Predicting Which NFL Players Will Earn Big Paydays Out of Prove-It Deals in 2019

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 6, 2019

Predicting Which NFL Players Will Earn Big Paydays Out of Prove-It Deals in 2019

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    When NFL players show promise but have yet to experience sustained success or remain healthy, they often sign one-year "prove-it" deals. Such players typically have to prove they can put together one more strong, healthy season before they earn a lucrative long-term NFL contract. 

    In some cases, players opt to sign prove-it deals and bet on themselves to attempt to land significantly larger contracts moving forward. In other cases, a prove-it contract is a player's only option.

    The following seven NFL players might be in line to benefit from strong prove-it campaigns after signing one-year contracts this offseason. 


Indianapolis Colts WR Devin Funchess

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    The background: Devin Funchess is coming off a decent but inconsistent four-year stretch with the Carolina Panthers, who selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft. The 25-year-old is one year removed from an 840-yard, eight-touchdown campaign, but his output declined in 2018 (549 yards, four touchdowns). 

    The prove-it contract: One year, $10 million with the Indianapolis Colts 

    What he has to prove: Funchess has caught only 51.8 percent of the passes thrown his way over his four-year career, which is low even for a deep threat. That rate was close to 57 percent in his breakout 2017 season, but his production dipped in 2018. Was that because Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had an injured throwing shoulder? 

    What he should prove: That the more consistent, reliable and healthy Andrew Luck can help him rebound from his disappointing 2018 campaign. He'll be better supported in the Indianapolis offense, and he should benefit greatly from T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron attracting most of the defensive attention.

Dallas Cowboys WR Randall Cobb

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    The background: Randall Cobb was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but he hasn't been the same since. Many of his rate-based numbers have declined steadily since then, in part because of injuries.

    The prove-it contract: One year, $5 million with the Dallas Cowboys

    What he has to prove: Cobb will be looking to make it through a complete 16-game season for the first time since 2015, but limited missed time won't necessarily cost him a long-term deal in Dallas or elsewhere. The key might be for him to show the league that he was a victim of Mike McCarthy's stale offensive approach during a tough few years for the Packers organization. 

    What he should prove: That as a 2011 second-round pick with a career catch rate of nearly 70 percent, he's a better (and younger) option with a higher ceiling than his slot predecessor, Cole Beasley. 

Carolina Panthers OT Daryl Williams

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    The background: During his first full season as an NFL starter in 2017, Daryl Williams graded out as the league's best right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. However, the 2015 fourth-round pick suffered a season-derailing knee injury in training camp last year, which limited him to only one regular-season game. 

    The prove-it contract: One year, $6 million with the Panthers

    What he has to prove: Not only does Williams have to prove that he's healthy, but he has to show the Panthers that 2017 wasn't an anomaly for a player who didn't stand out during his first two NFL campaigns. That won't be easy with rookie second-round pick Greg Little joining the fray at offensive tackle in Carolina. 

    What he should prove: That he isn't a one-year wonder and that the knee injury he suffered 13 months prior to the start of the 2019 season won't be a factor. Not only did Williams dominate as a pass-blocker in 2017, but he also displayed versatility and discipline. He looks like the real deal, and he's already been back on the field in limited fashion. 

Philadelphia Eagles DT Timmy Jernigan

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    The background: Like Williams, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan followed up a breakout 2017 campaign with an injury-marred 2018 season. In his case, a bad back cost him all but three games, and it was no surprise when the Eagles declined to exercise his $11 million option in March. 

    The prove-it contract: One year, $2 million with the Eagles

    What he has to prove: The 26-year-old performed well with four-plus sacks and strong PFF grades in his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before he was traded to the Eagles in 2017. But back injuries can be scary, and Jernigan has to prove he can bounce back to his 2017 form in terms of both health and production. 

    What he should prove: That he's a top-notch run defender with decent pass-rushing chops who can fully recover from a major injury. The 26-year-old's snap count will likely be held in check as he contributes to a deep rotation featuring fellow interior defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Treyvon Hester and Hassan Ridgeway, which should help.

Los Angeles Rams OLB Dante Fowler Jr.

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    The background: The Los Angeles Rams acquired pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. midway through the 2018 season after a turbulent tenure in Jacksonville that was marred by injuries and off-field problems. The 2015 No. 3 overall pick made progress down the stretch and emerged as one of the Rams' best defensive players in the playoffs. 

    The prove-it contract: One year, $12 million with the Rams

    What he has to prove: Fowler needs to put together one strong, healthy, disciplined season to show the Rams and the rest of the league that he can reach the heights many envisioned when he came into the NFL. 

    What he should prove: That he's ready to shine. Fowler is only 24 years old, has missed just one game since he lost his rookie campaign to a torn ACL and is one year removed from an eight-sack season with the Jags. He entered the league with some growing up to do on and off the field, but he looks determined to make a statement in 2019.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Shaquil Barrett

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The background: Shaquil Barrett has posted strong Pro Football Focus grades in each of his first four NFL seasons, but he was mostly a role player as part of a deep pass-rushing rotation with the Denver Broncos. While he's avoided serious injuries throughout his career, a hip issue cost him three late-season games in 2018.

    The prove-it contract: One year, $4 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

    What he has to prove: The 26-year-old went undrafted and has never played 700 snaps in a season. To hit the jackpot in 2020, he'll have to prove that he can still produce at recent levels but within a much larger sample. He should be a regular starter in Tampa, where 10-plus sacks would set him up for big money. 

    What he should prove: That he has double-digit-sack ability and is a good enough run defender to shine on all three downs in the NFL. 

Cincinnati Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard

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    The background: Cincinnati Bengals slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard has yet to stand out consistently enough to live up to predraft expectations. The 2014 first-round pick is a reliable starting-caliber player, but he's played only one 16-game season and is entering what might be a make-or-break age-28 campaign.

    The prove-it contract: One year, $4.5 million with the Bengals 

    What he has to prove: A defensive back with three interceptions in five seasons has to become more of a playmaker and more consistent. His performances fluctuate too much from week to week. 

    What he should prove: That he was still developing the last five years as Cincinnati slowly integrated him into the defense. Dennard's role has increased steadily over the years, but he has the skill set, measurables and physicality to become a fantastic cover man. And he might finally be ready to take off in 2019. 


    Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.