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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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…
Ben Stockwell | 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.