Fantasy Football

CJ2K a contract cautionary tale

Mo Money Mo Problems
Safe to say Lewis did not meet expectations in 2011.
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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I’ve never been a proponent of Jerry Maguire. Too many plot peculiarities to buy into the premise, which is quite the condemnation considering I’m a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise. A sports agent with a soul? Jerry O’Connell as a first-round NFL Draft pick? The mid-90s Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football? Space Jam had a more plausible narrative, and that’s a picture portraying Shawn Bradley as a functioning NBA player.

Yet the most egregious storyline the film sells is volatile wideout Rod Tidwell getting handsomely compensated with a new contract. We’ve seen mercurial athletes obtain ridiculous salaries in the past, but we’re talking about a player who “miraculously” emerges from a concussion to indulgently celebrate a score. Moreover, the film suggests Tidwell wasn’t enjoying that great of a statistical campaign. So because of one game, you are going to break the bank for a player who can’t even execute in a contract season? How bad will his production be now that he’s taken care of? (More on this in a second.) While you have to feel for a receiver stuck with Dave Krieg under center, pretty sure that’s not an entity you want to invest millions in. (By the way, why wasn’t the training staff escorting Tidwell to the sidelines? Going on a limb and stating excessive movement is probably not the best remedy after getting knocked out. Of course, they are the Cardinals, so who knows.)

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What’s the relevance of all this? Many fantasy enthusiasts are worried that recent rewards to Drew Brees, Ray Rice and Matt Forte may have an unfavorable effect on their output for the upcoming 2012 season. It’s a logical assumption, alluded to above: the theory that a player now wealthier than the Walton family has nothing to prove, equating to a substandard performance.

Yet is there any validity to this claim? We examined prime-time players that received contract extensions/new deals in 2011, including agreements that were completed mid-season. Free agents switching allegiances were excluded, as the new scenery clouded the correlation from last season’s harvest to the yield from 2010, keeping in mind that most players returning to their squads (i.e. Santonio Holmes) were working in similar situations from the year before. On to the investigation…

Quarterbacks

Michael Vick (August 29: six years, $100 million)
Vick was rewarded for his 2010 rejuvenation with a mega-deal before the start of the season; unfortunately, Philly fans were left underwhelmed, as the Eagles’ “Dream Team” finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Vick proprietors seconded that sentiment, as the signal caller fell short of the lofty expectations accompanying his upper-echelon fantasy status. In his defense, Vick wasn’t as disappointing as alleged. Sure, throwing 14 picks didn’t help his cause, though managers were hallucinating if expecting Vick to replicate his moderation of turnovers from 2010 (six interceptions, one fumble). The four-time Pro Bowler threw for 300 more yards, and upped his 6.8 yards per carry to a 7.8 mark. Unluckily, the struggles deriving from Philadelphia’s D led to Vick commanding the offensive assault from the air to play catch-up, meaning less carries on the ground. Worse, the emergence of LeSean McCoy meant fewer running opportunities in the red zone, illustrated in just one rushing score for Vick versus nine trips to the Promised Land in 2010.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (October 28: six years, $59 million
What’s the proverb about hindsight? Wait, how about a passage involving retrospection AND the Bills? From the cult classic Dirty Work:

Dr. Farthing: I know there's really nobody to blame for this but myself, well, I don't know, maybe the Buffalo Bills, the Boston Red Sox, or Mr. T or, or the Jets...
Mitch: Wait a minute, Mr. T.? Are you telling me that you bet on the fight in Rocky III, and that you bet against Rocky?
Dr. Farthing: Hindsight is 20-20, my friend.

Not to, um, “Monday morning quarterback” or anything, but perhaps Buffalo needed to pump the breaks on the elation stemming from their 4-2 start. Sure, their two losses came by a combined six points, and Fitzpatrick did toss for four touchdowns in his season debut, albeit against the Chiefs. Still, as much as I love the Bearded Bomber, did they need to shell out for a field general who threw for over 265 yards just once in the first six games? To his credit, Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a victory coming out of the team’s respite; alas, Buffalo would lose their next seven contests. Let me drop some pigskin knowledge on ya: anytime you lose seven straight ballgames, your playoff aspirations are going to take a slight hit. Fitzpatrick did cross the 3,800-yard plateau, but finished the season with a pedestrian touchdown-to-interception ratio of 24-to-23.

Peyton Manning (July 30: five years, $90 million)
Too soon?......too soon.

Running Backs

Adrian Peterson (September 10: seven years, $96 million)
Despite strolling the sidelines for four games, and, truth be told, healthy in just nine contests, Peterson managed 970 yards and 12 touchdowns on a rationed 208 carries, with 12 total scores (11 rushing, one receiving) coming in Minnesota’s first 10 games. These figures are exponentially more impressive considering the incompetent combo of Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder failed to divert adversarial attention away from the Vikings running attack.

Chris Johnson (September 1: four years, $53 million)
I think it’s (BOOOOOO) safe to say Johnson (BOOOOOOOOO) burned a few bridges in the process (BOOOOOOOOOOOOO) of his holdout endeavor and subsequent (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) second-rate season.

After taking a retreat from training camp in protest over his contract, Johnson was signed 10 days prior to the Titans’ opening game and proceeded to post a discouraging display that evoked comparisons to Paul Crewe’s third-quarter feats from The Longest Yard. The damage: seven games, 302 yards, 2.8 yards per carry, one touchdown. As you can imagine, the Titans fan base was sympathetic to this plight, if by “sympathetic” you mean “burning Johnson’s jersey in effigy.” To be fair, CJ2K, although that moniker hardly seems apropos at the moment, did rack up over 1,000 total yards in the final nine games (745 yards rushing, 258 yards receiving), but the organization was clearly shooting for more than four touchdowns from the 2009 Offensive Player of the Year.

Frank Gore (August 30: three years, $21 million)
Due to late-September rumors of Kendall Hunter hijacking the protagonist role in the 49ers backfield, the excitement generated by first-year coach Jim Harbaugh or simply getting lost on the West Coast, don’t feel like fantasy owners appreciated the season submitted by Gore. Although the Miami product struggled out of the gate and truly played in just 14 games, Gore totaled over 1,200 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. I believe that’s what the kids refer to as “doin’ work.”

DeAngelo Williams (July 27: five years, $43 million)
This comes with a caveat, as Williams’ opportunities were significantly diminished with the arrival of Cam Newton. When he got his hands on the ball, Williams was extremely efficient, accruing 836 yards and seven visits to paydirt on a scant 155 attempts. And we’d be remiss in forgetting to flaunt his exploits during the fantasy postseason, turning in 214 yards and 4 touchdowns from Weeks 14-16. The final verdict: thumbs-up for the Carolina back.

Ahmad Bradshaw (August 2: four years, $18 million)
The yardage wasn’t quite what fantasy owners had hoped for, although missing four games certainly didn’t help that enterprise. Additionally, when healthy, Bradshaw wasn’t allotted as many attempts as envisioned, and didn’t make the most of his opportunities, owning a career-low 3.9 yards per carry. However, the diminutive rusher found the end zone 11 times (nine rushing, two receiving) and was a beast in the fantasy playoffs, with five touchdowns and 210 total yards in the final three weeks of the NFL regular season.

Wide Receivers

Larry Fitzgerald (August 21: eight years, $120 million)
Now that’s how it’s done, son. Fitzgerald didn’t fade from the spotlight after attaining the richest contract for a wide receiver in league history. Despite the nonexistence of a running game, complementary receiver, adequate quarterback…you know, basically any type of support system…the four-time All-Pro went for 1,400 yards for the third time in eight seasons in the desert, and boasted a career high in yards per reception with a 17.6 figure. The 6’3” wideout added 80 receptions and eight touchdowns, making a viable case for the title of league’s best at the position.

Jordy Nelson (October 2: three years, $13 million)
The fourth-year man out of Kansas State put up decent stats in his first three seasons in the NFL, with 100 receptions in 45 games for 1,268 yards and six scores, and his first three contests in the 2011 campaign were commendable (10 receptions, 201 yards, two touchdowns). Nevertheless, stardom wasn’t the projected stratum for the slot man. Yet after inking his Herbie Hancock on an extension, Nelson got his Antonio Freeman on, bringing in 58 balls for 1,062 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final 13 games. For you math scholars out there, that adds up to a 1,260-yard, 15-touchdown conquest, solid production out of a sleeper pick.

Santonio Holmes (July 27: five years, $50 million)
Again, it seemed like a good idea at the time. In an abbreviated season in 2010 (12 games), Holmes notched nearly 750 yards on 52 receptions. For good measure, Holmes added six touchdowns and acted like an airplane after scoring drives, so of course Gang Green would bring back Mark Sanchez’s first realistic receiving threat. Regrettably, Holmes could not duplicate his destruction downfield. In fact, it turned out to be the worst season of his professional career, as he managed a middling 654 yards and 51 receptions. He did light up the scoreboard eight times, but Holmes didn’t live up to his billing as top dog in last season’s free agency wideout class.

Tight Ends

Jason Witten (September 12: five years, $37 million)
Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham received the accolades at the position last season, though Witten was no slouch himself, hauling in 79 catches for 942 yards and five touchdowns. These marks were actually slightly below Witten’s average output from the previous four seasons (91 receptions, 1,032 yards, six scores), but I doubt his proprietors were crying foul.

Owen Daniels (March 3: four years, $22 million)
In a sense, this contract could have been perceived as a steal, especially if Daniels reverted back to his 2008-09 form. Unfortunately, Daniels wasn’t quite recovered from injuries suffered in the previous two years last season, and though he wasn’t an abomination, he certainly wouldn’t qualify as an elite performer. Daniels’ star was also dimmed by the emergence of two other Houston tight ends, Joel Dreessen and James Casey.

Marcedes Lewis (August 6: five years, $35 million)
Signing Lewis to an extension wasn’t as bad as Jacksonville bypassing on hometown hero Tim Tebow in the 2010 Draft, but it sure rivals it in shortsightedness. Yes, Lewis did amass 10 touchdowns in 2010. Also true: in the 62 career games with the Jags before 2010, Lewis hit the end zone a meager seven times. So some regression was expected going into 2011, but being completely shutout from scoring? Yikes. I’m sure Lewis apologists would argue the tight end was dealing with Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown at quarterback, and there’s some legitimacy to this discussion. However, an inexperienced arm should also equate to more check-downs and short passes, meaning the tight end should theoretically see more action. Lewis finished with 39 receptions, 460 yards and millions of upset rotisserie owners.

Conclusion

On the whole, most players live up to the dollar signs. Bearing in mind that most deals are authorized after a dominant exhibition, a tad of deterioration is anticipated. In short: don’t let the plethora of Benjamins that Brees, Rice, Forte and others are rolling in deter you on draft day.

Tagged: Bills, Bears, Cowboys, Titans, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Texans, Michael Vick, Jason Witten, Frank Gore, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Santonio Holmes, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Owen Daniels, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton

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