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Kyle Smith | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

Contract Year Players
Do they really outperform their averages?

Regardless of the sport, you hear it all the time: “He’s going to have a breakout year – he’s playing for a new contract!” Year after year, without fail, some player is put on preseason must-watch lists because it’s time for him to get paid. But do these contract-year players really outperform their averages?

I went back over the last five years of free agency and took a position-by-position look at some notable names. A few things to keep in mind: when calculating the averages, I excluded rookie seasons in which the player was not a factor, as well as seasons in which a player was injured for more than half the season. For example, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson played just eight games with three receptions in his rookie year (2005) and had only 14 catches in five games in 2010, so each of those seasons was excluded in his averages. Also, you wonít find quarterbacks on this list because quality players at that position donít exactly flood the free agent market.

 Running Backs
Player FA Season Rush Yds Rec Yds TDs   Prev Years Rush Yds Avg. Rec Yds Avg. TD Avg.
Darren Sproles 2010 267 520 2   2007-2009 279.0 290.0 5.0
Ray Rice 2011 1364 704 15   2008-2010 1004.3 510.3 4.7
Matt Forte 2011 997 490 4   2008-2010 1078.7 498.3 8.3
Reggie Bush 2012 986 292 8   2006-2011 529.0 406.0 6.0

 Tight Ends
Player FA Season Rush Yds Rec Yds TDs   Prev Years Rush Yds Avg. Rec Yds Avg. TD Avg.
Ben Watson 2009 29 404 5   2005-2008 34.0 420.5 3.8
Zach Miller 2010 60 685 5   2007-2009 55.3 675.6 2.3
Jared Cook 2012 44 523 4   2010-2011 39.0 560.0 2.0

It seems somewhat clear with running backs and tight ends that impending free agency doesnít do much to change them. Rice and Forte were franchised before signing their current deals, and the pair didnít light up the scoreboard any more than they already had. They were consistently solid fantasy performers before their contract years, unlike Bush. However, some of that was due to the Dolphins using Bush differently in 2012 than the Saints did during his previous seasons. As for the tight ends, there was a small bump in touchdowns for all three of the examples, but otherwise the trio had small variables in their numbers.

 Wide Receivers
Player FA Season Rush Yds Rec Yds TDs   Prev Years Rush Yds Avg. Rec Yds Avg. TD Avg.
Vincent Jackson 2011 60 1106 9   2006-2009 48.8 835.3 6.3
Dwayne Bowe 2012 59 801 3   2007-2011 71.2 985.4 7.2
Mike Wallace 2012 64 836 8   2009-2011 57.0 1068.7 8.0
Golden Tate 2013 64 898 5   2010-2012 33.7 432.3 3.3

The wide receiver position is where things get a bit more interesting. Jackson and Tate outperformed their previous career averages, and although Wallace didnít put up his usual receiving yards, he still caught more passes and found the end zone plenty of times. Bowe was the only player that faded.

But why did Bowe slip? It certainly wasnít due to the fact that it was his contract year; it was due to the fact that his quarterbacks were named Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, who threw for a total of eight touchdowns and 20 interceptions that season. The same can be said for Bushís statistical improvement . He didnít suddenly become a 1,000 yard rusher in Miami Ė he wasnít utilized the same way in New Orleans.

It will be tempting for fantasy owners to sneak a peek at the list of impending free agents Ė and the list is formidable, containing the likes of Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Randall Cobb Ė and think that they might be getting something special because those players will play for a new contract. Evidence doesnít really bear that out. There are many, many factors that go into a playerís success, with the most important being the players surrounding him and how they are utilized. But not because itís a contract year.