5 NFL players with the most to prove in their contract year

NFL players in contract years  1 .0 - 5 NFL players with the most to prove in their contract year

Players like Marcus Mariota and Vic Beasley will try to show they’re worth a lucrative deal in 2020 — whether it’s with their current team or a new one.

No season is more pivotal to an NFL player’s career than a contract year. For a lot of players, it’s their last chance to prove they’re worthy of a big paycheck.

The contract extensions that get the most attention are usually for players who are all but guaranteed to receive a new deal. Recently, Russell Wilson grabbed headlines when he became the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback, while the Cowboys are about to reward Dak Prescott with a hefty contract extension after three straight years of quality play.

However, not every extension is as cut and dry as Prescott’s and Wilson’s. Every year, there are players who still have questions to answer as they near the end of their deals. These players have flashed, but haven’t been able to consistently string together effective performances.

This year is no different. Here are five players in their contract year who can secure the bag with a prolific 2019.

Vic Beasley, DE, Atlanta Falcons

Just three years ago, Beasley looked like he was going to be a destructive pass-rushing force. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2016, leading the league in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (six).

While Beasley didn’t generate as much pressure as his ridiculous sack total would suggest — his 16 quarterback hits ranked 47th in the league — he hasn’t been able to recapture the magic he had that season. In the 30 games that Beasley has played in the past two seasons, he only totaled 10 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. He was banged up for part of that stretch, but he quickly became a non-factor as a pass rusher.

Even though his production has fallen off a cliff, the Falcons still opted to exercise his $12.8 million option for 2019. Head coach Dan Quinn, who is also acting as the team’s defensive coordinator, is hoping that a “hands-on” approach will help get Beasley back to his explosive ways.

Atlanta doesn’t have much competition for him at defensive end this coming season — it’s time for Beasley to prove that he deserves a big contract in 2020.

Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Los Angeles Rams

Fowler was drafted by Jaguars third overall in 2015, but he was unable to find much success in Jacksonville. Fowler looked like he was about to have his worst season as a pro in the first half of the 2018 season, when he was only able to muster two sacks and one quarterback hit in seven games. Then he was traded to the Rams after Week 8.

Although Fowler had just two sacks and five quarterback hits in eight regular-season games for the Rams, he turned up his play in the postseason. In three playoff games, Fowler recorded 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits — including a hit on Drew Brees that forced an interception in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, eventually leading to LA’s win.

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The Rams re-signed Fowler to a one-year, $12 million dollar deal after the season. Fowler hasn’t lived up to his status of a top-three pick, but he still has the opportunity to cash in on a long-term deal if he balls out in 2019.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets

Anderson is one of the more naturally talented receivers in the NFL. He’s 6’3, ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and has shown he can effortlessly make big plays.

This play against the Broncos is a perfect example — there aren’t many players who can accelerate like this after hitting a kick-step in the middle of a route.

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Even though he has all the natural ability in the world, his production has been a bit spotty. Part of that is due to the Jets’ quarterback rocky situation over the last three years, but Anderson has yet to top 1,000 yards in a season.

He has still led the Jets in receiving yards and touchdowns over the past two seasons, which is pretty damn good for a former undrafted free agent. However, Anderson’s game-to-game stats are all over the place. Last season, he had four games with more than 75 yards receiving and at least one touchdown, and five games with fewer than 30 yards and zero touchdowns. 2019 is his year to prove he can bring his “A” game every week.

The Jets have already deemed him worthy of keeping around this season, signing him to a second-round tender at $3.1 million. If he can gel with Sam Darnold and start to reach his ceiling, he’ll be a hot commodity after the season.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

It’s been four years since the Titans made Mariota the second pick in the draft, and we still don’t really know how good he is. He looked like he was going to take the league by storm after his first two years, but nagging injuries and a rotating door at offensive coordinator has impeded his growth.

Of the 29 quarterbacks to throw at least 500 passes between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Mariota ranked ninth in adjusted yards per attempt. Since then, his efficiency as a passer has plummeted. He ranks 22nd in adjusted yards per attempt for the 29 quarterbacks with at least 500 pass attempts over the last two seasons.

The Titans exercised Mariota’s $20.9 million team option in the hopes that they can finally figure out if he’s their franchise quarterback. Tennessee has also invested in a supporting cast to help Mariota out. The team signed Rodger Saffold and Adam Humphries in free agency to join talented players like Corey Davis, Derrick Henry, and Taylor Lewan who were already on the roster.

Barring injury, Mariota should have enough pieces around him to get back to the level he played at during his first two years in the league. That’s a big if, considering Mariota hasn’t played a full 16-game season in his career.

Staying healthy will be imperative for Mariota — for the first time in his career, he has a legitimate quarterback behind him. If he misses time, Ryan Tannehill could play well enough to keep the starting job. There isn’t a quarterback controversy in Tennessee right now, but it’s a situation worth monitoring if Mariota gets hurt or plays poorly.

Michael Pierce, DT, Baltimore Ravens

Pierce hit the ground running as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and hasn’t looked back. He quickly became a vital piece for the Ravens’ rugged defense and has developed into one of the premier nose tackles in the league. Pro Football Focus had Pierce ranked as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the league last year.

Pierce is bit different than the other players on this list. He’s been highly successful at his position, but his style of play isn’t as valuable in the pass-happy NFL. That throws a bit of a wrench into a team locking him down.

Like most nose tackles, Pierce hasn’t really been a factor as a pass rusher. He’s put up just three sacks and 10 quarterback hits in his 46 career games. Even with his struggles rushing the passer, Pierce has become the rare defensive tackle who’s dominant enough against the run to be considered for a big payday come 2020.

The Ravens even seem prepared for Pierce to get his money on the open market after the season. They spent a fifth-round pick on Daylon Mack, a 340-pound nose tackle out of Texas A&M. Mack would replace Pierce’s spot in the Ravens’ defense next to Brandon Williams, who was given a contract extension in 2017.

Pierce will likely be on a new team in 2020 — if he can keep up his high level of play, his price tag won’t be cheap.

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