A career that has no shortage of critical moments and pivotal decisions, not much is as important to an NFL player as entering his contract year. For most, it’s a key time to prove to any interested franchise, including their own, they are worth paying big bucks for. For others, it’s last chance saloon to prove to their current employers they are just good enough to be retained.
The talk is normally always quarterbacks being awarded huge contracts, justifiably so. The high earning QBs are the faces of their respective teams for years to come. Their elite play and ability to change games is there for all to see. But what about the less prestigious names around the league – do they deserve a suitably large cheque all the same? Simply put, they have to prove it. Now more than ever as they enter their contract year.
Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Atlanta Falcons
A highly impressive rookie year back in 2015 meant Atlanta did not regret using the 9th overall pick to land Beasley. He started every game and notched two fumbles and four sacks. Most notably, a strip stack of Cam Newton in the last minutes of a 20-13 win in Week 16. This play arguably stopped the Panthers achieving a perfect 16-0 season.
Beasley then seriously went off in his sophomore year in the NFL. Exploding for a league-leading 15.5 sacks along with 6 fumbles, one which he returned for a TD; he was ranked by his peers as the 40th best player in the league for this season.
Since then, Beasley’s career has rather plateaued. A hamstring injury disrupted his 2017 campaign and so his numbers dropped accordingly. This can also be attributed to the fact he was shifted to outside linebacker to plug a gap in the Atlanta D. Just last season he made five sacks and returned a fumble for a massive 74 yards. The explosiveness is certainly there, even if the consistency is not.
But will the Dirty Birds be willing to keep this former first round selection around for the next few years?
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Possibly the best in the league at his position. Certainly that’s the what folks over at EA think. They enshrined Wagner into the exclusive ’99 Club’, which contains only four members, for the upcoming Madden 20 game.
Having signed Russell Wilson to a mega contract, foundations have been laid for Seattle’s long-term cap space capability. Frank Clark was traded to the Chiefs, this came about when it was apparent the Seahawks could not meet Clark’s demands. Earl Thomas was allowed to walk in free agency also. With these big names no longer on the team, it’s surely time to make Wagner to highest paid linebacker in the league.
This is certainly what he will insist on. The money will be there to make it happen. Seattle will have to better what the Jets paid CJ Mosley, a trend-setting $85 million deal over five years. Wagner, who is now a five-time All Pro, should become the face of the Seahawks defence. Much like Wilson was made the face of the offense with his lavish new contract.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
It was a mighty year for Thomas in the season just passed. Including a league high 125 catches, which he took for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. With this in mind, it would not be at all surprising for Thomas to ask for Odell Beckham levels of money. He was paid by the Browns in a big spot, where he stands to earn $18 million a year over the next half-decade.
As with any transcendent player, it should be a case of when not if Thomas gets his extravagant payday. However, it’s important to consider the Saints’ track record when it comes to dishing out substantial contracts. Look no further than Brandin Cooks and Jimmy Graham. A pair of big time players that never received a deal from New Orleans. Instead the Saints traded them away and picked up first round draft picks in the process.
So the question here is will Michael Thomas follow in the footsteps of Cooks and Graham. Or, will the Saints deem his services far too valuable to trade him away.
Jameis Winston & Marcus Mariota, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Tennessee Titans
The reason why Winston and Mariota make this list comes down to a rather large and looming question. Are they Franchise Quarterbacks?
The fact there is no clear answer to this question should ring alarm bells. Both face their own gremlins, but changes for the 2019 season could spell the end of these.
Winston needs to cut out the mistakes that have plagued him for his whole NFL career. It was incredibly sloppy at times in 2018, highlighted by his 4-interception outing in Week 8 versus the Bengals. Getting benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick in this game was an all-time low. Now looking ahead to 2019, Winston will have the coveted Bruce Arians as his head coach.
Will the wise mind of Arians be enough to alter the fortunes of Tampa’s signal caller? Or, will it bring about the end of this stuttering stint for the guy Bucs made #1 overall in the 2015 Draft.
The biggest challenge facing Mariota is his own health. In his first four years in the league, he is yet to start a full 16 game slate. In Mariota’s own words, his biggest goal for 2019 is “to get healthy”. The top brass of the Titans believe they have a winning roster and will leave nothing to chance. This is why they traded for Ryan Tannehill, who is a very capable backup QB.
No doubt this will play on Mariota’s mind. Whilst he is still QB1 for Tennessee, he must prove he can win ball games whilst maintaining his health. Tough spot, but he is certainly up for the test.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
The contract situation for the Chargers’ primary back hit the headlines recently. With Gordon threatening to hold out of training camp, trade suitors were lined up, accompanied with the speculation that the Bolts will not succumb to the demands being made. It’s fairly easy to see why they will not cough up the dough that has been handed to Le’Veon Bell and the like.
Such heavy investments into a position which regularly gets beaten up is risky. Sure, elite players deserve hefty contracts, but the NFL is a business and pumping big money into ventures like this causes potential perilous situations. Look no further than the team in the same city as the Chargers. Surely the Rams are now ruing their Todd Gurley expenditure.
Gordon’s threats are equally as risky. When he was out of the team last season, the Chargers went 4-0, thanks to a backfield combination of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. If he were to depart LA, perhaps he would not be missed, despite his obvious talents. Either he will get traded away, or Gordon and his representatives will come to their senses and lower the expectations. This narrative will rumble on well into preseason you feel.