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
Something Still to Prove:
As a Pro-Bowl player this is surely an error on my part to suggest that Landry didn’t absolutely prove everything he needed to earn a multi-year contract, right? Well, if the NFL was a meritocracy that would be true, but there were at least a dozen safeties in the AFC more deserving of an invite to Hawaii this season than Landry was. If you believe that Landry’s biggest concern and obstacle last offseason to earning a multi-year contract was his injury situation, then he has proven he can stay healthy for 16 games and you might look to invest with a two- or three-year contract.
However, while he stayed healthy this season there are still questions about whether Landry really re-discovered his best form. There may have been some highlight-reel hits and a career-high four forced fumbles, but his overall body of work didn’t measure up to his best showing as a Redskin in 2008 and his injury-shortened 2010 and 2011 seasons. In coverage he allowed first downs and touchdowns at a rate amongst the worst safeties in the league and as a run defender he was not tremendously effective as a box safety, middle of the road in terms of converting snaps into defensive stops.
In terms of health, Landry answered some questions this season, but with the nature of his injury history and the questions of whether he truly re-discovered his best form, a long-term investment in Landry would be a questionable move.
If you simply look at the overall grades for Wheeler in our premium section you would assume that Wheeler would be one of the players in the above category as a player who “proved it” in 2012. But if you just scratch a little below the surface you see that while Wheeler was doubtless one of the best value defenders in the league, there are still the same old question marks with him that linger from his time in Indianapolis.
He was consistently efficient as a blitzer, but that is more of a benefit you get with a player than a core trait that you want to build your linebacking corps around. Outside of a stunning game in coverage against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 when he collected a pass defense, forced two fumbles, and recovered another, his coverage was inconsistent and outside of a couple of games his run defense was also sketchy. What Wheeler proved this season is that at the right price he is one of the better value defenders in the league, but at a higher cost you may not get the returns you expect for your investment.
One of the players that I was most mystified by the lack of market for last offseason was Erin Henderson, in fact, this extended to linebackers full stop — a position group teams were slow to sign up. Henderson graded as one of the Top 5 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL during the 2011 season and as a young player just growing into a starting role, the Vikings would surely have been wise to tie him down long-term before their hesitance to act cost them money down the line.
Minnesota didn’t make that move, though, and neither did any other team in the league with the Vikings able to secure Henderson on a one-year deal that would ask him to prove his ability in a more extended, three-down role. With that audition in mind, Henderson did not make that position or contract his own.
A disappointment this season for Minnesota, Henderson struggled in coverage when asked to defend the deep middle of the field in the Vikings’ cover 2 and he wasn’t the same force against the run as he was the season before. After an incredibly strong start — seven stops in each of his first two games — he went missing through the middle of the season and only a timely performance in run defense against the Packers in Week 17 rescued his 2012. If the Vikings were unwilling to invest in Henderson with question marks over his ability to excel as a three-down linebacker last season, it’s hard to believe they will invest with the answers that Henderson provided this year.
A victim of injuries in Carolina, Schwartz was always destined for a one-year deal last offseason and he seemingly landed in the perfect spot to prove it in 2012: in an offensive line paving the way for Adrian Peterson and keeping quarterback Christian Ponder on his feet. Schwartz, however, was once again a victim in Minnesota — this time a victim of circumstance as he failed to supplant starting right guard Brandon Fusco in spite of demonstrably outplaying Fusco when given the chance early in the season.
For the season, though, Schwartz only accumulated 160 snaps and consequently will enter free agency once again as a player likely destined for a one-year deal where he will need to win a job in training camp and prove himself worthy of a longer contract next offseason. Schwartz had his most extended playing time in 2010 for the Carolina Panthers, impressing both at tackle and guard including making the none-too-simple switch from tackle to guard during the Panthers’ bye week. Whenever he has played, Schwartz has looked a strong run blocker and a safe pair of hands in pass protection. There are plenty of teams in desperate need for upgrades at guard that could do far worse than give Schwartz a year to show his 2010 form again.
As a cornerback with a Super Bowl-sealing interception return touchdown on his résumé, you might think that Tracy Porter was the prime candidate to get a multi-year deal from someone last offseason, but no such deal materialized so a prove it year in Denver was called for.
Things started well for Porter in his debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night football. Though he gave up a touchdown that night, his Bronco opener was incredibly impressive as he passed a thorough test from the Steelers. Of the 12 passes targeted into his coverage, Porter got his hands to five while Pittsburgh receivers got their hands to six (one drop) as he yielded less than 5 yards per target and a passer rating of 50.0.
That fine start wasn’t sustained, though, as Porter allowed touchdowns in his next two games as well and only played three snaps against Cleveland after the Broncos’ Week 5 defeat to the Patriots. If teams were eager to see how Porter fared outside of the Saints’ overly aggressive defense, they never got that chance this season and Porter will surely be forced to take another one-year deal and hope he can remain healthy and in a starting role to take another shot at a multi-year offer in 2014.
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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.