NFL fantasy football: 2013 contract-year players

  • By Michael Fabiano
  • Updated: Feb. 16, 2013 at 05:24 a.m.

The movie "Jerry Maguire," which follows the trials and tribulations of life as a sports agent, will forever be remembered for the memorable quote, "Show me the money!" That line also has quite a bit of relevance in the world of fantasy football. While a Super Bowl championship is the ultimate motivation for most players, professional sports is now a business that's based on contracts loaded with dead presidents. So when a player is in a contract year, he has extra incentive to find statistical success. As a result, that player could also have added draft value.

With that in mind, here's a look at the most notable players who are slated to become free agents in 2014.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Freeman is entering a very important season, as he needs to prove that he can win games on a consistent basis ahead of free agency. If not, the Buccaneers could decide to go in a different direction. While he showed flashes of statistical brilliance in 2012, he was anything but consistent. Over his final six starts, Freeman failed to score even 13 fantasy points on four different occassions. Clearly the potential to become a more reliable fantasy option is present, but fantasy owners can't consider Freeman more than a No. 2 quarterback and matchup-based starter in 2013 drafts.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys: I would be absolutely shocked if the Cowboys didn't extend Romo at some point in the offseason, but as it stands the veteran is set to become a free agent in 2014. He's already coming off a successful season in the stat sheets, as Romo threw for a career-best 4,903 yards and found the end zone a total of 29 times. He's also thrown for 4,000-plus yards in each of his last three full seasons. Romo will be a popular target for fantasy leaguers who decide to wait on a quarterback in 2013 drafts, as the depth at the position could keep Romo on the board until the fifth round or beyond.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan is coming off the best statistical season of his entire career, throwing for 4,719 yards with 33 total touchdowns while also finishing among the top eight overall players based on fantasy points. The Falcons are certain to keep their offensive leader around for a long time, but he could still have some extra motivation if he weren't extended and remains slated to become a free agent after the 2013 season. Much like Romo, Ryan could slide a round or two in countless drafts based on the immense depth at the top of the quarterback position (from a fantasy perspective).

Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick, the top fantasy quarterback in 2010, has seen his production and value both slide over the last two seasons. And while he's no longer an elite option from a fantasy perspective, Vick has seen a slight increase in appeal as the projected No. 1 quarterback in the offense of new coach Chip Kelly. Now playing on a one-year deal for all intents and purposes, Vick will have a lot of incentive to put up solid totals next season. His proneness to injuries is a major cause for concern and will keep him from being drafted as a fantasy starter, but Vick is intruiging nonetheless.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: Jackson is in a different scenario than most players on this list, as the final year of his current contract is voidable. That means he could end up being a free agent this offseason. Until that happens, the veteran out of Oregon State is slated to hit the market in 2014 - assuming he continues as an NFL player. During an interview earlier this year, Jackson admitted that "retirement is an option." If he does return to the gridiron, whether it's with the Rams or otherwise (the Green Bay Packers have been mentioned), Jackson will remain a legitimate No. 2 fantasy running back.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jones-Drew is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him hold out of training camp before missing 10 games with an injured foot that required a surgical procedure. Barring any setbacks in his return, "Pocket Hercules" will be singing for his supper out there on the gridiron. There's also been talk that new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch plans to install a zone-blocking scheme this season, so there will be some new schemes for Jones-Drew to learn. A risk-reward selection, the U.C.L.A. product will be well worth a look as a No. 2 fantasy back in 2013 drafts.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: It's tough to promote McFadden these days, as he's become a virtual lock to miss at least a few games every year due to injuries. In fact, he's never played in even 14 games in a single season during his pro career and has missed a combined 13 contest since 2011. So despite being motivated in a contract year and coordinator Greg Olsen's assertion that he will be highlighted in the offense, it's tough to trust McFadden as more than a No. 2 fantasy running back in 2013. Unlike last season, when he had first-round value, the veteran is likely to fall to the third or fourth round.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos: Decker posted a career year in 2012 with Peyton Manning running the offense in Denver. After putting up just 50 catches in his first two seasons at the NFL level, the Minnesota product recorded 85 catches, 1,064 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and finished seventh in fantasy points among wide receivers. As long as Manning is calling the shots, Decker is going to be a legitimate starting option in fantasy land. So while it will be tough to duplicate the same number of end-zone visits again, the veteran will be tough to pass on in the third or fourth round as a high-end No. 2 wideout.

James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers: Jones might have had his best statistical season one year too early, as he's now heading into a contract year. Regardless, the fact that he scored 14 touchdowns and finished among the top 20 players at his position in 2012 does have his value on the rise. Jones is also expected to be in a position to see even more opportunities moving forward, as the Packers are not expected to retain the services of veteran Greg Jennings. I'm not sure that makes Jones more than a No. 3 or 4 fantasy wideout, but there is a lot to like about Jones and his chances to find continued success.

Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings: There has already been a lot of offseason talk surrounding Harvin, who is reportedly looking to be one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. Will the Vikings meet his demands or trade him instead? Could Harvin hold out if he remains stuck on his current deal? Those are all questions that still need to be answered. If the Florida product does go out there in the final year of his contract, it will do nothing but make him more attractive from a fantasy perspective. After all, he's a former top-10 fantasy wideout with major statistical upside at the age of just 24.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants: Nicks has the talent to be a No. 1 fantasy wideout, but his proneness to injuries has put a dent into his draft value. After all, he missed several games in 2012 and finished out of the top 50 wideouts based on fantasy points. He should be motivated to stay on the field and produce this season, though, as Nicks is entering a contract year and will need to prove that he can be leaned on as Eli Manning's top option in the Giants' pass attack. Also keep in mind that Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent in 2013, so the G-Men will need to make a decision on both of their top receivers.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: One of the unquestioned top tight ends in fantasy football, Graham led the position in points last season and is set to be an early-round selection in 2013 drafts. Of course, that assumes he has no setbacks in his return from an offseason wrist operation. Once he's back at 100 percent and out there on the gridiron, Graham will be motivated to continue his success in the stat sheets as he'll set to become a free agent in 2014. It's hard to envision a scenario where the Saints would let such a talented member of their offense hit free agency, so keep tabs on his contract situation.
Other notables
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Dexter McCluster, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Marcel Reece, RB, Oakland Raiders
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Kenny Britt, WR, Tenenssee Titans
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders
Brandon LaFell, WR, Carolina Panthers
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Mario Manningham, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
Tony Moeaki, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions
Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland Raiders

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!