When someone says “It’s not about the money,” it most certainly is about the money. Athletes are guilty of this more than anyone. How many times has a pro athlete stood before the media and said “It’s not about the money” right after they signed a mega contract? It happens all the time. The fact is, athletes want to get paid the most money possible and money can be a great motivator.
Heading into the 2012 NFL season, there are several key players who will be playing for big contracts. These are players who are in the final year of their contract and have proven to be valuable NFL commodities. As you prepare for your fantasy football draft, put a (*) by each of the following players as they prepare to enter the final year of their contract. The dangling carrot that is a new lucrative contract may just motivate them to elevate their game in 2012, and help your fantasy team in the process.
After producing back-to-back 4,000 yard, 25-plus touchdown seasons in 2009 and 2010, Schaub missed six games in 2011 with a foot injury. While Schaub sure looked the part of a starting fantasy quarterback in ’09 and ’10, he regressed in 2011, even before his injury. Schaub was on pace to throw for just under 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Schaub has plenty to prove in 2012 and should be motivated to show that his career year in ‘09 wasn’t a fluke. I currently have Schaub ranked QB14.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco isn’t an elite quarterback, but he wants to get paid like one. Right now, the Ravens and Flacco sound like they are far apart on a contract extension. While Flacco has proven he can win games for the Ravens, he’s hardly a statistical juggernaut. During his four years as Baltimore’s starting quarterback, Flacco has never thrown for more than 3,700 yards or 25 touchdowns. With a potentially big payday hanging out there, this could be the year Flacco breaks out. I currently have Flacco ranked QB18.
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
Bush has emerged as an intriguing fantasy running back in his seventh NFL season. In 2011, Bush rushed for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 43 catches for nearly 300 yards and a touchdown. While Bush was primarily used as a receiver in New Orleans, he proved last year in Miami that he could be a feature back. At age 27, Bush still has some mileage left in his legs and could be in for a nice payday if he follows up his ’11 campaign with a repeat performance in 2012. I currently have Bush ranked RB18.
Shonn Greene, New York Jets
The Jets want to restore its “ground and pound” offensive this year and Greene figures to play a prominent role. The Jets hired Tony Sparano to be its offensive coordinator and his offense is built around a power-running game. Greene is that type of back and despite all the problems the Jets had last season, Greene wasn’t one of them. He put together a decent year, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Greene turns 27 in August and only has 546 carries for his career. If he turns in a solid season in 2012, he’ll get paid by some team. I currently have Greene ranked RB19.
If you’re worried that Cruz’s 2011 season was a fluke? Don’t be. Cruz exploded onto the fantasy football season last year, finishing with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. Now he’s entering 2012 set to make $490,000. While Cruz certainly earned his pay in 2011, he will have to prove he can get open consistently when defenses are focused on stopping him. At age 25, Cruz has a long NFL career ahead of him. But this year is crucial for him and his quest for landing a monster deal. I’m extremely high on Cruz this year and currently have him ranked WR3.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
After a slow start in 2011, Brown finished the season as the Steelers most consistent receiver. In Weeks 1 through 6, Brown had 18 receptions for 262 yards and zero touchdowns. The following 10 games he caught 51 passes for 846 yards and two touchdowns. That momentum, along with the departure of Hines Ward, should lead to more opportunities for Brown this season and hopefully more touchdowns. Brown will be a restricted free agent after the season, but has already said he plans on honoring his contract and “hopefully next year will take care of itself.” That attitude is going earn him a lot of fans in fantasy football circles. Brown has the potential to be a top 15 wide receiver this season. I currently have Brown ranked WR24.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego
With Vincent Jackson now in Tampa, Floyd has an opportunity for more targets this year. San Diego signed Floyd to a two-year deal before last season and he rewarded them by turning an average year. He finished 2011 with 43 catches for 856 yards and five touchdowns. While Floyd is a nice option for the Chargers at wide receiver, the biggest issue with him is his health. Floyd has missed nine games the past two seasons, including four last year. The opportunity for more targets and a bigger payday should be enough to motivate Floyd to stay on the field. If he does end up playing 16 games, he could be a fantasy stud this year. I currently have Floyd ranked WR34.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans
After a solid 2011 season, Cook is looking for a new contract with the Titans. Cook caught 49 passes for 759 yards and three touchdowns last season and is set to make $615,000 in 2012. Cook is a big, athletic tight end, but his NFL resume is still pretty thin. During his three seasons with Titans, he has just six starts and 87 career receptions. Tennessee likely wants to see another year from Cook like 2011 before rewarding him with a new contract. I currently have Cook ranked TE14.
Editor’s note: Players left off this list include: Drew Brees, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings. While those players all have one year deals through either a franchise tag or the final year of their contract, they’re all elite fantasy football players and contract status should not impact their draft rankings.