Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.
Greg Hardy– With One year remaining on his rookie contract Hardy is ready to break the bank. I had rated Hardy as the 2nd best overall 43DE in the NFL in 2012, behind only Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins. Hardy absolutely overwhelmed the Giants on Sunday racking up 3 sacks and setting the tone for the defense all day. Provided the Panthers can afford him, and they had recently restructured a contract to perhaps get a deal done, Hardy has a great starting point for negotiations on his own team. The Panthers had given Charles Johnson a 6 year $76 million dollar contract with $32 million in full guarantees back in 2011. Distancing himself from Johnson gives him a tremendous base contract to work with. Games like his Sunday performance only stand to give him more leverage for getting a contract extension done sooner rather than later. With the future of Julius Pepper and, to a lesser extent, Mario Williams in doubt I think it’s important to get a deal done soon so the Panthers can sign Hardy and at least say to themselves he is not the highest paid in the NFL, even though he will be when those players are no longer active on their current contracts.
Santonio Holmes– Most people have written Holmes, a talented but often disgruntled receiver, off following a poor showing in 2011 followed by a foot injury in 2012 and questions about his determination to play in 2013. Due to his contract structure Holmes was forced to take a $3.5 million dollar paycut to remain on the Jets. Next year he is due to earn $9.5 million from the Jets and with just $2.5 million in dead money in his contract that makes this a contract year for Holmes. Holmes had a number of big catches, including the game winner, and averaged over 30 yards per reception. The Jets have a young QB finding his way in the NFL and if Holmes develops the chemistry with Geno Smith that he lacked with Mark Sanchez he becomes a hard player to just release. Even if he is released Holmes needed to use this season to prove that he can still be a high level player and command a $7+ million a year type contract, a number most would have said was crazy before the season. A few more games close to the one he had on Sunday and he’ll be able to stand on top of the WR2 market.
Doug Free– It is not often that we give credit to the guys on the line, especially ones like Free, who has had a rough time of it in Dallas, but Free yesterday really played a terrific game in Dallas. The Rams are a decent team with a number of pieces on defense that can pressure the QB and get into the backfield and stuff runs or knock down the QB. Watching the highlights from the game I was surprised at how good Free looked in sealing the right side for the run game and seemingly never letting anyone near his QB, including some big blocks on two TD passes. I waited until Pro Football Focus posted their evaluation since they watch every snap compared to my highlight reel watching and Free graded extremely high under their criteria. Free took a pay cut this year and has $3.5 million in salary coming his way in 2014 if he is on the roster in early March. Most never would have thought Free would see that money but games like this will see him keep that roster spot at that salary next season.
New Contract Player Of The Week
Ahmad Bradshaw– All offseason Bradshaw was like a forgotten player. He was cut by the Giants for salary cap purposes and then remained unemployed until June when the Colts took a flier on Bradshaw for just $2 million dollars. Bradshaw has always been productive when he is close to 100%, but health is always a concern and that may have scared some teams away. When injury to starting RB Vick Ballard opened up more touches the Colts instead turned to the trade table rather than trusting Bradshaw with more work. In return Bradshaw played like a man possessed running for 95 yards on just 19 carries against a defense that was considered elite while his new teammate could only muster 35 yards against the same defense. Bradshaw proved to be terrific value for the Colts on Sunday.