
Remember, the average length of an NFL player’s career is 3.5 seasons, according to NFLPlayers.com. With such a small window of opportunity to capitalize on the big paydays that several players see each year, it just doesn’t make sense to show up unprepared entering such an important season.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that players entering the final year of their contracts will always rack up impressive statistics.
With that as a backdrop, here are five popular fantasy players who are entering the final year of their contracts in 2009. I will continue to break down more of these players as we get closer to the start of the season.
Some of them we like, some we don’t. For a more detailed analysis of each of these players, be sure to check out the 2009 NFP Draft Guide.
Braylon Edwards, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
Contract Status: Entering the final season of a five-year rookie deal he signed in 2005. Edwards received a $6.5 million signing bonus and is making an average of $5.6 million per year.
2008 Recap: 55 receptions for 873 yards and three touchdowns. Edwards’ 2008 numbers took a hit from his stellar production in 2007, although he still averaged an impressive 15.9 yards per reception last season.
What to expect in 2009: A bounce-back season. Edwards is basically the only viable receiving option on the Browns’ roster at the moment. Josh Cribbs is unhappy with his contract, and rookies Brian Robiskie (Ohio State) and Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia) have a lot of work to do before they become reliable No. 2 receivers.
We’ve got Edwards ranked in the top 20 for fantasy receivers heading into 2009, but we’d feel much better if Derek Anderson wins the starting job in Cleveland. There have been some reports that Edwards wants out of Cleveland, and a big season in 2009 will certainly land him a nice payday on the free-agent market in February.
As a bonus, look for him to rack up some garbage-time stats in 2009. His drop in production last year could make him a nice value pick in your fantasy draft this summer.
Willie Parker, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
Contract Status: Renegotiated his deal in 2006. Parker received a $3.8 million signing bonus and is averaging $4.4 million per year.
2008 Recap: Posted his worst statistical season since 2004, appearing in just 11 games and averaging a paltry 3.8 yards per carry (career low). While he cracked 100 yards rushing in four games, Parker also failed to top 50 yards in five contests.
What to expect in 2009: Respectable numbers at best. Parker turns 29 years old in November and has seen his yards per carry average decrease every season since his rookie year. In addition, the Steelers failed to upgrade their offensive line this offseason.
Keep in mind, this is a unit that gave up 49 sacks (fourth in NFL) and anchored a running game that finished 2008 ranked 23rd while averaging a terrible 3.7 yards per carry (29th).
Parker is likely to lose some touches to both Mewelde Moore and second-year rusher Rashard Mendenhall. Consider him a flex option heading into the fantasy season.
Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
Contract Status: One of the most underpaid players in the league, Marshall is entering the final season of a four-year rookie deal that included a signing bonus of $420,000 and an average per-year value of $507,500.
However, he’s set to make a base salary of $2.2 million this season due to an escalator clause in his contract. Remember, he was a fourth-round pick in 2006.
2008 Recap: It was another big year for one of the best wide receivers in the game today. Marshall topped 100 receptions for a second consecutive season (104) while racking up 1,265 yards and six touchdowns. Keep in mind, he played in only 15 games as a result of a suspension by the Broncos in Week One.
What to expect in 2009: Another big year.
Marshall has had a rough offseason: He underwent hip surgery, lost his Pro Bowl quarterback (Jay Cutler), and has been fighting with Broncos brass over a new contract. But fear not, fantasy owners, because B-Marsh is going to get you what you need in 2009.
He’s already said he plans on reporting to training camp on time, and rookie head coach Josh McDaniels has brought his pass-happy New England offense to Mile High. New quarterback Kyle Orton might be a downgrade, but don’t forget what McDaniels did with then-unknown QB Matt Cassel in Beantown last year.
Throw in some garbage-time statistics and the desire to land that fat new contract and you’ve got a recipe for success. We’ve got him in our top-five.
Owen Daniels, Tight End, Houston Texans
Contract Status: Recently signed his restricted free-agent tender, which will pay him $2.792 million for the 2009 season.
2008 Recap: He’s coming off the best statistical season of his three-year career. Daniels posted career highs in receptions (70), receiving yards (862) and yards per reception (12.3). He also caught two touchdown passes on his way to a top-six fantasy finish.
What to expect in 2009: Daniels is in a very interesting situation heading into 2009. The Texans gave backup tight end Joel Dreessen a new three-year deal in March and drafted pass-catching tight end James Casey in the fifth round (Rice), calling into question their plans for Daniels moving forward.
In any event, Daniels wants to be paid like a top-tier tight end, so expect him to come out and make some plays this season. With big-play receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter stretching the field and dual-threat running back Steve Slaton causing havoc coming out of the backfield, Daniels will once again be free to exploit single coverage over the middle.
As long as quarterback Matt Schaub stays healthy, Daniels should have another productive fantasy season.
Pierre Thomas, Running Back, New Orleans Saints
Contract Status: Finishing up a three-year rookie deal he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He received a $5,000 signing bonus and is averaging $373,333 per year. Time for a raise, don’t you think?
2008 Recap: Despite playing second fiddle to Reggie Bush for most of the year, Thomas produced a top-25 fantasy season as he rushed for 625 yards and nine touchdowns while catching 31 passes for 284 yards and another three TDs. Oh yeah, he also averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry.
What to expect in 2009: If it hasn’t happened to you already, it will. Expect to hear Thomas’ name a lot heading into your fantasy draft this season. While Bush is great at catching the ball out of the backfield, his main weakness is that he can’t pound the rock between the tackles. Enter Thomas.
The Saints need to be able to convert short-yardage situations without throwing the football, and Thomas is going to be their guy. In addition, look for him to see an expanded role in the offense this year.
He’s one of the sexier names in the fantasy football world this summer, but don’t get caught overpaying. Bush is still going to see plenty of touches.