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This is our first real look at what the 2014 free-agent class might have to offer. Keep in mind many of these guys will get franchise-tagged next February or sign in-season extensions. The contract-year phenomenon isn’t as prevalent in the NFL as it is in the other three major pro sports, but we’ve seen middling talent land big deals based on timely production. A couple of the players listed below will inevitably capitalize on their contract-year status and land multi-year deals next spring. In fantasy, identifying those players for your team could help win a title.
Jay Cutler – Bears – 2013 Salary: $8.47M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 14
New coach Marc Trestman is installing a quick-hitting West Coast offense, and he’s been impressed with Cutler’s ability to pick up the system. Cutler has one of the top arms in the league, but checking down and throwing with anticipation instead of forcing balls into tight coverage must be a priority. He’s shaping up as a high-end QB2 who will be able to start for your fantasy squad in some weeks.
Josh Freeman – Bucs – 2013 Salary: $8.43M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 20
Coach Greg Schiano has been leery of throwing all of his eggs into Freeman’s basket, but the reality is he gives the team a much better shot to win games than raw third-round rookie Mike Glennon. The Bucs want to see Freeman take the next step in his development before handing him a massive new contract. Freeman has shown flashes of stardom, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent.
Michael Vick – Eagles – 2013 Salary: $3.5M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 21
Vick is the overwhelming favorite to win the Eagles' starting job, ahead of Nick Foles. Although his accuracy has always been a question mark, Vick's ball location has been pinpoint through two preseason games, completing 13 of his 15 throws. If he keeps the job and continues to display improved touch in real games, Vick could approach mid-range QB1 statistics under run-heavy, up-tempo coach Chip Kelly.
Chad Henne – Jaguars – 2013 Salary: $2.625M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 34
Blaine Gabbert started the preseason opener and was named the starter for the second contest, but he and Henne are fully expected to split the first-team load this exhibition season. Henne has been the superior passer in practice, and he made the Jaguars’ offense at least watchable for parts of last season.
Contract-Year Running Backs
Maurice Jones-Drew – Jaguars – 2013 Salary: $4.95M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 17
Coming off a Lisfranc fracture, Jones-Drew has missed just one training camp practice to date. The 28-year-old looks to be fully healthy, and he’s the focal point of the Jaguars’ offense. MJD still has a ton of wear on his tires; we could see him returning to RB1 form just as easily as seeing his decline rip into high gear.
Darren McFadden – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $5.856M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 19
McFadden plays on easily the least talented team in the league, and the Raiders are going to be trailing on the scoreboard regularly. DMC has more value in PPR formats simply because he’s probably the team’s best pass catcher. The Raiders are going to be dinking and dunking with Matt Flynn under center. We’ll see if McFadden can hold up for all 16 games, then find his way out of Oakland after the season.
Ahmad Bradshaw – Colts – 2013 Salary: $1.1M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 30
Bradshaw (foot) hasn’t done much of anything since being signed by the Colts in June, but he was finally activated off the active/PUP list Monday. The good news for Bradshaw is that he’s far and away the best back on the roster, and he’s proven he can play all three downs. Bradshaw is capable of posting quality RB2 numbers in the Colts’ West Coast offense.
Rashard Mendenhall – Cardinals – 2013 Salary: $2M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 33
Mendenhall inked a one-year deal to try and rehab his value, but we just can't see him putting up anything more than RB2/Flex numbers behind a porous offensive line in coach Bruce Arians’ high-volume passing attack. He’s being overdrafted in fantasy circles. Mendenhall is already battling tendinitis in his surgically-repaired knee. He’s a poor bet to play 16 games.
Andre Brown – Giants – 2013 Salary: $2.023M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 34
We expect Brown to open the season in a timeshare with David Wilson, but Wilson’s game-breaking talent should win the coaching staff over quickly. Brown would then be limited to short-yardage and occasional goal-line work. He may score a handful of touchdowns, but he’s going to struggle for reliable weekly fantasy value.
Ben Tate – Texans – 2013 Salary: $575K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 36
Tate is arguably the top handcuff in fantasy, primarily due to Arian Foster’s extreme workload and worn-down body. Foster has been “day-to-day” with calf and back issues for the past two-plus months. He’s a prime candidate to break down in 2013. Tate also hasn’t been able to stay on the field in his young career, but he’s been getting plenty of first-team reps in camp. He needs to stay healthy. Tate could be coveted on the free-agent market in 2014
Toby Gerhart – Vikings – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 61
Gerhart hasn’t shown much of anything since being a second-round pick in the 2010 draft, but he does offer some value on third downs and is the top backup to the No. 1 fantasy footballer on the planet.
Isaac Redman – Steelers – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 73
Le’Veon Bell is going to handle a three-down workload, but Redman is currently penciled in as his backup and could even see some work on third downs. Even if he does find his way into the starting lineup for whatever reason, Redman lacks the skills to be anything more than a weak flex option.
Marcel Reece – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $1.423M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 77
Reece will open the season at fullback, but there’s a chance he could serve as the occasional third-down back while also splitting out wide. He didn’t embarrass himself when given the opportunity to carry a majority of the load with Darren McFadden hurt last year. Reece might be worth a look in PPR leagues.
Donald Brown – Colts – 2013 Salary: $1.075M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 79
Former first-round pick Brown is squarely on the roster bubble in Indy; he’s no higher than the No. 3 back and is battling Delone Carter for the job. He’s far off the fantasy radar right now, and is a certified Bill Polian draft bust.
James Starks – Packers – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Starks is off the fantasy radar at the moment, but things can change in a flash. Many of the Packers’ backs have an injury history, and that includes Starks. Per the coaching staff, Starks has been a different player this summer. He’s been running “extremely hard” and “violent.” Starks could be a trade candidate as an early-down bruiser.
LeGarrette Blount – Patriots – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Blount ripped apart the Eagles in the preseason opener, but we can’t take those numbers seriously. Eagle defenders were slow and took bad angles all night. Blount is competing with Brandon Bolden to be the early-down backup to Stevan Ridley, so whoever wins the battle would hold a bit of fantasy value. Bolden is more talented, but Blount seems to have a decent chance to overtake him.
Rashad Jennings – Raiders – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Jennings was pitiful when given an opportunity to be the lead dog in Jacksonville last season, but he’s been the Raiders’ “clear-cut” No. 2 behind Darren McFadden this summer. Even if McFadden gets hurt, we wouldn’t expect Jennings to see a ton of carries. He’d split the load with intriguing rookie Latavius Murray and hybrid weapon Marcel Reece.
Jonathan Dwyer – Steelers – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Dwyer is no higher than third on the depth chart, and he’s in danger of being cut due to his inflated salary. If he sticks in Pittsburgh, he’ll see nothing more than an occasional short-yardage carry.
Contract-Year Wide Receivers
Hakeem Nicks – Giants – 2013 Salary: $2.725M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 19
Nicks has been awfully cautious not to injure himself, skipping the offseason program and sitting out a number of training camp practices with a groin pull. He says he’s now 100 percent and expects to play this weekend. If he can avoid the lower-leg injuries that have hampered him the past couple seasons, Nicks has all the ability in the world to be a WR1. He’s the definition of boom or bust.
Eric Decker – Broncos – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 23
Decker set career-highs across the board last season, but expect a regression after the addition of Wes Welker. Decker was Peyton Manning’s preferred underneath target last season, but Welker is fully expected to become that guy. Look for Decker to finish more in the WR2/3 range.
James Jones – Packers – 2013 Salary: $2.95M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 25
Jones is locked in as an every-down receiver on the outside, along with Jordy Nelson. A year after leading the league in touchdowns, 29-year-old Jones should flirt with double-digit scores again. He remains Aaron Rodgers’ top red-zone target and will float around in the WR2/3 range. Jones will aim to have another big year to parlay it into one final payday entering his thirties.
Kenny Britt – Titans – 2013 Salary: $1.348M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 36
With Britt, it’s all about staying healthy. He hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since his rookie season in 2009, and has battled knee issues for the last couple of years. Britt has missed a few training camp practices, but he’s reportedly been balling out when on the field. He has all of the physical tools to be a true No. 1 receiver, but a lot depends on Jake Locker taking the next step. There’s some value in Britt’s current eighth-round ADP.
Golden Tate – Seahawks – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 42
No receiver has seen his stock rise more than Tate this summer, and he seems to be extremely motivated to prove himself in the final year of his rookie deal. Tate finally has the offense down, and is letting his natural abilities take over. After Percy Harvin’s hip surgery, which will cost him at least the first half of the season and likely longer, Tate has been shouldered with an every-down role opposite Sidney Rice. He still plays in the most run-heavy offense in the league, but Tate is a legit every-week WR3 candidate.
Anquan Boldin – 49ers – 2013 Salary: $6M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 43
Boldin is the No. 1 receiver in San Francisco by default after Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles’, but it wouldn’t be wise to expect him to lead the team in receiving. Vernon Davis is going to take that title, and it could be by a large margin. Boldin has sticky mitts, but can’t separate like he used to. He’s on the WR3/4 fringe. Boldin is lucky he’s still earning $6 million.
Emmanuel Sanders – Steelers – 2013 Salary: $2.5M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 46
Sanders has taken over as Pittsburgh's Z receiver, with Antonio Brown at X. His speed is finally back, and there’s certainly some value to be had in his current tenth-round ADP. Sanders is one of our favorite mid- to late-round receiver gems.
Andre Roberts – Cardinals – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 58
Roberts will see plenty of action in three-wide sets, which coach Bruce Arians likes to use a lot, but Michael Floyd is expected to be the every-down receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Roberts will likely be No. 4 in the pecking order for targets, behind the aforementioned two and Rob Housler. He’s in the WR4 conversation.
Brandon LaFell – Panthers – 2013 Salary: $1.35M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 57
LaFell was thrust into an every-down role last season, but he didn’t run with the opportunity like many hoped. He still has the No. 2 label, but LaFell is the third option in what figures to be a run-heavy offense. He could flirt with WR3 numbers, but he’s more likely than not to finish as a WR4.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – Colts – 2013 Salary: $1M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 59
DHB has been running as the No. 2 receiver opposite Reggie Wayne all summer, but he’s started to fall off in recent weeks. He tweaked his knee and has struggled with drops. Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton lit up the Colts’ first preseason game. Look for Hilton to supplant Heyward-Bey in the starting lineup sooner rather than later, while DHB will be nothing more than a situational deep threat. Treat him as a WR4.
Dexter McCluster – Chiefs – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 69
Coach Andy Reid brings his pass-happy offense to Kansas City, but the slot receiver has never been a big part of the system. McCluster may set new career-highs across the board in 2013, but that won’t be hard to do since he's pretty much been a non-factor his first three seasons. He’s nothing more than a gadget player.
Jacoby Jones – Ravens – 2013 Salary: $3M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 71
Jones showed up to camp out of shape, but he still seems to have a light grip on No. 2 receiver duties. Pay zero attention to the No. 2 label. Jones is going to be overdrafted because of it. He’s nothing more than a situational deep threat.
Julian Edelman – Patriots – 2013 Salary: $715,000 – Rotoworld Position Rank: 78
It took Edelman longer than expected to get over his broken right foot, which surely affected his market in the offseason, leading him back to the Patriots on a one-year deal. Most forget that Edelman was in the starting lineup at the beginning of last season, and the Patriots love him while Tom Brady is familiar with him. He’s been getting reps with the first- and second-team offenses this summer. Although Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have generated far more hype, Edelman is worth a look at his current 12th-round ADP.
Josh Morgan – Redskins – 2013 Salary: $3.8M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 82
Morgan is mostly a blocker on the outside in Washington’s run-heavy attack, but he’s reportedly starting to regain some of his explosion and cutting ability. The Z receiver spot in the Shanahan offense doesn’t yield much fantasy output, and Morgan is more valuable in real life football. He’s a WR5 at best.
Austin Collie – 49ers – 2013 Salary: $715K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 91
Collie has been with the 49ers for just two weeks, but early reports have been positive. He’s coming off a ruptured patellar tendon and multiple concussions, but the 49ers literally have a cast of nobodies behind Anquan Boldin. Collie isn’t a lock to make the roster, but he’s an intriguing X-factor.
Riley Cooper – Eagles – 2013 Salary: $630K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 93
Cooper has been thrust into the starting lineup opposite DeSean Jackson following Jeremy Maclin’s ACL tear. Cooper was caught using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert earlier this summer, and it was initially thought that it could jeopardize his roster spot. It appears to be water under the bridge now, but he still won’t be much more than a bottom-of-the-roster filler in fantasy.
Jerome Simpson – Vikings – 2013 Salary: $1.35M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 94
Simpson battled back problems last season, and it was a minor surprise to see the Vikings bring him back on a one-year deal. OC Bill Musgrave has noticed Simpson getting more separation this summer, but we still wouldn’t expect him to hold off intriguing rookie Cordarrelle Patterson as the starting X receiver for too long. Simpson's lone target in the Vikings' preseason opener was intercepted. He's off the fantasy radar in a run-heavy offense.
Jeremy Maclin – Eagles – 2013 Salary: $3.203M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Maclin tore his right ACL on July 27 and is done for the season. It’s a tough break for both he and the Eagles, as Maclin was excited about his potential to bust out in coach Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense. He’ll hope to land better than a one-year deal next spring.
Danario Alexander – Chargers – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Prior to tearing his right ACL on August 6, Alexander was one of our favorite sleepers among this year’s receiver group. Unfortunately for him, he just can’t shake the knee woes that threaten to ruin his career. Alexander is out for the season and will likely have to settle for a one-year deal next spring.
Mario Manningham – 49ers – 2013 Salary: $1.8M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Manningham is still working his way back from a torn ACL and PCL, and is questionable for the start of the season. Once he does return, he’ll have a decent shot at seeing significant snaps simply because the 49ers are so depleted at receiver. Manningham will be nothing more than a WR4/5 in a run-heavy system.
Contract-Year Tight Ends
Jimmy Graham – Saints – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 1
With Rob Gronkowski’s status up in the air, Graham is the premier fantasy option at tight end and it’s not even close. He’s in the prime of his career, is 100 percent recovered from the wrist issues that bothered him last season, and is Drew Brees’ No. 1 target. Graham is completely worthy of a late first-round pick. Look for him to revert back to 2011 form.
Jermichael Finley – Packers – 2013 Salary: $4.45M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 8
Finley has decided to keep his mouth shut this summer, and there aren’t many – if any – other contract-year players more determined to make the most of this season than him. Both coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have openly praised Finley’s work ethic and improved route running in camp. He’s entrenched in the TE1 conversation.
Brandon Myers – Giants – 2013 Salary: $725K – Rotoworld Position Rank: 14
Myers isn’t going to post nearly the numbers he did with pass-happy Raiders last season. Oakland was always trailing, and Myers was Carson Palmer’s top intermediate target. Myers will be no higher than the third or fourth option in the passing with the Giants. He’s a middling TE2.
Brandon Pettigrew – Lions – 2013 Salary: $1.946M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 15
Pettigrew has gotten himself into better shape as he heads into a contract year, and he’s fully expected to be peppered with targets in the short-to-intermediate passing game again in 2013. He just hasn’t been able to do much with those targets over the years. Pettigrew is a high-end TE2 simply because of the Lions' high-volume pass offense.
Fred Davis – Redskins – 2013 Salary: $1M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 16
Davis is coming off a torn Achilles’, so durability is the big question mark. He’s reportedly looked good throughout camp, and scored a touchdown in the preseason opener. Davis is a solid pass catcher, but he plays in a run-heavy offense. The fact that he’s the No. 2 option in the passing game makes him a TE2. Davis eyes rehabbing his value and snagging a multi-year deal next offseason.
Dustin Keller -- Dolphins – 2013 Salary: $3.25M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 20
Keller supposedly turned down a multi-year deal and is instead banking on rehabbing his value on a one-year contract after battling hamstring issues with the Jets last season. Keller will likely be the third option in the passing attack, behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. A handful of scores and 50 grabs are achievable, making Keller a middle-of-the-road TE2.
Scott Chandler – Bills – 2013 Salary: $2.05M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 29
Chandler tore his ACL in Week 16 last year, but he’s recovered quickly and is expected to get some action this preseason ahead of the regular season opener. He’s off the fantasy radar in the Bills’ new run-first offense.
Ed Dickson – Ravens – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: 30
Following Dennis Pitta’s broken hip, Dickson was given a golden opportunity to take the starting tight end job and run with it. Instead, he suffered a slight hamstring tear and is questionable for Week 1. Dickson is less talented that Pitta, but he does have some “move” tight end skills. He’s nothing more than a low TE2.
Dennis Pitta – Ravens – 2013 Salary: $2.023M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Pitta was going to be leaned on heavily by Joe Flacco to replace much of Anquan Boldin’s lost production. Unfortunately, he dislocated and fractured his hip in a July 27 training camp practice and is likely lost for the season. There’s a slight chance he could return near the end of the year, but nobody is holding their breath. Pitta may have to settle for a one-year deal next offseason.
Tony Moeaki – Chiefs – 2013 Salary: $1.323M – Rotoworld Position Rank: N/A
Moeaki wasn’t the same player in 2012, a year after tearing his ACL. The Chiefs signed Anthony Fasano and drafted Travis Kelce, and it appears Moeaki might be in danger of getting phased out of the offense. He’s well off the fantasy radar.