2012 Draft Prep: Players with an incentive plan

Sometimes there's more to a player "doing his job" that motivates him to play well. Sometimes, it's the allure of being wealthy.

It's no secret that players who enter a contract year (the final year of their deal) do everything they can to put up big stats in hopes of cashing in the following offseason. They might practice and play through an injury they otherwise might not, or they'll study game film for an extra hour a week or stay on the practice fields a little longer. They'll do anything they can to put up big numbers to make themselves look better when it's time for a new contract. And the more they do, the better it is for their Fantasy owners.

Last year, two players in a contract year didn't have good seasons in part because they were anxious about receiving a new deal. One of them, DeSean Jackson, got one anyway from the Eagles. The other, Peyton Hillis, was unceremoniously dumped by the Browns and landed with the Chiefs -- on another one-year deal. Both players insist that their contract headaches are in the past and they're focused on football. Jackson has a multi-year deal and has nothing to worry about but we wouldn't be surprised if Hillis is lying through his teeth.

And here's one more factor: In late August the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to push the trade deadline back until after Week 8. That opens the door for playoff contenders to add talent at midseason, and the kinds of players they'll chase will be those who they won't have to pay in 2013. The lists below also serves as potential midseason breakout players in the event they get moved to a new team.

Here's a look at the players at the big-time Fantasy positions who enter 2012 in a contract year.


Joe Flacco, Ravens: The hope in Baltimore is Flacco sheds the "consistent" label and picks up the "elite" one. Finishing with just over 3,600 passing yards in each of his last three seasons with 21-to-26 total touchdowns, Flacco's been good enough to pace the Ravens to playoff berths every year of his career. But even though he nearly led them to a Super Bowl last year, some don't buy into Flacco being a top-flight NFL passer in part because his numbers aren't exciting from year to year. The Ravens view Flacco differently and have had many discussions with his representatives about an extension, which could come at any point. It would be a shock if Flacco didn't stay in Baltimore past 2012.
Moving on in 2013? Five percent chance. The Ravens don't want to start looking for another quarterback to develop. And you read that part about the playoffs, right?

Contract-year quarterbacks
Jason Campbell, Bears
Joe Flacco, Ravens
David Garrard, Dolphins
Brian Hoyer, Patriots
Tarvaris Jackson, Bills
Matt Moore, Dolphins
Matt Schaub, Texans
Contract-year running backs
Jackie Battle, Chargers
LeGarrette Blount, Bucs (RFA)
Ronnie Brown, Chargers
Reggie Bush, Dolphins
Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers (RFA)
Mike Goodson, Raiders
Shonn Greene, Jets
Tim Hightower, Redskins
Peyton Hillis, Chiefs
Chris Ivory, Saints (RFA)
Brandon Jackson, Browns
Brandon Jacobs, 49ers
Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
Felix Jones, Cowboys
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Chris Ogbonnaya, Bengals (ERFA)
Isaac Redman, Steelers
Javon Ringer, Titans
Bernard Scott, Bengals
Kevin Smith, Lions
LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals
D.J. Ware, Giants
Danny Woodhead, Patriots
Contract-year wide receivers
Danny Amendola, Rams
Ramses Barden, Giants
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
Deion Branch, Patriots
Austin Collie, Colts (RFA)
Josh Cribbs, Browns
Victor Cruz, Giants (RFA)
Malcom Floyd, Chargers
Devery Henderson, Saints
Greg Jennings, Packers
Donald Jones, Bills (RFA)
Johnny Knox, Bears
Mohamed Massaquoi, Browns
Randy Moss, 49ers
Louis Murphy, Panthers
David Nelson, Bills (RFA)
Preston Parker, Bucs
Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers (RFA)
Jerome Simpson, Vikings
Steve Smith, Rams
Brandon Tate, Bengals
Mike Wallace, Steelers
Wes Welker, Patriots
Contract-year tight ends
Martellus Bennett, Giants
Dallas Clark, Bucs
Jared Cook, Titans
Fred Davis, Redskins
Ed Dickson, Ravens (RFA)
Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Todd Heap, Cardinals
Dustin Keller, Jets
Heath Miller, Steelers
Dennis Pitta, Ravens (RFA)
Visanthe Shiancoe, Patriots
Benjamin Watson, Browns

Matt Schaub, Texans: The outlook in Houston isn't as rosy as Schaub comes back from a Lisfranc foot sprain, his third major injury in five seasons with the Texans. This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations after coming the closest it's ever been in 2011 -- without Schaub for the end of the season and postseason. Schaub has played well when healthy, averaging well over 300 yards per game with 70 total touchdowns in his last 36 starts over three years. He's a good quarterback but if he can't stay healthy or lead the Texans to the playoffs in 2012, he might not have a future in Houston.
Moving on in 2013? 50 percent chance. There isn't much concern about Schaub's game or the Texans' playoff hopes -- both of those are strong. It's his health mixed with what he'd want monetarily in an extension that could give Houston some pause.

Running back

Reggie Bush, Dolphins: By the way he played in 2011, you might have thought Bush's contract year was last season. In his first season with the 'Fins, Bush posted career-highs in carries (216) and rushing yards (1,086) while matching a career-high in rushing scores (six). He also played in 15 games for the first time since 2006. Bush re-worked his contract when he arrived in Miami from New Orleans last summer but will turn 28 next March and might not land the kind of mega-deal he would want, even if he repeated his numbers from 2011.
Moving on in 2013? 50 percent chance. Bush needs to stay healthy and perform to expectations in a completely different offense this season in order to cash in. That might be asking for too much. His NFL career is far from over and he's certainly a candidate to play through minor injuries in hopes of a new deal, but he might not make a lot of dough in Miami.

Shonn Greene, Jets: After two poor seasons in New York, Greene crossed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in 2011 and threw in six scores to boot. Problem is half of the touchdowns came in one game at Washington and he had just four games over 80 rushing yards all season. Greene might be viewed as this year's quintessential contract-year running back: He's in a spot where he'll dominate carries for an offense refocused on a "ground-and-pound" attack and doesn't need to do a lot to break his career-high rushing numbers.
Moving on in 2013? 55 percent chance. Greene will need to really excel in order to break the bank with the Jets. He should have the chance to post over 1,000 rush yards again, but the touchdown numbers could be in limbo given the team's addition of Tim Tebow. He could hoard touchdowns from Greene, who might have to settle for a decent contract, not a lucrative one.

Rashad Jennings, Jaguars: Jennings' situation is very intriguing as he's the starting running back in Jacksonville to start the season thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout. As of late August, MJD is still nowhere to be found and Jennings has throttled preseason defenses at a 4.8 yards per carry clip, close to his career rushing average of 5.0 yards per carry. If he can somehow get a foothold in the Jaguars offense even after Jones-Drew reports, he'll be in a position for career-highs and a pay day after the year.
Moving on in 2013? 50 percent chance. Depends on how the Jaguars solve their riddle with Jones-Drew. Also depends on how Jennings does this season. Anything he shows while MJD is out will help him garner attention as a free agent next summer.

Isaac Redman, Steelers: Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Redman will get the first crack at filling Rashard Mendenhall's shoes this season, replacing the Steelers' starter from 2011 after he tore his ACL on January 1. Some preseason injuries took some wind out of his sails but despite nagging hip and groin issues he is on track for the start of the season. He might wind up sharing carries with Jonathan Dwyer in the short term and Mendenhall in the long term, but if he can prove he can play through his problems he'll give owners some incredible value given he's dropped in drafts through late August and himself some green in his pocket.
Moving on in 2013? 30 percent chance. If Redman can match his 4.48 rushing average from his last two seasons (162 carries) and be a little more of a factor as a receiver, the Steelers will gladly reward him. He has every opportunity and reason to excel.

Wide receiver

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Bowe was good enough to land the franchise tag from the Chiefs this spring but not good enough to find middle ground on a long-term deal. As of late July, Bowe has yet to report to Chiefs camp and might stay away until the start of the season. After all, if he shows up, signs the one-year franchise tender and then gets hurt he jeopardizes his chances of a big pay day. Not only might his absence raise questions about whether or not he's in game shape by the time he reports, but the Chiefs are installing a new offense this season and without any offseason work in the program, Bowe is decidedly behind in the learning process. But he will be in a contract year once he signs his tender.
Moving on in 2013? 50 percent chance. If Bowe struggles, the Chiefs will let him walk. If he plays well, they'll do what they can to keep him, including potentially tagging him for a second-straight spring. How good of shape he's in and how quickly he can learn the Chiefs' offense will be major factors in how he'll end up doing. Staying away from the team won't help.

Victor Cruz, Giants: A year ago Cruz was just hoping to make the Giants roster and contribute in any way he could. Now, he's entering the season expected to be among the team's biggest playmakers. He's set to be a restricted free agent this spring, which puts a cap on his movement in free agency, but the fact remains he will get paid. The Giants have said all along they'd like to extend him and Cruz is obviously willing and says he's not sweating the details on an extension and instead is focusing on the season ahead.
Moving on in 2013? Zero percent chance. We'd be floored if Cruz somehow wasn't a Giant next season. Matching the 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns he had in 2011 will only generate a larger signing bonus.

Greg Jennings, Packers: Jennings is already on his second NFL contract -- a third should be a major windfall for him. No discussions have been made public between his reps and the Packers, and with that in mind it might come to pass that the Packers limit his movement and give him the franchise tag next spring. Of course Jennings doesn't want that but the guy has been pretty darn consistent over the last four seasons and has scored at least nine touchdowns in four of his last five years.
Moving on in 2013? Zero percent chance. Unless he has a complete meltdown in 2012 the Packers won't let Jennings out of their grasp. Age doesn't seem to be much of a factor as he turns 29 this September and his role and knowledge of the offense is impossible to replace. He should continue to be great for Fantasy and he'd be that way even if he wasn't in a contract year.

Mike Wallace, Steelers: No one botched their offseason more than Wallace. Tagged with a restricted first-round tender, Wallace looked for a rich contract from other teams but none were willing to pay him and give up a first-round pick for his services. Then when the Steelers offered him a deal they deemed fair, he balked. The Steelers opted to give up much of that money to Antonio Brown and refused Wallace's contract demands. He has since reported to camp and signed his one-year tender.
Moving on in 2013? 70 percent chance. The Steelers might be unwilling to sink more cap space into a receiver after paying Brown a nice chunk and they say they won't deal Wallace. If both of those factors come to pass, Wallace will have to eventually report to the Steelers, play out the season and look for a new deal next spring. Playing big will be paramount for him; if he doesn't have a good season he can kiss his guaranteed moolah goodbye.

Wes Welker, Patriots: Welker was franchised this offseason but opted to sign his tender before trying to land an extension. No new deal was reached, so he's in a contract year for the second straight season. That's not all bad as the accomplished receiver notched career-highs in yardage (1,569) and touchdowns (nine) last season while falling two catches shy of setting a personal best in receptions (he had 122). Could he do it again? Who's to say he can't? The Patriots' cadre of weapons will make it hard for defenses to contain Welker, and everyone knows he and Brady have unbreakable chemistry. He should be a dynamo.
Moving on in 2013? 60 percent chance. Save for him settling for a reasonable deal to finish his career, the Patriots might let him walk. Welker will be 32 next season and the Pats might figure him to be too old to give a huge extension to. Besides, they are two years away from ponying up cash for Aaron Hernandez and three years from dealing with Tom Brady. To balance their cap, Welker might be the odd man out.

Tight end

Fred Davis, Redskins: The Redskins hold all the cards here as Davis had a good 2011 but was slapped with a four-game suspension for a substance abuse violation. Davis was franchised in the spring and signed the tender, putting him in a contract year again. Right now, the only way the Redskins will give Davis an extension is if it's team-friendly; they won't shell out big bucks for him knowing he's one failed drug test away from being suspended for a year.
Moving on in 2013? 40 percent chance. It figures to be a make-or-break year for Davis, who must prove his 796-yard year was no fluke. Working with Robert Griffin III seems like a boost on the surface, but RG3 never leaned too much on his tight ends in college. Davis has some work to do.

Dustin Keller, Jets: Keller and the Jets are at an impasse in contract negotiations and will go into the season tabling their respective decisions on his future. If Keller wants to get paid he'll need to kill the disappearing act he's had for each of the last two seasons after hot starts. It's only in his favor that he'll continue to play a lot and remain a top target in an offense bereft of good receiving threats.
Moving on in 2013? 40 percent chance. Like so many others, it's going to come down to how Keller does in 2012. If he plays well, the Jets will give him a solid extension. If he's mediocre they might be willing to match any offers he gets in free agency, but it's no certainty he'll be back. Hopefully the smell of a massive payday will be what pushes Keller into Fantasy prominence beyond September.

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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