One of the most exciting terms in the NFL is “contract year”. A contract year is the final year of a player’s deal with his current team. This year is so crucial to players because it is a major determining factor in how much money they will be able to demand in the offseason when they become a free agent. Because of this extra motivation, many players will outshine anything they have ever done before. It has gotten to a point where the general public expects that any player in the final year of their contract will automatically elevate their game to superstar level.
The NFL is a fast paced league. Recent success is the biggest factor when deciding how much a player is worth. Teams do not care if a player was the best in the league five years ago, they want the best in the league today. Therefore, when it comes time to re-sign a player, teams really only look at their past two years of performance. Of course, the very last year is the one they pay the most attention to.
There are other factors that go into determining how big of a contract to award a player. Obviously how much they currently make is a big one. No player wants to make less than they already make, especially if they are still very productive. Another factor is how they behave off the field. With so many players getting in trouble today, a team wants to make sure their new player will spend most of their time on the field and not in a court room. They also want those players to want to play for the team and not just for themselves. When a player plays for the team, there is a lesser chance of that player embarrassing the organization through the media.
The final factor may be the most important, next to a players’ recent performance. This is the age of a player. The younger a guy is, the longer a team can have them. It is a fact of life that when people get older their bodies start to break down. This means that a player who is 33 years old has less time left to make an impact than a player who is 25. Teams want to know that when they sign a player to a long-term deal that they will get great production from that player for a long time.
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10 Jeremy Maclin - WR - Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles parted way with start wide receiver DeSean Jackson before the start of this season. They immediately re-signed Jeremy Maclin, who was also a free agent, to a one-year deal. The idea behind re-signing the often injured Maclin was to see if their first round pick of the 2009 NFL draft could become the number one wide receiver they always wanted. Maclin is a more well-rounded receiver than Jackson who is often said to be no more than a deep threat. Because of injuries, Maclin has never posted a 1,000 yard receiving season. He has made the most of his opportunity in 2014. So much so that the Eagles have already made it clear they would like to ink him to a long-term contract. This will not happen until the offseason, but it looks like Maclin will cash in big time from his strong performance in 2014.
9 Gerald McCoy - DT - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gerald McCoy is arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL today. He, along with outside linebacker Lavonte David, is one of the leaders in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room. He was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft and will be 27 at the start of next season. Since coming into the league, McCoy has developed into a Pro Bowl player and has even tied the franchise’s record for most sacks in a single game by a defensive tackle which was set by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. As one of the cornerstones of a young and talented defense, McCoy is set to be re-signed to a very lucrative deal.
8 Randall Cobb - WR - Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb is in a very interesting situation because of the position the Packers will be in next season. Three of the team’s wide receivers will become unrestricted free agents including the two top guys, Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Cobb has the upper hand on Nelson due to age. Cobb will be 25 at the beginning of the 2015 season and Nelson is already 30 years old. Though Nelson has outperformed Cobb this season, Cobb is in a better position to cash in because of his long-term potential. Cobb led the NFL in all purpose yards in 2012 and is posting great numbers this season. If he can stay healthy, which has been a struggle in the past for him, he is set to make a lot of money from his current team.
7 Mike Iupati - G - San Francisco 49ers
Seeing an offensive lineman on the list may not be as exciting as a quarterback or a wide receiver, but it is accurate. Though the general public does not give a lot of respect to the offensive line, the front office sure does. Next to star quarterbacks, star offensive linemen are some of the highest-paid players in the NFL. Mike Iupati may be the best guard in the league. His ability to move and create holes is a major reason why the 49ers have become one of the league’s premier rushing teams. The two-time Pro Bowler has been a major contributor to a team that has made an appearance in the last three NFC Championships. At only 27 years old, Iupati still has at least four good years ahead of him and the 49ers will want to have him locked in for all of those.
6 Demaryius Thomas - WR - Denver Broncos
One would think a superstar like wide receiver Demaryius Thomas would be higher on this list. While he has been among the best wide receivers in the NFL over the past three years, there will be a number of great wide receivers becoming free agents next season. This could hurt Thomas a little bit, but not much. Thomas is a two-time Pro Bowler. He led all wide receivers in touchdowns in 2013. He set a Super Bowl record for most receptions in Super Bowl XLVIII. On October 5th, 2014 he broke the Broncos’ franchise record held by Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe for most receiving yards in a single game. It is hard to imagine the Broncos not doing all they can to keep their elite wide out in their locker room for years to come.
5 Justin Houston - LB - Kansas City Chiefs
Like Jeremy Maclin's team, Justin Houston’s Chiefs have also stated they want to re-sign their star player to a long-term contract. Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson are three of the best linebackers in the NFL and a huge reason why the Chiefs have made such a turnaround in the past two years. The front office says re-signing Houston is the 2015 offseason’s “top priority”. They tried to get a deal done before the start of this season but time ran out before training camp began. The two-time Pro Bowler will be 26 years old at the start of next season.
4 Dez Bryant - WR - Dallas Cowboys
Just a couple years ago, nobody would have thought Dez Bryant was in line for such a huge contract extension. He was labeled as a selfish player who did not care about the team. His attitude has made a complete turnaround in the past two year and he is now one of the most passionate leaders in the Cowboys’ locker room. Statistically he has not been as successful as Demaryius Thomas, but he is still in line to receive a bigger contract. The difference is Jerry Jones. Jones has become desperate to get back to the level of success he had in the early 1990s. He envisions the combination of Romo, Bryant, and Murray as the second coming of Aikman, Irvin, and Smith. Bryant is also a bit younger than Thomas which means there is more time for him to make more money with this deal.
3 Ndamukong Suh - DT - Detroit Lions
Ndamukong Suh is going to be given a monstrous contract from whoever signs him. The three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle may carry a lot of baggage, but his play on the field is spectacular. Suh was the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is also the outspoken locker room leader for the Detroit Lions. That is the positive side of Suh. The negative side is that he is one of the most flagged and highest fined players in the NFL. Some team, whether it is the Lions or not, will overlook the negative aspects of Suh's game and give him a big contract. However, the main reason why Suh is in line to make so much money is that he already makes so much money. His rookie contract came before the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because of that, he is the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL, earning $22 million this season. Now he has a strong resume of NFL experience to back him up, leading him to even more money.
2 Julius Thomas - TE - Denver Broncos
Julius Thomas is one of the league’s best stories. He was a basketball player in college. He was undersized to be a power forward in the NBA. After four years of basketball, he decided to try out for the football team in his last year of NCAA eligibility. He performed well and ended up being selected by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He went out with a season-ending injury in the first game of his career. Thomas spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons recovering. Then he emerged as one of the NFL's best tight ends in 2013. He is looking even better this season. By the sixth week of the 2014 season, he had already scored nine touchdowns. The doors were opened for tight ends to receive huge contracts this offseason when Jimmy Graham was re-signed to the largest dollar amount a tight end had ever been given. Thomas could be looking at a similar deal.
1 DeMarco Murray - RB - Dallas Cowboys
No player in the NFL has been more explosive during the first half of the 2014 season than Dallas Cowboys’ running back DeMarco Murray. Murray is the only player in the entire history of the NFL to start the season with seven straight games of 100 or more rushing yards. That broke a record that was set in 1958 by Jim Brown who some consider to be the greatest player in the history of the game. Murray was also highly effective in 2013. His 5.2 yards per carry average was the highest in the league among players who carried the football at least 150 times. There is no way the Cowboys are going to part with the 26-year-old running back. Following last offseason, Jamaal Charles was given a huge contract extension. Murray may be set to make even more money than Charles.
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