August 19, 2013

3 Players to Watch Entering Contract Years

By - Sandra Nevins

A contract year is an important milestone in an NFL player's career. There is extra incentive and pressure to put up impressive numbers that could equate to a big payday with a multi-year contract extension. Failure to produce can lead to an under market value offer, and the possibility of playing for a different team entirely.

Here are 3 players to watch who are entering contract years this season, each for different reasons.

- Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Photo by: Brandon Richards
Freeman is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Selected 17th overall in the 2009 draft, the 6'6, 240 pound quarterback has yet to live up to the billing of a first-rounder. Freeman's play has been inconsistent to say the least, as he has struggled against the blitz and shown poor decision making skills on a fairly regular basis. Despite all the negatives, the tides may change this season. This will be the second year under OC Mike Sullivan, so there should be some familiarity with the playbook now. The Bucs have also put a nice supporting cast around their QB, with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Doug Martin at the skill positions. Freeman is a big, physical presence in the pocket with a very strong arm, so he certainly has some upside. But Tampa Bay picked up an insurance policy in the draft by selecting Mike Glennon out of North Carolina State, so if Freeman struggles in 2013, his days in Tampa are more than likely over.

- Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Cutler is an established talent, a gunslinger with quite possibly the strongest arm in the league. Still, the 8-year man out of Vandy has been criticized for his decision making and leadership ability. Hopefully the preseason is not indicative of what's to come, as his very first pass was picked off. Cutler has a tendency to rely too much on wideout Brandon Marshall, often times forcing the ball to his favorite target. Newly acquired TE Martellus Bennett offers a huge presence in the middle of the field, and WR Alshon Jeffery is also a threat on the outside. The elite quarterbacks utilize all of the talent around them, spreading the ball out to everyone. If Cutler can stop locking onto just one receiver, progress through his check downs, and cut back on trying to muscle the ball into double and triple coverage, he could very well become a top-tier QB. The talent is there, the question is can new head coach Marc Trestman refine and polish it? If so, Cutler may finally take that next big step fans have been waiting for.

- Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

Graham is in a pretty unique position this season, as a big year could propel him to the undisputed top ranking among all NFL tight ends, especially with Rob Gronkowski's health still in question. The 4th-year man out of Miami is actually coming off a "down" season, plagued by injuries and dropped passes. During the offseason, Graham worked on bulking up and becoming a better blocker, and received some mentoring from veteran tight end Benjamin Watson. Graham's confidence heading into the 2013 campaign is evident, recently saying, "Drew (Brees) and I are already in midseason form. Right now we're more dynamic offensively than we've ever been." With coach Sean Payton back at the helm, it could be a banner year for #80.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what the 2013 season has in store for the aforementioned players. Big statistical years will undoubtedly equate to large contract extensions, while down seasons could find some of them playing in different cities in 2014.

Only 17 more days until the season kicks off. Not that anyone's counting...


  1. Outta the three i'd say Jimmy Graham has the best season.

  2. Cutler will have some BiG games but will falter when it matters.

  3. Jimmy Graham will have the best of the three. I'm still not sold on Freeman, but I won't take his preseason performance into account because his all pro guards Joesph and Nicks have been out. Once the entire first team is back I will then evaluate. But your points are very well on point. Familiarity with the system and more weapons could warrant a big year. Great READ!