What did DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Mark Ingram and Justin Forsett have in common last year? They each posted career-high stats in some or all categories, making them Fantasy lineup mainstays. And they also were in the final year of their contracts.
As they line up new deals before the 2015 season, a new group of players entering their contract years eye what they did and will try to put up huge numbers so that they, too, can collect big paychecks this offseason. After all, players play to win on and off the field.
Not every player puts up big years in contract years, by the way. C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Stevan Ridley, Knowshon Moreno, Rod Streater and Jordan Cameron suffered injuries that cut their seasons short. Meanwhile, Frank Gore, Shane Vereen, Reggie Wayne, Michael Crabtree and Charles Clay played through most of the season but didn't put up numbers that would catch your eye.
Not that those guys are Fantasy staples anyway.
There is no shortage of stud Fantasy players who are set for a pay day. Many of them have next to no chance of leaving their current team while others could make a big impact in another city. Here's our list, sorted by players with the best c
hance of leaving, then ranked for Fantasy Football in 2015:
Good chance at getting to free agency
1. Alfred Morris
Morris has been a delight since entering the league, but nevertheless he has produced fewer rushing yards with a lower rushing average over his three seasons. You know how it is for running backs -- if they're not a do-it-all playmaker, they're not going to get paid a ton of money. Morris is a solid two-down back and not quite in the class of the top tier of rushers, even with 28 touchdowns over three years. Morris could have another solid campaign in 2015 and still find himself looking for work the following offseason.
2. Lamar Miller
Miller is the perfect running back to bet on having a monster Fantasy season in 2015. Last year was his breakout campaign, but there were still opportunities missed. He had 216 carries and 38 catches over 16 games, registering 15 or more carries just six times. But three came in his final three games, and he did very well in those final two. If the Dolphins commit themselves to Miller this season he could get a big workload and end up with some huge stats -- and a subsequent pay day. Unlike Morris, Miller has evolved into a guy who can deliver as a three-down back. He just needs the chance.
3. Doug Martin
This is a make or break year for Martin -- assuming he gets the chance to make. Early talk last summer was that rookie Charles Sims would be given a shot to take over for Martin but those plans changed when Sims got hurt. Martin sparsely delivered, posting 10-plus Fantasy points three times in 11 games and never getting more than 11 points in a standard league. Martin needs to park himself at the corner of Talent Blvd. and Opportunity Lane in order to have a shot at handing over ferocious stats in 2015. Who knows if Lovie Smith & Co. will let him out of the garage.
4. Michael Floyd
Here's the pickle the Cardinals find themselves in: if they restructure Larry Fitzgerald's deal, then whatever it ends up being is going to be a starting point in negotiations for an extension for Floyd. That is, if they want to extend Floyd. Since being selected with a first-round pick out of Notre Dame, Floyd has delivered 13 touchdowns and five 100-yard games in 48 matchups. Sure, we might say most of his last two seasons were rough because of the Cardinals' treacherous quarterback situation, but he still hasn't delivered like a top pick should (fellow 2012 draftee T.Y. Hilton has been way more productive). Maybe he puts together a big year when it counts and he lands a fatter wallet. Or maybe he struggles and finds himself on the move next spring.
5. Antonio Gates
Gates is an interesting case. Everyone knows he's been productive, and everyone knows he's one of the oldest players in the league (he'll be 35 when training camp opens). Typically players like this settle in with their franchise, collecting probably a little more money than they deserve. But just a few years ago, Tony Gonzalez fled his home franchise in the Chiefs and spent a few seasons chasing a ring with the Falcons. I wouldn't say it's a good chance, but perhaps Gates tries it after 2015. Either way, Gates isn't playing just for fun -- if he's involved in the offense then he's a good starting Fantasy tight end candidate.
6. Dwayne Allen
There are two reasons why Allen is ranked as high as he is: because he's a touchdown threat week after week and because there just aren't a lot of other great free-agents-to-be. Allen's versatility will probably keep him in high regard with the Colts coaching staff.
7. Anquan Boldin
Boldin didn't play like a 34-year-old last year, totaling over 80 catches and 1,000 yards. He was essentially the 49ers' No. 1 receiver when younger guys like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis couldn't hold up their end of the bargain. Boldin actually has back-to-back 80-catch, 1,000-yard years and should continue to earn targets until he proves otherwise. What team wouldn't want someone like that if he became available? He just has to prove it this year to land another deal next year (assuming he doesn't land a new deal this offseason).
8. Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill finished as the 11th ranked quarterback in Fantasy last year, even if he wasn't overly consistent. However, he made enough strides in the Dolphins new offense to show that he belongs as a starter in this league and, more importantly, gives Miami its best quarterback since the days of Dan Marino. It would take a bad season from Tannehill to fall out of the Dolphins' pool. Don't bet on that -- with the Dolphins providing their quarterback continuity in scheme this offseason along with a rebuilt offensive line, Tannehill could be in the perfect position to post profitable figures for Fantasy purposes.
9. Fred Jackson
The hourglass is running out of sand on Jackson, who saw his rushing average dip from 4.3 to 3.7 yards per carry and his receiving average fall from 8.2 to 7.6 yards per catch. Thirty-four years of age with 1,829 carries and 322 catches over his pro career (including the indoor league he played in), it's hard to imagine Jackson putting up great numbers or receiving a decent contract extension, even if he's playing in a Rex Ryan run-heavy offense.
10. Kendall Wright
Wright strikes us as exactly the type of player who overcomes inconsistent production and has a banner year just in time to show it off to potential suitors. We're talking about a player with career highs standing at 94 catches, 1,079 yards and six touchdowns. I don't think he can get to even 80 catches much less 94, but maybe something ignites in him that gives him a shot at coming through with new highs. Then we can go ahead and call him a gigantic busteroo in the summer of 2016.
11. Coby Fleener
12. Rueben Randle
13. LeGarrette Blount
14. Robert Griffin III
15. Chris Ivory
16. Malcom Floyd
17. Khiry Robinson
18. Vernon Davis
19. Nick Foles
20. James Starks
21. Sam Bradford
22. Mohamed Sanu
Do I really have to rank these guys? Kirk Cousins, Shonn Greene, Bryce Brown, Bernard Pierce, Harry Douglas, Marvin Jones, Brian Quick, Scott Chandler, Ladarius Green, Timothy Wright (restricted) and ... Trent Richardson.
No chance at getting to free agency (but it doesn't mean they won't ball out)
Running backs: Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch
Both are getting up there in age and workload. Fantasy owners might not aim for them in drafts past 2015 (some might give up on them this year) but their teams probably will drop some cash on them sooner than later, likely in the form of a contract extension.
Wide receivers: T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery
We're definitely looking at four guys who aren't going anywhere. Between new deals and franchise tags, all of these receivers are headed toward new riches. I can't imagine any of these guys falling past Round 3 in any league this year or next.
Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger
Yeah, right. Can you imagine any of these guys playing in some other team's jersey? Maybe with a bad, bad year we could see the Giants or Chargers move on, but that just seems so unlikely.
Tight ends: Greg Olsen
Maybe there's a chance the Panthers plunk down too much money on Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly in the next 12 months and not leave enough for Olsen, but he's still a quality player who will be hard for the Panthers to give up on after 2015.