August 19, 2010

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It's human nature to perform better with incentive. If your performance determines your pay, that will provide a jolt to the way you go about your job. Whether it has an impact on football players is up for debate, but with contracts not being guaranteed, playing well in a contract year is essential to getting that large signing bonus. Many big name players will be free agents at the end of the season and with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring in March, a possible uncapped year looms in 2011. Here are some players in the final year of a contract.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Brady returned from a serious knee injury to post the second best fantasy numbers of his career with 4,398 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. While the numbers were good, Brady looked shaky and tentative at times. The loss of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was felt as the Patriots offense wasn't as prolific or aggressive. Even if Wes Welker misses time, Brady will have enough weapons. Expect the Patriots to pass a lot. Brady should be better in the second year back from injury and be a Top-5 quarterback.

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: A model of consistency who is fueled by more than money. Manning has thrown for at least 26 touchdowns in every season and passed for at least 4,000 yards in 10 seasons. There's no need to worry about him missing games, and if you draft him, you can worry about a backup late in the draft. Manning had minor surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck, but as always, he'll be one of the top quarterbacks off the board and be worth it.

Donovan McNabb Washington Redskins: McNabb will have a lot of motivation to prove the Eagles made a mistake by trading him to a division rival. While McNabb doesn't have a lot of talent surrounding him, he has proven to be a productive Fantasy quarterback even without upper-echelon players. Injuries are also a concern for McNabb, who has played 16 games just four times in his 11-year career. McNabb goes from a passer-friendly offense to one with a plethora of question marks. McNabb is a QB2.

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts: Many were banking on Donald Brown pushing aside Addai last season but it never happened. Addai averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, but had 1,164 total yards and 13 touchdowns along with 51 receptions. Don't expect many yards as he hasn't had a 100-yard rushing performance in 20 consecutive games. In this high-powered offense, Addai will get plenty of opportunities to score with his success in short yardage and the passing game. Brown should see an increase in carries, but Addai should still be a solid RB2. Brown is the future in Indianapolis, so Addai should have extra motivation to land a contract with a new team.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals: Benson was a bust with the Bears before becoming one of the top backs in the league last season. He runs well between the tackles, and the Bengals relied on him heavily with 23.2 carries per game. Benson doesn't catch many passes, so keep that in mind for PPR leagues. Expect the Bengals to pass more with better weapons around Carson Palmer. There's no competition for Benson, whose main concern is staying healthy. He suffered a hip flexor in Week 10 last season and missed three games, yet still rushed for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns. Benson is a good RB1.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: Bradshaw earned more touches last season and was a dynamic player averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring seven rushing touchdowns. Oh yeah, he played with broken bones in each foot and had them surgically repaired, in addition to surgery on his ankle. He didn't need many carries to be productive and is a threat to break a big play when the ball is in hands. Bradshaw doesn't have the build to be an every down back at 5-9, 189-pounds, but is an excellent complement to Brandon Jacobs. It wouldn't be surprising if Bradshaw got more touches than Jacobs. Bradshaw has a lot of upside and is a good RB3.

Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders: It appears Bush and Darren McFadden will split duties. Bush is the better runner between the tackles and McFadden is the better receiver. One could emerge and my money is on Bush, who has averaged 4.6 yards per carry the last two years compared to 3.9 for McFadden. Bush has the ingredients to be a feature back. Bush had at least 10 carries six times last season and averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry in four of the games and had the only two 100-yard rushing games for the Raiders. The Raiders offense should be improved with the addition of Jason Campbell. Bush could be a breakout player if he gets the touches.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: It's certainly understandable that Jackson had a herniated disc in his back. I'm surprised he doesn't have two bad shoulders as well since he carried the Rams offense last season. He had surgery in April, but back injuries can re-occur at any time. Jackson, who is a complete back, had 324 carries for 1,416 yards and eight touchdowns, and had 51 receptions for 322 yards with two touchdowns, while being the focal point of the defensive game plan. The amazing thing is he did it with very little help. On any other team, he would be one of the elite. Jackson is one of the few backs that will get the majority of the carries. On the other hand, Jackson is 6-2 and takes a lot of contact. He doesn't shy away from tacklers and takes a beating. In his six-year career, Jackson has played 16 games once. Jackson will go in the first round, and when healthy, he will produce. He does present some risk as a first-round pick and while he may be more prone to injuries than other running backs, anyone is susceptible to injury in football.

Laurence Maroney, New England Patriots: There are a lot of people who have given up on Maroney, who has been a disappointment. He has shown flashes, and the Patriots didn't draft a running back. The concern is the Patriots employ several running backs, but Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk are 34, and Sammy Morris is 33. Maroney also fumbled four times in the second half last season. Maroney hasn't played 16 games in his four-year career and hasn't rushed for more than 835 yards. He scored nine touchdowns last season and this is a huge season for him. Maroney's value isn't high and he could likely be taken as a RB4 or RB5, especially since the Patriots have employed a timeshare the past few seasons. That's worth the gamble and if it doesn't work out, at least you didn't invest much.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers: Williams missed three games with an ankle injury last season and had surgery, but still managed 1,117 yards rushing, 5.2 yards per carry, and even became more involved in the passing game with 29 receptions. Williams is explosive, and even with Jonathan Stewart sharing the backfield with him, both will get a lot of touches behind an offensive line that run blocks well. The Panthers have topped 400 carries three straight seasons. Don't shy away from Williams even if it becomes more of a 50-50 split with Stewart. Many might be overlooking Williams because of the way Stewart finished the season. Don't do it. Williams is a RB1. The incentive of a contract is just a little extra motivation.

Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys: Keep in mind that Austin started just nine games, yet had 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Cowboys will have an explosive offense, and Austin will be the primary target in the passing game. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the Cowboys offense, but Austin has a good rapport with Tony Romo and will be a focal point. The Cowboys want to see Austin perform at that level for multiple seasons before giving him a contract and he should. He's a No. 1 WR.

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets: Holmes is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, which is why the Jets acquired him from the Steelers for such a low price. The suspension hurts as does the move to the Jets in a run-heavy offense, and even if the Jets pass more, he'll have to compete with Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, and Dustin Keller for targets. Let someone else draft Holmes based on last season's breakout unless he falls too far.

Randy Moss, New England Patriots: He had a 1,000-yard season for the 10th time and scored at least 10 touchdowns for the ninth time. Moss had 83 catches for 1,246 yards and 13 touchdowns and that was without Brady being very sharp. Moss was often wide open deep and Brady missed him. Brady should be better and the Patriots should pass often, meaning a lot of target for Moss, especially if Wes Welker misses some games. Some will point to Moss' age of 33, but that isn't a concern. If there's anyone motivated by a contract, Moss is at the top of the list.

Sidney Rice, Minnesota Vikings: While many people assumed that Brett Favre would return for another season, you can bet Rice was calling Favre incessantly to make sure he came back for 2010. Rice, who was invisible his first two seasons without a competent quarterback, is dependent on Favre playing to put up elite fantasy numbers, and that's crucial for Rice in a contract year. At 6-4, Rice is a great red-zone target. Expect Rice to perform as a WR2 as long as the hip is healthy.

Owen Daniels, Houston Texans: Daniels is looking to rebound after tearing his right ACL that cut short a year where he was on pace for a career season. In eight games, Daniels had 40 catches for 519 yards with five touchdowns. Matt Schaub targets Daniels frequently, and the Texans have been one of the top passing teams the past two seasons. There's some risk considering Daniels has torn his ACL three times. Assuming Daniels is healthy, he'll be a great value.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Unfortunately for Davis, it wasn't a contract season last year when he broke out with 78 catches for 965 yards with 13 touchdowns as the 49ers went to a spread offense. The 49ers will emphasize the running game more, meaning fewer targets for Davis. The emergence of Michael Crabtree could also mean fewer targets, too. Davis should still produce good numbers, but coming close to last year's numbers is unrealistic. If you're going to take a tight end early, there are better values.

Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders: Miller is one of the better tight ends despite the lackluster touchdown totals, but what do you expect when JaMarcus Russell was the quarterback. Jason Campbell will replace Russell, and that should boost Miller, who would have been one of the better fantasy tight ends with more touchdowns to go along with his 66 catches and 805 yards last season. He has scored just seven over three seasons, including three in 2009. The Raiders have already said they plan to target Miller more in the red zone. If you decide to wait on drafting a tight end, Miller is a good option.

Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The centerpiece of the Buccaneers offense last season had 77 catches, 884 yards, and five touchdowns. He had arthroscopic knee surgery for the fifth time, but is expected to be ready for training camp. Winslow is a borderline Top 10 tight end with health being the main question.

Adam is a staff writer at You can email him at, on Twitter @AdamRonis or check out his Newsday blog.

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