It is widely known that athletes in every sport often have breakout seasons in the final year of a contract. Some refer to the occurrence as the "contract year phenomenon." The fact a player's production in that single season will dictate the amount of money he or she will receive for the next three to six years tends to be an effective motivator.
Just take a look at former Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynsworth's career stats. Through his first five seasons he recorded a total of 9.5 sacks. In Haynsworth's two contract years (he was franchised in 2008), he tallied a total of 14.5 sacks. If it wasn't for injuries, he may have won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice.
Two Titans that are scheduled to be in their own contract years this season are center Leroy Harris and defensive end Jacob Ford.
Leroy Harris could very well be heading into the 2010 campaign as a starter for the first time in his career. Kevin Mawae who started at center for the Titans the last four seasons will reportedly test free agency. Tennessee will most likely lowball the eight-time pro-bowler in Mawae, and hand the starting job to Harris who they have been breeding as Mawae's predecessor for the last three years.
If Harris is successful in replacing Mawae and the league's best offensive line doesn't skip a beat, Harris should receive a large contract offer from the Titans next offseason.
Fellow Titan offensive lineman Eugene Amano just signed a five year, 26.25 million dollar deal last week. Leroy Harris is two years younger than Amano which might lead the Titans to offer Harris even more money to lock him up.
If Leroy Harris fails to fill the hole left by Kevin Mawae, he will be forced to sign somewhere for backup money.
On the other side of the ball, Jacob Ford is in a very similar situation. Ford will have the opportunity to compete for the starting defensive end spot that Kyle Vandenbosch held in Tennessee for the past five seasons.
Jacob Ford and returning starter William Hayes are the only two defensive ends on the current roster. The Titans obviously must add at least two more ends by next season.
The big question affecting Ford is; will the Titans expect those additions to start right away or begin as rotational players? Ford will be glued to his television screen on draft day praying that the Titans don't draft a defensive end in the first round.
If the Titans do add a projected starter at defensive end, it is not the end of the world for Ford. In the past two years, Jacob Ford has recorded a very solid 12.5 sacks as a situational pass-rusher. Even if Ford doesn't earn a starting job this season, continued success as a sack artist should earn him a quite a large contract in 2011.