Players in their contract year certainly have more motivation to step it up. The NFL has always been a “what have you done for me lately” league. These players are worth an extra thought or perhaps their contract year status should be thought of as a tiebreaker if you’re stuck between two similarly-talented options.
This piece will focus on quarterbacks and running backs. We’ll follow up soon with wide receivers and tight ends.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
A deal will likely get done here in a few days. Prescott is under the franchise tag for now and he’s slated to make $31.4 million in 2020.
Mike Fisher with CowboyMaven writes that Dallas has until July 15 to sign him to an extension. After that deadline, he can sign a one-year deal.
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
Indy signed Rivers to a one-year deal worth $25 million for 2020. Beyond that, it makes sense for them to see how this plays out. Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is also on an expiring deal and will be a FA in 2021 as well. If things don’t pan out with Rivers, they can likely throw Brissett a significantly cheaper contract.
Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
It seems sad to me that Taylor will likely play mentor to another rookie QB in Justin Herbert, after taking so many questions on Baker Mayfield from the media when in Cleveland. If Herbert has some hiccups along the way this year, Taylor could continue to provide leadership at a discount.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Now in the final year of his rookie contract, Trubisky has his work cut out for him to get a decent contract for 2021 and beyond. It’s been so up-and-down that he may not even get the opportunity to shine with Nick Foles also on the roster.
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
If there ever were somebody who has to play with a chip on his shoulder and exceed expectations for a big contract, it’s Newton. New England signed him for a paltry one-year, $1.75 million deal guaranteed. A big season could make this dollar-figure multiply by 10 or more in a new deal.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
It seems criminal to me that the Saints were able to sign Winston for one-year at $1.1 million. This is a guy who threw 33 TDs last year.
Okay, he threw 30 INTs too, but hey, he may get another crack at a starting role elsewhere in 2021 if he comes in to save the day for a game or two for Drew Brees and the Saints should he be called upon.
Before diving in, if you’re curious as to where some of the best fantasy players in the world have these quarterbacks and running backs ranked and projected for 2020, be sure to check out the up-to-date SI Fantasy Big Board.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
A down year in 2019 and an expiring contract feels like a great opportunity for a huge bounce-back year. Fantasy owners have to hope his struggles last year were strictly from nagging injuries.
SI Fantasy analyst Shawn Childs has Kamara projected for 1,554 combined yards with 11 touchdowns and 84 catches.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
In today’s NFL, running backs don’t seem to have much leverage but is there any back more integral to how his offense is built? Tennessee has shaped their identity around Henry and he’ll probably be able to dictate big terms with another presumably big season. The Titans did add a RB in the third round this year (App St. RB Darrynton Evans) but the rest of the RB depth chart is a toss-up. Henry appears to be set up for a well-deserved mega contract if not signed to an extension by July 15.
Here is a snippet from a report from John Glennon of AllTitans back in June on GM Jon Robinson’s thoughts on a Henry extension:
“We had a phone call last week and a phone call the week before that,” Robinson said. “We just kind of continue to work through things. The conversations have been positive between me and the reps there. Again, just trying to find some common ground. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Derrick is an important part of what we do. Just trying to find a spot where we all need to be and where we all want to be.”
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Cook finally managed to stay (mostly) healthy in 2019 and he produced. Now there are whispers of a holdout and we’ll see how long this drags out in the coming weeks. His backup, Alexander Mattison, showed some promise last year in his rookie season. Cook shouldn’t let someone else play and potentially hurt his value.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Since his arrival in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette has quietly and consistently been the driver of this Jacksonville offense. He often plays banged up and the Jags aren’t exactly overflowing with proven talent. They should pay their guy assuming 2020 is more of the same.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
Even in a down year, Gurley still managed to score 14 TDs in 2019 (21 in 2018, 19 in 2017). Now in Atlanta, they signed him to a “prove-it” deal for a one-year, $5.5 million contract, fully guaranteed. Gurley is the 10th-best paid RB (by cap hit) right now and he seems to be trending in the wrong direction with his arthritic left knee.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
This is one of the more interesting scenarios to me. Mixon has really come on in his last two seasons. The Bengals added Joe Burrow and may be a piece or two away from having something really special on offense. How much will Cincinnati be willing to offer Mixon to keep this nucleus intact? Would an unremarkable Joe Burrow season temper their expectations and lead to a more long-term view as opposed to sinking a huge contract into Mixon? Either way, Mixon continues to look better every year and an improved offense would only add another dimension to his game.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
The writing may already be on the wall for Jones. The Packers drafted A.J. Dillon in the second round out of Boston College. With the future of Aaron Rodgers possibly in limbo, it’s safe to assume anybody could be forced to sign elsewhere. All this in spite of Jones having a career-year in 2019, punctuated with 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 19 total TDs.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
A few months ago, Arizona secured Drake’s services with a one-year, $8.5 million deal. After floundering for most of his career in Miami, he finished red-hot for the Cardinals last year. He’ll need lightning to strike twice to maintain that type of contract. He’s the seventh-highest paid RB, sandwiched between Saquon Barkley at No. 6 and Christian McCaffrey at No. 8. He’ll need a monster year to keep his name among that company.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
Conner needs to put it together for one season after battling injuries throughout his young career. We know he had an excellent 2018, but he missed three games that year and six more in 2019. The Steelers have a lot of young guys on defense they’ll need to keep the cap open for and another so-so season from Conner isn’t going to lead to a big contract.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
The numbers are there but Carson really needs to hold onto the football: 10 fumbles over his last two years. Besides that, he’s posted stats that are up there with the aforementioned Mixon. Seattle is still hoping for the best with 2018 first-rounder Rashaad Penny and they also brought in Carlos Hyde. To make things even more complicated, they also drafted DeeJay Dallas out of Miami in the fourth round this year. It’s a patchwork mess behind Carson.
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Since his breakout rookie season, it’s all come crashing down for Hunt. He posted 1,782 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs in his first year, 1,202 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs in 2018. In eight games with Cleveland, he had just 464 yards and scrimmage with three TDs. We know the Browns will use him as a receiving back, but is there enough to his game at this point to justify another contract. He played 2019 on a one-year RFA deal and was re-signed for 2020 on a one-year deal. Hopefully these short deals keep him motivated.
Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
Part of the appeal of Williams for the Chiefs was his low price tag when they signed him for one-year, $1.2 million back in 2018. The Chiefs opted to exercise his 2020 option for $2.3 million, still a great price compared to some of the other guys on this list who are seeing way more. With the drafting of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, I think it’s safe to assume Williams will not see much in the way of a contract offer.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
2019 couldn’t have gone much worse for Cohen who had his role changed up and didn’t seem like a good fit. He plays the yin to David Montgomery’s yang and hopefully he’ll thrive in a retooled offense.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
Most seem to feel the arrival of Jonathan Taylor has sealed Mack’s fate but he’s an experienced, productive back and will likely draw a fair amount of interest as a desirable backup with a three-down skill-set.
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
Breida averaged over 5 yards per carry in 2018 and 2019. The problem is how much of a workload can he handle? San Francisco rotated him often last season and he’ll need a complete year to maximize his worth. The Dolphins also have Jordan Howard, but Breida’s game is much more explosive so I think he’s got a sneaky chance to earn a better deal and finish ahead of Howard in production.
Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Before bringing in Melvin Gordon, you would have assumed Lindsay would either get an extension or be set up for a monster 2020 season with a monster contract to match. That’s all off the table though. Not only will he be playing second fiddle this year, he may only be able to post limited numbers in a reduced role, which would presumably deflate his market value.
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