The 6 Most Important Contract Showdowns on the NFL Horizon

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIOctober 28, 2011

The 6 Most Important Contract Showdowns on the NFL Horizon

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    Want to make an NFL team love you?

    Work hard in practice, play hard in games and produce. Make your team a winner. Be a force to be reckoned with at your position. Be worth lots and lots money.

    Want to turn that team against you? Ask for that money. That team will sneer at you and call you selfish. Then it'll just say no, or offer less than you want.

    Either way, things can get ugly. And public. And nasty. And bad things get said by both parties. It's just not a pleasant situation.

    It can happen seemingly overnight. One day, a player is proudly celebrating with his team after a touchdown, first down, sack or interception. Then the next, he's vowing never to suit up in that uniform ever again.

    You get holdouts and angry words. There are times when those tactics work. That's how Darrelle Revis, Logan Mankins and Chris Johnson eventually got their contracts. Sometimes, you have to go to war with your organization.

    Here are some players who could be headed for some heated discussions with their teams down the line.

DeSean Jackson

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    DeSean Jackson isn’t talking contract now, but he will.

    At a $600,000 salary, saying Jackson is playing for peanuts is an insult to peanuts. One of the most explosive players in the NFL is being paid like a rookie—quite literally, in fact, as he’s in the final year of a four-year rookie contract.

    Meanwhile, the Eagles spent an offseason that could have gone towards signing the two-time Pro Bowler signing pretty much everyone else. Ushers in the third deck at Lincoln Financial Field even got five-year deals.

    Jackson was vocal about the situation in the preseason, holding out in camp, but he has since gone mum on the subject. He’ll have something to say at year’s end. He and agent Drew Rosenhaus want an elite wide receiver deal, and given Jackson's terrific playmaking skills and special teams value, the tandem absolutely has a case.

    Jackson stretches the field on vertical passes and he can take any screen, slant or punt to the house. He’s become a great player. If the Eagles want him and want him happy, they’ll have to pay him like it.

Osi Umenyiora

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    Osi Umenyiora's contract showdown with the Giants in the preseason could have been written up and put on Broadway. There was some serious drama going on in the Meadowlands.

    First Osi decided to hold out. Then he gave in and came back. Then New York was okay with trading him. Then the Giants didn’t want to trade him. Meanwhile, there were rumors that they did still want to trade him. The dust settled, and Umenyiora began the season in his typical blue No. 72.

    Happy ending, right? Not quite.

    Umenyiora has two big reasons for his urgency. For one, at 29 years old, he’s at his peak age as a speed rusher. He also has a season-ending injury in his past, having missed all of 2008 with a torn meniscus. Umenyiora knows the risks of his position, and he knows his stock could vanish at any moment.

    He’s got two years left on his contract, with base salaries of $3.125 million this year and $3.975 million the next. He’s refused incentives the Giants have offered. His demands are clear: a new deal, or this could get ugly.

Matt Forte

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    Just in time for pay day, Matt Forte is having the season of his life.

    The fourth-year pro is third in the league in rushing and first in total yards from scrimmage. He's as versatile as they get, as effective running as he is catching. He's also explosive, a highlight waiting to happen whenever he gets his hands on the ball.

    As ESPN's Trey Wingo frequently tweets when Forte does something impressive, "pay the man." Well, the Bears eventually will have to.

    Forte is making $600,000 in the final year of his rookie contract, and he has the ideal stance to ask for the moon. He's arguably the most productive running back in the league, and with Chris Johnson having busted the market with his recent deal, Forte can really build his case.

    He's already started doing so, having reportedly turned down $13-15 million guaranteed. The Bears could counter at the end of the season by hitting him with the dreaded franchise tag, keeping him around for an extra season.

    The Bears will say it's to extend their window to negotiate with the running back, but Forte will see it differently. To him, it would be perhaps the best earning year he'll have up in smoke. It would not be a popular decision with him, to say the least.

Jermichael Finley

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    Jermichael Finley's stock has gone up astronomically since the 2008 NFL draft. In the years following, the third-round pick out of Texas has developed into one of the most prolific tight ends in football, serving as an outstanding target for Aaron Rodgers and a key cog of a Green Bay offense that often looks simply unstoppable.

    Of course, time just had to get in the way of such a prolific combination. Finley's a free agent after this year, and his $1.2 million salary this year is far below the number he could, and will be earning.

    Unlike the first few examples in this slideshow, peace appears to be winning in Wisconsin. Green Bay has shown that it's not locking the doors on contract negotiations during the season, signing receiver Jordy Nelson to a three-year extension in early October.

    However, there hasn't been any negotiation with the Finley camp yet, though as Bleacher Report's Michael Dulka wrote, Finley's injury-marred past likely has something to do with that. After a few more weeks of looking like an instrumental and physically reliable piece of a Super Bowl-caliber team, Finley could be next in line for a brand new contract.

    If he isn't, however, this situation could grow ominous. With the Packers having such a great season, any frustrations or anger on Finley's end would likely stay below the surface until the start of the offseason. But he'd let himself be heard eventually.

    The Packers will probably get this squared away promptly. But you never know.

Robert Mathis

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    Robert Mathis has seen better days. His Indianapolis Colts are 0-7, they just dropped a 62-7 backbreaker to the Saints, their playoff hopes have already disappeared before the midway point and his contract is up.

    Actually, Mathis may be grinning and bearing it. After all, of the players in this slideshow so far, he has the best chance of winding up on the open market.

    Mathis, one of the elite pass rushers in the game, is in the final year of a six-year, $30 million deal and is making $2.41 million this year. He skipped OTAs last year while demanding a new contract, so his displeasure has been voiced already.

    Of course, with the Colts' recent free fall, Mathis might be more eager to skip town and team. The Colts are limited in their options, anyway. They have a gigantic sum of money invested in Peyton Manning, and considering that and receiver Reggie Wayne's impending free agency, Mathis could be too expensive for the Colts to either re-sign or tag.

    Mathis may see the writing on the wall, which is why he didn't consider a holdout after doing so the year before. However, if the Colts, who are still arguably an AFC contender with a healthy Manning, decide to try to keep the gang together for another title shot, the situation could get testy with the three-time Pro Bowler.

Wes Welker

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    Hear that thud? Slow, methodical and repeating? That's Wes Welker's agent, David Dunn, banging his head against a wall.

    Welker isn't talking like a man with an expiring contract. His words have been anti-contract year athlete. According to him, he doesn't deserve a new contract. According to him, he needs the New England Patriots as much as they need him.

    With quotes like that to work with, Welker's agent must find it difficult to play the great and powerful Wizard of Oz when Wes keeps pulling the curtain on himself. "Pay no attention to that slot receiver behind the microphone!"

    However, while Welker hasn't talked his way into a big contract, he's certainly played his way into one. He leads the league in receptions and is second in receiving yards, and he has shown an ability to take over games despite his lack of height or breakaway speed.

    The Patriots have moved away from a receiver-based offense, but don't be fooled. That system runs on Tom Brady's confidence level with his targets, and nobody on the field is trusted more by Brady than the Slot Machine.

    For that reason, it would seem that New England and Welker are like Green Bay and Jermichael Finley. They could be, but New England has a tendency to wring everything it can out of these negotiations. Owner Robert Kraft outlined the philosophy himself.

    "You know that we’re a team that’s not about trying to encourage and find people that want the last dollar," he said. "(If) money is the most important thing then we’ll have trouble trying to get a deal done."

    If that philosophy shows itself at the negotiation table, even a team-first guy like Welker could feel slighted. It happened with Asante Samuel, it happened with Logan Mankins and it happened with Deion Branch in his first stint in New England. Welker finally has his chance to cash in, and he's on a team that hasn't liked to help its players in that regard too often.