One of the things I look for when preparing for my fantasy league drafts is those players who are currently in a contract year. These are the guys who could play better than usual in the hopes they land big guaranteed money. Many teams try to lock up their players before the start of training camp so as not to cause distractions as the summer wears on. This year has quite a few big-name players who will be vying for a new deal. When getting ready for your fantasy football drafts, make sure to keep an eye on these guys as the rounds go by. They just might outplay their current ADP.Texans QB Matt Schaub is one of several players looking for a new contract this year.
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans: Currently set to make between $7-8 million in the final year of his deal, Schaub will have to prove he can stay injury free in 2012. After playing all 32 games from 2009-2010, Schaub only appeared in 10 last year, which allowed backup T.J. Yates to show the Texans he can be a viable 1-2 game starter if needed, beating the Bengals in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. With an arsenal that includes Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Owen Daniels, a 4000-yard season with 30 touchdown passes should get Schaub's name inked on one more big deal of his career.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: I worry about Mendenhall for two reasons. The first being the chance that he won't even be able to play the first six games of the season if he is placed on the PUP list because of ACL surgery. The second being what if Isaac Redman continues the trend of the Steelers' ability to throw anyone in the backfield and make them stars? We saw it several years ago when Fast Willie Parker went from a depth player to a stud. And don't forgetJonathan Dwyer figures to get time in on the field as well. If Redman and Dwyer show that they can hold down the fort, Mendy could find himself looking for work in free agency in 2013. Fantasywise, I know owners might snatch Mendy up late and sit on him in the hopes that he will come through by the time playoffs roll around. But I will go out on a limb and say we may have seen the last of Mendenhall as the Steelers starter.
Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets: I've sat on this guy in a dynasty league for years, hoping that he will finally be able to put it all together. Yeah he ran for his first 1000-yard season in 2011, but averaging a mere 65.9 yards-a-game isn't all that spectacular. Greene might be a power back, but he lacks the talent to gain extra yards and isn't very versatile in the passing game. But like other players who have disappointed, Greene could play over his head with a new contract looming in the distance. I'll draft Greene as a low-end RB2 on the simple fact that new Jets OC Tony Sparano plans to run this guy into the ground.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants: Cruz seems to have created a divide amongst some fantasy owners. While some believe that last year was a simple luck of the draw and he will eventually turn into a one-year wonder like we have seen with many other players in the past, others think he's the real deal and will even match the 1536 yards and 9 touchdowns he notched last year. Matching those numbers will be quite a feat. But even if he loses 200 yards off last year's total, he is still worthy of a high-end WR2 pick. The fact that he will be playing for a new deal makes me feel a bit more comfortable taking him after I land my stud WR1.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers: The one guy I like the most out of this list, Jennings was off kilter at the end of the 2011 season because of an MCL sprain and a rib injury, even though he played through both. Set to make a mere $3.885 million in 2012, Jennings is one of my bounce-back candidates at full health. While many are throwing around Jordy Nelson's name as the one Packer to have, Jennings might fly under the radar a bit in your draft. Hey, you never know. Some owners have that "What have you done for me now" mentality. But with Jennings, 75-80 receptions, 1200-1300 receiving yards and 9-12 touchdowns makes him an excellent low-end WR1.
Other notable players in a contract year: Ravens QB Joe Flacco, Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart, Dolphins RB Reggie Bush, Chargers WR Malcom Floyd, Steelers WR Antonio Brown