Prove It Players

Coming off of one-year 'prove it' deals signed last offseason, have these eight players changed their fortune? Ben Stockwell explores which succeeded in upping their stock and which will have ...

| 4 years ago

Prove It Players

This time last year, as with every free agent period, a number of players were forced to take one-year “prove it” contracts when the market for multi-year deals was perhaps not quite what they were hoping for. While every free agent might imagine hitting the open market and having teams fight over them for a long-term contract, things don’t always play out that way.

Sometimes every interested team has enough question marks over you that they don’t want to invest more than one season. Perhaps they have doubts over your recuperation from injury or perhaps they think you just played up in a contract season and you need to prove that you can do it again.

In this article we’re going to look at eight players who found themselves in just that situation, how they fared last year, and what bearing that performance might have on their prospects for that coveted multi-year deal in their second free agency go ’round in 12 months.

Proved It:

Martellus Bennett

The poster boy for this exact type of deal last season, Bennett proved himself in the Big Apple — finally emerging from the shadow of Jason Witten and flourishing in a starting role with the Cowboys’ division rivals. Having come from Texas A&M with a reputation for being a great athlete, it was something of a surprise to see Bennett develop into a tremendous blocker who struggled to make an impact in the passing game… and having something of a reputation for being a lazy player on and off the field. However, as things played out this season, Bennett proved that without Witten taking 100+ targets ahead of him on the depth chart, he was one of the best all-around tight ends in the league.

Bennett continued his fine work as a run blocker as he fused game-to-game consistency with some phenomenal single-game performances against the likes of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. He doesn’t just do his fine work in the running game either, surrendering just two hurries all season long on 103 snaps in pass protection. It was his work as a receiver, though, that was most important for him to prove this season and he showed himself capable of handling the load as a primary receiver; Bennett snagged 55 catches on 88 targets, collecting north of 11 yards per reception and only having one multiple-drop game (six drops across the whole season).

When players are suspected of questionable work ethic, that stigma tends to stick, but Bennett showed this year that he has the kind of talent that you simply can’t ignore and should be rewarded with a multi-year deal. All-around tight ends are all too rare these days and Bennett proved in New York that he is worthy of a team biting the bullet and making him their No. 1 for the foreseeable future.

Jerome Felton

Fullbacks don’t tend to see many snaps on most teams in the NFL these days and when you play in a wide open offense like Detroit’s those numbers are all the more limited. So, to an extent, Jerome Felton was fortunate to be given a chance in Minnesota and not become a forgotten man. Having played only 375 snaps in his last two seasons in Detroit, Felton topped that number this year alone with the Vikings and was the man leading the way for Adrian Peterson’s astonishing comeback season. Even if he had been wildly inconsistent, that fact would likely have seen him get a multi-year deal somewhere.

Felton, however, was so much more than that and came up with a number of quality games throughout the season; leading the way for Peterson in some big games particularly against division rival Green Bay on two occasions late in 2012. The number of teams using a fullback in an extended role is dwindling league-wide, but with his experience in Detroit he has the sort of scheme versatility that will make him attractive — even to teams that look only at a fullback as an occasional change of pace. Combined with his stellar season in Minnesota, Felton should be set up for a bigger payday this offseason.

Jason Jones

This time last season Jones was faced with the task of having to convince teams that his poor 2011 form was down to the Tennessee Titans’ misguided belief that they could convert him into a 4-3 defensive end. His poor display on the edge took away some from his versatility, but his agent must have been banging the drum and reminding teams of his stellar and disruptive play in seasons past. Combined with a track record of being unable to stay on the field in an expanded role for a full season, there were seemingly no offers for a long-term deal, so Jones had to head off to Seattle’s ever improving defense to prove he was still that disruptive inside player.

Things started well for Jones and he did prove that he is still a disruptive interior pass rusher collecting 18 pressures (four sacks, four hits, 10 hurries) on 229 pass rushes to give him a Pass Rushing Productivity rating (6.3) among the league’s Top 20 defensive tackles. For teams looking for an interior pass rusher, Jones put himself back on the market as a big-time player.

However, that concern over playing time and staying on the field remained. In such a talented and deep defensive line Jones couldn’t nail down a full-time starting role and injury took its toll as well — particularly through the middle of the season when he only played 55 snaps in a six-week spell from Week 7 to Week 12. Jones certainly proved that he is still a disruptive inside presence (the year at defensive end didn’t dull that ability) but there will still be question marks over how much you have to manage his snaps and that will clearly have an effect on how much teams will be willing to invest.

Continue to Page 2 for players with something still to prove…

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • Anders

    I think Schwartz could be good pick up for the Eagles. He should win the starting RG job with ease.

    • Allen

      Schwartz has an Oregon connection to Coach Kelly too. Kelly had a year as OC with him, I believe.

  • J.B. Stoops Jr

    and I believe Porter ( Healthy) is a top 20 CB who can play some FS if needed. But his health situation was scary last year, seizures, weight loss, WTH. Needs to be checked thoroughly to even get another a prove it deal

  • Todd R

    You could also add to this list of players that have something still to prove; Branndon Pettigrew TE (Lions), Jimmy Smith CB (Ravens), Tim Masthay P (Packers), Jeremy Cain LS (Jaguars), Jon Baldwin WR (Chiefs), Garry Williams G (Panthers). 

    • Mr _Horse

      Masthay? Really?  Tied for 7th for punts downed inside the 20 and had only 5 touchbacks. 

    • Jake

      Good holder – shuts out Devin Hester – Tim Masthay has been great for a cheap contract undrafted FA.

      Now mason crosby on the other hand …smh.

    • Richard L.

       ….The point of the article was to only look at veteran players forced to accept 1-year free agent deals due to prior issues related to health/performance.

      There are literally hundreds players like the ones you mentioned  (Brandon Pettigrew, Jimmy Smith, etc.) who were recently drafted and remain unproven while on their rookie-deals.

      That’s not what this article was about at all.

    • Jeff D

      Todd R, in 2010 Jeremy Cain was ratted PFF #2 Long snapper, he’s started every game since.

  • Haywawil

    I disagree with the premise that Jones has “proven it”. His production tailed off as the season went on and injury set in and eventually he found himself on the IR, furthering the concerns over his ability to stay healthy. If Jones had “proven it” Chris Clemon’s ACL tear would not have been the Seahawks downfall. 

    • guest

      What does clemons acl tear have to do with Jones? 

      • Richard L.

        He seems to be saying that if Jones were really good, the Seahawks losing their best defensive lineman (Clemons) wouldn’t have been so devastating.

        That’s not really a realistic gauge to judge other players, IMO…

        • nogoodnamesleft90210

          Jones was already on IR himself before Clemons got hurt, which he seems to allude to, which makes his statement even more puzzling.