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Contract-Year Players


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Contract-Year Players: Must-Play or Misplaced Hype?

Ah, the sweet aroma of the almighty dollar. Pull out all of your money, all 11 dollars of it, and take in a big waft of that glorious smell. Now envision that, times 1.2 million per year for the next five years. Welcome to the motivational mentality of a contract-year player. In the words of Sir Randall Moss, “Straight cash, homie.”

However, as with everything else in fantasy football, there is no crystal ball. If I could give you 50 percent odds that a certain stock would outperform its market value, I guess the only question would be – are you feeling lucky? Well, are ya? When looking back at recent production levels from players set for free agency, roughly half post career numbers and some of those who do outperform themselves right onto the Injured Reserve ( Matt Forte, I’m looking at you).

While it is fallacy to assume all contract-year players will have a monster season, there are those in certain situations that make the most of their opportunity for payola. It is the phenomenon that transitioned New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw from a lowly backup at 778 yards and seven scores in 2009 to a fantasy hero at 1,549 total yards and eight scores in 2010. Let us go back and look at some noteworthy contract-year players from 2011.

2011 Contract Year Players

Matt Forte

While his average did go up from 4.5 to 4.9 yards per carry, his receiving yards decreased in a Mike Martz offense that necessitated Jay Cutler more bailouts than the auto industry. His two best games, a 200-yard performance against Carolina and a 150-yard thrashing of Tampa Bay made him look better than he was. Forte is averaging 500 receiving yards per year, but his touchdown production is lacking.

Ray Rice

Rice is a stud. He improved upon his carries with 2,068 yards from scrimmage in 16 less attempts. Contract year or not, a stud is going to throw down.

Marshawn Lynch

It seems Lynch is one of those coin flip moments. If you pulled this guy off waivers last year, you probably made the playoffs. Lynch posted a career-best 12 touchdowns and 1,400 yards and only missed one game, impressive in itself for a guy marked as injury prone.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

The darlings of the first quarter of the 2011 season, the Buffalo Bills came back down to earth later in the season as Fitzpatrick led the conference with 23 interceptions. His 3,800 yards would have been impressive many, many years ago.

Drew Brees

Do I have to tell you his production went up? I just have one thing to say about Brees – pay the man!

Wes Welker

Wes Welker had a monster season, nearly doubling his yardage from 800 to 1,500 and leaving all post-surgery knee worries at the wayside. He just scored another 20 fantasy points while I was writing this. The franchise tag should lead to another good season if he uses it as fuel, and if he keeps his mouth shut.

DeSean Jackson

Jackson, like Matt Forte, gets a lot of attention for big plays such as the Miracle at the Meadowlands and 88-yard bombs from Michael Vick. However, when it comes to playing for new money, Jackson whiffed last year for his owners with drops in average yards and touchdowns.

Vincent Jackson

As Mark Twain wrote: “There are three kinds of lies; little bitty lies, great big lies, and statistics.” Jackson’s stats are deceptive not only because of his holdout in 2010, but because in four games last year he scored fewer than five fantasy points, hurting owners in the process. Don’t expect too much in Tampa Bay, where the whole team is learning a new offense.

Mike Wallace

Although we remember a couple of deep bombs, including a 95-yarder against the Cleveland Browns, Wallace’s performance actually decreased. Two words for you: Antonio Brown.

Jermichael Finley

Finley averaged around 14 yards per catch, but his touchdown production increased from one to eight (although we expect more with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball).

Players looking for that contract payoff in 2013

Quarterbacks

Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Matt Schaub (Houston)

These two quarterbacks are on playoff teams that are looking to step up their passing game to secure a higher seed and take some pressure off their embattled backs. Ray Rice accounted for 36 percent of Baltimore’s offense, while Arian Foster provided 33 percent of Houston’s yards from scrimmage. Baltimore added Jacoby Jones and drafted the raw but speedy Tommy Streeter from Miami. Matt Schaub is my value pick of the draft, having thrown for more than 4,000 yards in both 2009 and 2010. Flacco is going to have to put up or shut up. These two quarterbacks can be had in the 9th-10th rounds and start for your team, allowing you to grab another running back or wide receiver early on instead of reaching for Tony Romo.

Running Backs

Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh), Reggie Bush (Miami)

Go ahead and laugh at me. Laugh it up and then hear me out. Here are two running backs that will most likely not be with their respective teams next year. They are playing for their next contract on the free market, making them very dangerous. Both will be in timeshare situations playing the role of Ryan Mathews to Mike Tolbert (starring Isaac Redman and Daniel Thomas, respectively). Ryan Mathews fell to the seventh round last year for the same reasons (injury bug, goal line vultures) Mendenhall is falling to the sixth round this year. Bush had his first 1,000-yard season last year and is a steal in the eighth round. Mendenhall has averaged 10 touchdowns and 1,100 yards the past three seasons and is good value in the fifth round, but just remember to handcuff him with Redman.

Wide Receivers

Victor Cruz (New York Giants), Austin Collie (Indianapolis), Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh)

Mark my words – Antonio Brown will be the best value pick in the draft. Mike Wallace is intent on holding out for more cash, and should miss some valuable workouts and training. He will lose his edge a la Chris Johnson 2011 and perhaps miss games. I remember that Sunday night game last year when Wallace came out of left field to snag a touchdown intended for Brown, who was wide open in the end zone. A weak or malcontent Wallace is Brown’s gain. Austin Collie is swifter and younger than Reggie Wayne and he’s about to prove it. As for anyone who still believes Hakeem Nicks is Eli Manning’s favorite option in the end zone, it’s time to revisit that one. It may also be time to ditch your 8-track collection for a new I-Pod.

Tight Ends

Dustin Keller (New York Jets), Dennis Pitta/ Ed Dickson (Baltimore)

Whether it’s the Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow, Keller is one of the most underappreciated tight ends in the game. He is still young, he can block and catch, and has more than 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns from the past two seasons. He jumped from 687 in 2010 to 815 receiving yards last year, and now minus Plaxico Burress, he should see a spike in end zone targets. Baltimore is an interesting case, and as for the same reason I recommend Joe Flacco as a contract-year player worth drafting, I recommend a long look at either of their tight ends. The Ravens are looking to employ a two tight end set similar to Bill Belichick’s model, and these guys should see plenty of work.