15 NFL Veterans Who Must Deliver Heading Into Contract Years

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Contract Year: 15 NFL Veterans Who Must Deliver


Every NFL player has an aspiration of winning as many Super Bowls as possible during their respective playing career. The contract years are the most important years for the players to excel because if they fail, their respective team may not offer them a new contract the following year.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was the most infamous player entering a contract year last season. The Ravens decided prior to the start of the 2012 season that they would attempt to re-negotiate a contract with Flacco following the season.

Flacco had a typical regular season, but he shined during the postseason. En route to winning Super Bowl XLVII, he threw 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

On March 5, Flacco signed a six-year; $120.6 million contract to continue playing for the Ravens. There are several players who have the potential to be this year’s Flacco.

There are some players entering contract years who NFL experts considered to be elite players as recently as a few years ago. However, they have lost their elite status due to injuries or a decrease in production. They have a chance to reclaim their elite status by the termination of this season. If any of these players can reclaim their elite status, then teams will reward them financially during the offseason.

Other players are entering their respective contract years with doubts as to whether they deserve to be NFL caliber starters. These players’ production has been the equivalent of average or worse in the NFL. If any of these players can prove that they are NFL caliber starters, then teams will want them as their starter during the offseason.

A few players are proving that they deserve to have long-term contracts with their respective teams. These players have proved that they are great players, but they want more money to stay with their respective teams.

Each season is unpredictable, and anyone can prove to be a hero or a goat in at least their team’s 16 regular season games. The season begins Thursday night, and at least 15 players need to deliver during their contract years.

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No. 15: Jay Cutler


Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is similar to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco because Cutler’s regular season statistics have not been impressive. Cutler really needs to excel this season because there could potentially be a strong 2014 quarterback draft class. The Bears could decide not to re-sign Cutler if they feel one of the top college quarterbacks would be a better fit for their offense.

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No. 14: Brian Cushing

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Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing has shown that he has the potential to be a great linebacker. However, injuries and a performance-enhancing drug suspension have led to him being in a contract year. If Cushing is able to reach 100 tackles again this season, then teams will reward him during free agency. However, if he has another positive PED test or sustains an injury, then he may receive little interest during free agency.

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No. 13: Justin Tuck


New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck used to be an elite defensive end. A significant decrease in production has led to Tuck being in a contract yeah. He needs to prove this upcoming season that he can still produce like an NFL caliber defensive end. Otherwise, he will be a backup for the duration of his career.

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No. 12: Jermichael Finley

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Green Bay Packers tight Jermichael Finley has been inconsistent during his five-year career. Finley needs to prove this season that he can achieve statistics similar to 2011. Finley needs to excel this season in order to have a roster spot with the Packers next season. If he struggles this season, the organization may try to replace him with a tight end from the upcoming draft class.

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No. 11: Jacoby Jones

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Baltimore Ravens kick and punt returner-wide receiver Jacoby Jones had a great Super Bowl XLVII. Jones has a lot to prove this upcoming season during his contract year. Jones needs to prove this season that he can be a reliable wide receiver in order to have a guaranteed roster spot next season. If Jones is unable to improve his wide receiver production, then he could be spending 2014 on his couch.

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No. 10: Anthony Spencer

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Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer has proven in his six-year career that he has the potential to be an elite linebacker. Spencer will be in his second consecutive contract year because of franchise tags. If Spencer excels this season, then teams will believe that he is an elite linebacker. However, if he struggles this season, then teams might believe that this is the beginning of a regression.

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No. 9: Jarius Byrd

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Buffalo Bills safety Jarius Byrd has had a very good showing thus far in his career. Byrd is in a contract year because the Bills chose to give him a franchise tag instead of a long-term contract. He needs to stay healthy and continue excelling in order to receive a lucrative contract this offseason. If this injury proves to cost Byrd the majority of the season or his production suffers, then he may receive another franchise tag this offseason.

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No. 8: Ben Tate

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Houston Texans running back Ben Tate has proven in his brief career that he has the potential to be a NFL-caliber starting running back. Tate is entering a contract year and he needs to prove that he can have a 16-game season. As Arian Foster has already dealt with injuries this preseason, Tate needs to make sure he is healthy this season because he has a chance to shine if Foster's injury leads him to miss games.

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No. 7: Maurice Jones-Drew


Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew had been playing at an elite level prior to last season. MJD needs to prove in his contract year, that last season’s injury was an aberration and not the start of a trend. If MJD stays healthy and produces pre-2012 statistics, then he will receive a lucrative contract this offseason.

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No. 6: Kenny Britt


Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt has proven that he can be a very good wide receiver when he is healthy. Britt’s injury history has made it even more essential for him to have an excellent season during his contract year. Britt has to excel this season in order to earn a long-term contract this offseason. No one has ever questioned Britt’s playing ability, but his health will make or break his contract year.

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No. 5: Josh Freeman


Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is entering a contract year where it appears he will have to put up statistics similar to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco last season to earn a contract extension.

Flacco had led his team to the playoffs every season prior to his contract year, unlike Freeman. Freeman has to perform well this season because the Bucs could replace him with Glennon if he struggles. If Freeman can have a Flacco-like year, then Freeman could receive a lucrative offer that is similar to Flacco's.

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No. 4: Hakeem Nicks


New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been a dynamic wide receiver, and entering his contract year, all he has to do is stay healthy. He has to prove this season that he is no longer injury-plagued. No one questions his playing ability, but his health will make or break his contract year.

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No. 3: Nnamdi Asomugha


San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha used to be so dominant that NFL experts considered him one of the best cornerbacks. Asomugha has to prove in his contract year that his performance the past two seasons was an aberration. He needs to prove this season that he can still be a dominant cornerback despite being 32-years-old. If he can have a season similar to when he was on the Raiders, then he should receive a chance to be a star cornerback for a team this offseason.

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No. 2: Michael Vick

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has been one of the most injury-prone quarterbacks since 2009. Vick needs to show during his contract year that he can still be the dynamic player from 2010. Vick has to prove that Chip Kelly’s new system that can help him produce statistics similar to 2010. His health and production will determine if he will have a starting quarterback job next season.

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No. 1: Darren McFadden


Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden has shown that he can be an explosive running back when he is healthy. McFadden needs to show during his contract year that he can get rid of the injury-prone tag. With the amount of skill McFadden has and the run-blocking scheme coming back, his health will make or break his season.

Noah Weintraub is a Contributing Writer for Follow him on Twitter @NoahWeintraub, join his group on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.