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Offseason Extra: Compensation inspiration

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If you've ever won the lottery, you'd know that money changes things. Some people are invigorated to face new challenges and become even bigger success stories. Others are comfortable kicking back on their pile of dough and not putting forth much effort.

But that happens once you've actually landed the cash. Before you get rich, you have to earn it. That's how it is in the NFL most of the time, anyway.

When faced with a "contract year," many players aim to put their best foot forward, play through nagging injuries and in terms of Fantasy Football, being productive statistically. It doesn't always work out that way. Here are examples from last year.

Players entering a contract year (UFA) in 2012
Danny Amendola: Not in Top 50 WRs* Shonn Greene: 15th among RBs
Martellus Bennett: 13th among TEs Greg Jennings: Not in Top 50 WRs*
Dwayne Bowe: 46th among WRs* Rashard Mendenhall: Not in Top 50 RBs*
Reggie Bush: 14th among RBs Heath Miller: 4th among TEs
Jared Cook: 20th among TEs Matt Schaub: 17th among QBs-x
Fred Davis: 41st among TEs* Mike Wallace: 25th among WRs
Joe Flacco: 15th among QBs Wes Welker: 12th among WRs
* injured for significant part of 2012 season
x signed extension during 2012 season

Over the past few seasons we've seen fewer and fewer players come through with a smashing season on the brink of a lucrative deal, but it doesn't mean they're not thinking about it. The motivation to play well is what counts here. Yes, every player plays to win and be respected but personal financial gain never hurt either.

We broke down the list of high-profile Fantasy-relevant football players entering into a contract year into three categories. Whether the money they'll get after 2013 is locked in or not, you can be sure that these guys know that they're all playing for something.

The unaffected

Players who will break the bank no matter how they play in 2013.

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Since the day he was drafted, Ryan has been all about the team and that doesn't stand to change no matter what his bank account looks like. Ryan probably would prefer to have a Super Bowl ring than a bloated bank account anyway (though having both isn't so bad either). He's not expected to depart from the Falcons nest and should play well even with a rich contract.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 4
Chance of changing teams in 2014: Zero percent

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
Sometimes the more headlines a player's contract situation gets, the more likely he is to cool off once he lands a lot of guaranteed dough. Cruz's name continues to be in the news but that's probably because he's in New York and the media there makes mountains out of every quote. What they didn't do was make a big deal out of Cruz working out with Eli Manning in North Carolina despite not having a contract signed in April. It's that kind of dedication -- and we've seen a lot of it from Cruz -- that makes us believe he's going to play well now and beyond this season regardless of his contract.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 4 or 5
Chance of changing teams in 2014: Less than five percent

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
Graham escalated into a difference-maker quickly for the Saints and there's no chance he'll be let go. There's also no chance he'll go hungry as the Saints have to put a lot of money in front of him this offseason (the franchise tag is the least of what they'll do). And there's next to no chance he'll struggle statistically this year or anytime in the near future. Last year's woes were because of a wrist injury that Graham has since fixed. Even with the problem he finished as the top tight end in Fantasy.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 2
Chance of changing teams in 2014: Zero percent

Notable Free Agents entering 2013
Player Position Team
Danario Alexander WR Chargers
Anquan Boldin WR 49ers
Andre Brown RB Giants
Donald Brown RB Colts
Scott Chandler TE Bills
Fred Davis TE Redskins
Chad Henne QB Jaguars
Darrius Heyward-Bey WR Raiders
Jacoby Jones WR Ravens
Brandon LaFell WR Panthers
Dexter McCluster WR Chiefs
Brandon Pettigrew TE Lions
Andre Roberts WR Cardinals
Ben Tate RB Texans
Golden Tate WR Seahawks
Joe Webb WR Vikings

Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens
Pitta saw his star shine brighter catching passes from Joe Flacco and might choose to take some career advice from his quarterback. Last year, Flacco didn't sweat playing out a contract year, he just did his thing and wound up as the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens rewarded Flacco handsomely for what he's done for them and Pitta should expect the Ravens to do the same for him after this season. At the very least he'll get franchised.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 9
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 10 percent

Playing for a pay day

Players who could break the bank if they prove they are elite at their positions.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
We've been waiting for Britt to show that he's an amazing talent on the field, but he's been a head scratcher off of it. He's spent a lot of time dealing with the police and surgeons since coming into the NFL and has never had more than 45 catches or 775 yards in a single year. This is his first offseason in a while where Britt's been seemingly focused on football, not rehab or getting out of trouble, and it's shown in Titans workouts this spring as he's impressed teammates. He was equally impressive finishing last year, netting eight-plus Fantasy points in four of his last six outings. Over a year removed from a torn ACL, it feels like he could contend for at least a franchise tag if he puts up big numbers and stays healthy in 2013.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 9
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 50 percent. If he flames out then the Titans will walk away and another team will take a chance on Britt. If he shines, the Titans will double-down on him. Easy to think he's got the most to gain and lose among the contract-year players.

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
Cutler is considered to have one of the best arms in football, but you wouldn't know it by his stats. Over the last four years he's failed to reach 4,000 yards in a season, is averaging 7.08 yards per attempt and had 26 interceptions in the same year he actually achieved more than 25 touchdowns. Marc Trestman's playbook is his third in five years (and Trestman is his fourth play caller in five years), but between the offensive guru leaning on Cutler and the offense suddenly rich in receiving talent and capable linemen, Cutler has a chance to post his best stats since his breakout 2008 season. If he can do what Joe Flacco did, the Bears will back up the Brinks truck to keep Cutler in Navy & Orange forever.
The place to draft him this summer: Third-to-last round
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 35 percent. Sure, it would make sense that this would be a make-or-break year for Cutler since he's underwhelmed so far with the Bears. But he plays for a franchise that hasn't had a "franchise" quarterback since Sid Luckman. They might be reluctant to let him go even if he doesn't pull a Flacco.

Eric Decker, WR, Broncos
Decker wasn't always pretty last season but getting in sync with Peyton Manning ultimately led to career-highs across the board with 85 grabs for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. Of the 13 scores, 11 came in the red zone on 24 targets (45.8 scoring pct.). With his big size, Decker provides a mismatch for the Broncos to exploit, and the team is loaded with weapons that keep him facing zone coverage versus one defender much of the time. Surely the Broncos would like to keep Decker, but they have to also think about making cap space to extend Ryan Clady, Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas within the next two seasons. That's why he'll make things tough on their salary cap by having a big year.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 7
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 40 percent. The addition of Wes Welker will suck up targets from everyone who played in Denver last year, potentially hurting Decker the most. If he's frustrated he could walk, or if he can't get fair market value with the Broncos then he could walk. Decker is sitting pretty assuming Manning doesn't ignore him; he only had five games with six or fewer targets last year, but that was pre-Welker.

James Jones, WR, Packers
Jones might be considered the most unexciting receiver to own in Fantasy. There aren't a ton of highlight reel plays from him and he's not exactly an athletic phenom. All he did last year was set career-bests across the board, including 11 of 14 touchdowns coming in the red zone on 14 catches. He led all Packers receivers in playing time (1,149 snaps according to ProFootballFocus.com, 400 more than Randall Cobb) and caught 66.7 percent of his 108 targets (Cobb had 112). He also cut down on his drops. Jones is far from a one-year wonder as he had similar success in the red zone in 2011 while catching 68.4 percent of his targets. He just had much less of both in 2011 before breaking out a year ago. Still, many will view him as a touchdown-dependent receiver, though it's been made clear his quarterback is specifically dependent on him near the goal line. That's very good for Fantasy numbers.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 7
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 40 percent. If Jones really takes off the Packers might have a hard time keeping him. But they've already extended his contract once (2010, when Aaron Rodgers lobbied hard for him) and they're pretty smart with how they spend their cap space. Rodgers just landed a lot of it over the next few years so if Jones drives a hard bargain he'll be someone else's red zone target.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
A year ago Jones-Drew refused to participate in offseason workouts or training camp in hopes of landing a new contract. By the time Week 1 rolled around he relented and rejoined the team without a new deal. Six weeks later he suffered a Lisfranc foot injury and his season ended. Jones-Drew has a lot going against him this year -- he's coming off a serious injury, he's 28 years old and he's on a team that features a one-dimensional offense. For Jones-Drew to truly cash in one more time he'll have to put together another 1,600-plus-total-yard season and take a contract light on years and presumably light on guaranteed cash. It doesn't mean he won't go all-out -- because some guaranteed cash is better than none -- which is what will happen to him if he bottoms out.
The place to draft him this summer: Late Round 2
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 55 percent. At this point you have to figure the odds are against MJD having another monster campaign. He's always a tough guy to rule out -- he's been proving people wrong since he was in high school -- but the Jaguars coaches might opt to go in a new direction at running back instead of reinvest in a 29-year-old. Maybe it depends on how much the Jaguars offer and how badly Jones-Drew wants to cement his legacy with the franchise. It just feels like Jones-Drew could pull a Steven Jackson and bolt for a Super Bowl contender in 2014.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
This might be the season that affixes a permanent label to Nicks' chest. It could read "Pro Bowler" if he posts his third 1,000-yard, seven-plus touchdown season in four years. Or it could read "injury prone" if he misses playing time as he has in each of his first four seasons. Poor Nicks broke a bone in his foot last May, hurt his knee in September and gutted out the season before having surgery. It looks like he'll be ready to go this year but bolted from OTA workouts in late May and might hold out in an attempt to land a long-term deal before the season starts.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 7
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 55 percent. The Giants not only have to worry about his contract but Cruz's too as well as running back Andre Brown, guard Kevin Boothe and defensive lineman Justin Tuck. If he can't stay upright and won't accept a modest deal, they'll let him hobble to another team and let Rueben Randle land more playing time.

Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers
Williams is on the brink of landing a big contract if he has a big year or a modest contract if he has a modest year. The difference is that it seems like his head coach isn't lining up replacements for him already like Greg Schiano is for Freeman. Williams wasn't reliable as a second-year player but rebounded from that and put up nice numbers for the second time in three seasons. He's in a great spot opposite Vincent Jackson in a capable offense, so it only makes sense that he puts up some numbers. That's expected to continue, which means he'll give the Bucs every reason to extend him.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 8
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 25 percent. The Bucs have the cap space to cut a deal now if they wanted to, plus Williams might not command as much money as a top-tier receiver because, well, he doesn't have the rep of a top-tier receiver. Just seems like he'll stay in Tampa Bay but also seems like he understands his role and that he can't loaf after doing so in 2011.

Playing for their careers

Players who could be in a reduced role if they don't step up in 2013.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers
When you're the tight end on a pass-happy team like Green Bay and you can only muster up 667 yards and two touchdowns, you know you have work to do. Those were Finley's 2012 stats, fresh off of signing a two-year extension with the Pack. Maybe he got lost in the Packers' shuffle (they do have plenty of great receivers) or maybe he took it easy after signing said extension, but those troubling numbers nearly pushed Finley off the roster this offseason. Instead he's in a contract year for the second time in three years. The last time he was in such a position (2011) he had a career-best 767 yards and eight touchdowns, but even that's misleading as he had only six games with eight-plus Fantasy points and four came in his final five that season. In 2012 he had two games with eight-plus Fantasy points and wound up scoring as many cumulative numbers as Marcedes Lewis.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 11
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 50 percent. It's already likely the Packers won't overpay to keep Finley over a long period of time. Maybe they'll offer another two-year deal if he plays well this coming season. But his lack of consistency has to drive the Packers' brass crazy. Green Bay has a pair of raw but talented tight ends on the roster in D.J. Williams (who we'd love if he saw more playing time) and Ryan Taylor. They could be the future at the position.

Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers
Freeman figured to be in the same boat as Jay Cutler -- good enough to pilot a team devoid of a franchise quarterback -- until head coach Greg Schiano started talking. While he made it clear Freeman was his starter for 2013, he never gave a rousing recommendation on Freeman for the long-term. What Schiano did do, however, was draft a quarterback he's been high on for at least the last five years in Mike Glennon. Schiano once recruited Glennon to play at Rutgers but couldn't woo him. In April, Schiano didn't have to woo him, he drafted him in the third round. It remains to be seen if Glennon can be as capable of a passer as Freeman has already shown, but at the very least the Bucs have a Plan B in place in case they don't love Freeman.
The place to draft him this summer: Third-to-last round
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 51 percent. Freeman's offensive line is great, his targets are great and he himself is ... not bad. He just needs to take the next step. But there's just something about Schiano's unwillingness to laud Freeman that makes us think he's on a short leash. Freeman was very erratic last year, particularly toward the end of the season. Another skid like that should seemingly seal his fate in Tampa Bay. And if said skid comes sooner than later, Glennon could get under center.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles
Injuries and other physical difficulties turned Maclin's once-promising career into something less appealing. Statistically, Maclin has been fine over the last two years, averaging 66 catches for 858 yards (13.0 avg.) with five touchdowns in 2011 and seven in 2012. Those numbers don't make him a Fantasy gem but more of a very reliable backup when he has even a decent matchup. But those are stats that came in Andy Reid's pass-heavy West Coast offense, not Chip Kelly's run-heavy up-tempo, quick-hitting offense. It's not known just how many long passes Maclin will get a chance at catching this season. That makes his chances of seeing a big pay day shrink even more -- between a lack of opportunities and the injury bug potentially costing him a game or three, Maclin has an uphill battle to register what would be his first 1,000-yard season.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 9
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 60 percent. If Maclin fizzles with the Eagles then Kelly will have no problem saying goodbye to him. In turn, Maclin could either make a dash to Kansas City (he's a native Missourian) and reunite with Reid or find another team. But even if he shines, the Eagles might not consider him so vital to their operation that they pay him huge money. Again, that's if he shines. Getting 850-ish yards and 5-7 touchdowns isn't exactly shining.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
The Raiders are already in salary cap purgatory so it stands to reason they'll have a hard time paying McFadden what he wants if he manages to impress this season. Of course, the most impressive thing McFadden could do is play 16 games, something he's never done. Everyone is chalking up last year's weak numbers (3.3 rush avg., three total TDs) to the Raiders' move to a zone-blocking scheme, which is fair. Oakland responded with reverting to a more power-based run game that better suits McFadden's downhill running style. It all sounds good until you realize McFadden has sounded good every offseason before putting on pads and eventually injuring himself. The Fantasy owners who drafted him before are too shy to draft him again and the owners who passed on him in the past are smart enough not to change their ways now. McFadden has to prove to Fantasy owners he's trustworthy in lineups while also proving to the Raiders he's worth a contract extension.
The place to draft him this summer: Late Round 3
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 50 percent. What are the odds McFadden averages 80 total yards per game and scores nine or 10 times? Maybe 60-40? Maybe?! Anything short of that kind of reliable production for even 12 or 13 games will push the Raiders to look for a new running back. No team will look at McFadden as a bell cow and as a result he'd land a part-time role, which he might be best suited for to be honest.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Cardinals
The Steelers had enough of Mendenhall last year. Between mediocre play along with some disappointing commentary and decisions he made, they had no problem letting him walk. But Bruce Arians opened his arms wide for him in Arizona, giving him a one-year deal. Many will chalk up Mendenhall's 2012 as a rehab year from a torn ACL suffered very late in the 2011 season. His inability to pull an Adrian Peterson put him in a one-year "prove-it" situation with the Cards. But which Mendenhall will show up: The one who rumbled for 29 touchdowns and well over 1,000 total yards from 2009 to 2011 or the one that mailed it in last year?
The place to draft him this summer: Round 7
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 70 percent. Mendenhall was one of three running backs Arizona added this offseason (the other two are notable rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington). This is in addition to confident young back Ryan Williams being a part of the roster. While we like Mendenhall's potential to be a very busy rusher in Arizona, the reality is that if he struggles he'll be shown the bench promptly because the Cardinals have several other choices. A favorable early-season schedule might help Mendenhall get off to a good start with his new team.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
Vick's time as a starter in the league might very well be on the line in 2013. Tasked to run Chip Kelly's offense, Vick added some muscle and has worked on delivering passes quicker than before. He'll be asked to make snap decisions and throw with accuracy, something he's struggled with over the balance of his career. He'll also have to stay on the field, a problem for him since he's gotten hurt each of his four seasons with Philadelphia. Vick has averaged just under 1.5 passing touchdowns per game over his last three years while his rushing totals have declined over those seasons.
The place to draft him this summer: Round 10
Chance of changing teams in 2014: 70 percent. The drafting of Matt Barkley pretty much locked the soon-to-be 33-year-old Vick into a do-or-be-done situation. For him to get paid well by any team, Vick will have to play efficiently for at least 13 games in 2013. With more and more teams solving their quarterback issues and others looking at younger talent for help, Vick's days of being a starter are probably limited to the number of games he actually plays in 2013.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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Player News
Titans' Lewan says QB Mettenberger still views himself as starter
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:10 pm ET) Even though the Titans drafted quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second-overall pick, tackle Taylor Lewan said that QB Zach Mettenberger, who started six games last season as a rookie, still regards himself as the starter, reports the Tennessean.com.

"That is the mentality that Zach has. He thinks of himself as a starter, and the guys in the locker room do also," Lewan said. "I don't think he is going to give it up easily,"
Lewan was the Titans' first-round pick in last year's draft.

Browns' Pettine: Josh McCown favorite to enter camp as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:41 pm ET) Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a radio interview Monday that it's "fair to say" that Josh McCown will enter camp as the team's starting quarterback, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports.

Pettine had said in April that he wasn't ready to name McCown the likely starter for anything, but after the Browns came out of draft weekend without a new quarterback on the roster, it appears the former Buccaneers starter is in line to open camp atop the depth chart at the position.

McCown started 11 games with the Buccaneers last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


Bengals' Tyler Eifert (shoulder) on track for start of camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is on target to participate from the start of training camp, Bengals.com reports.

Eifert tore his labrum last offseason and dislocated his elbow in the first quarter of his first regular-season game. Rather than return late in the year, he and the team opted for season-ending shoulder surgery. The tight end said that his elbow has been cleared and he's waiting to receive clearance on his shoulder in a few weeks.

"I tried to play through the year. Once I had elbow surgery and I wasn’t going to come back, then I just got the shoulder done," Eifert said. "That’s why I’m excited now because I’m feeling strong, feeling upbeat. I’m not in any pain. It feels good."


49ers' Justin Smith to announce retirement decision in May
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:17 pm ET) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith plans to sit down with team officials in May and decide whether he'll return for one more season, the Sacramento Bee reports.

"You'll know in about three weeks or so," Smith said Monday.

Smith wouldn't say which way he was leaning. He indicated that the the team's decision to draft a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft did not signal his impending retirement.

"We gave Justin liberty to make his own decision on his time frame," Baalke said after selecting Arik Armstead Thursday. "We went into the draft not thinking about what decision Justin’s going to make or not going to make. We just went in to find the best football player, the best system fit that we could."


Texans agree to four-year extension with LB Whitney Mercilus
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) The Texans have agreed to a four-year contract extension with linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Mercilus will receive $26 million under the terms of the deal, which will keep in Houston until 2019, ESPN reports. He has missed just one game in his first three years with the Texans, racking up 122 total tackles and 18 sacks while forcing four fumbles.


Titans tailoring offense to Marcus Mariota's strengths
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:18 pm ET) Titans general manager Ruston Webster reiterated Monday that coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have begun tailoring the offense to fit the strengths of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, NFL.com reports.

"Our coaches have been working on a plan for quite some time now for Marcus," Webster said. "Really to adapting our offense to his skill set -- he has a special skill set. There's really not much he can't do from physical standpoint and he's very bright. That combination is going to allow him to do his own adapting to the NFL game but our coaches have worked very hard on coming up with a system within our system for Marcus. I think it will work well."

The Titans believe that Mariota will work fine under center and reading defenses despite not being asked to do so while playing at Oregon.


Cardinals' Carson Palmer (knee) participates in drills Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:05 pm ET) Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (knee) worked out Monday, participating with the first-team offense in all drills, NFL.com reports.

Though the action wasn't close to replicating game-like conditions, the quarterback said he received a big mental boost by joining his team after missing the last eight games of the season due to a torn ACL.

"You want all your guys out there," Palmer said. "I know I want my five starting linemen and my two starting receivers. You don’t ever want to see guys on the sidelines. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to do everything once OTAs start, but I’ll be able to do just about everything. It’s important (to participate) because I enjoy it. I can’t wait for tomorrow and I can’t wait for every day."

Palmer said the injury forces him to "start over from scratch" mechanically, as he works to regain the footwork and balance needed to be successful in the pocket.

“All those little things that still go through my head every couple reps, I’m fighting to get to the point where you just don’t think about that anymore,” Palmer said. “It just becomes natural. Just ingraining all those small mechanical movements is something that takes repetition after repetition.”


49ers GM says LB Aldon Smith developing as leader for team
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5:35 pm ET) 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said that linebacker Aldon Smith has started to develop as a leader on the field and that he has a “a great look in his eye,” the team has reported.

"It’s a role I’m comfortable with,” Smith said. “I’m kind of one of the older guys on the team now. I’m one of the guys who has been here for a while, so I’m helping out people who need help with anything, whether that’s knowing where to go down here or football questions.”

Smith served a nine-game suspension during the 2014 season for violating the league's policies on personal conduct and substance abuse.

49ers place Chris Borland on reserve/retired list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) The 49ers placed linebacker Chris Borland on the reserve/retired list Monday, CSNBayArea.com reports.

The move is a formality, as Borland announced his decision to retire in mid-March. The move clears $109.359 in immediate cap space. The 49ers didn't address the inside-linebacker position in this year's draft despite the retirements of Borland and Patrick Willis.


49ers waive/injured Chase Thomas
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:14 pm ET) The 49ers have waived/injured linebacker Chase Thomas, the team announced Monday.

Thomas made two special-teams tackles in five games played with the 49ers last season. He tore an ACL while working out earlier in the offseason and will presumably miss the entire 2015 season.


 
 
 
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