I started by reminiscing about my inaugural crutch arguments from back in the day. Then I looked into whether early-round rookies are guaranteed playing time and whether significant investments in offensive linemen tend to make skill players Cheap NFL Jerseys better.
Barf, indeed! By far the most popular answer — the crutch argument you most want to see debunked — is the supposed contract-year phenomenon. And while other writers have inspected the veracity of this dubious-sounding assertion (“He’s got more to play for, so he can get his big payday”), I still see and hear it invoked by noncritical thinkers inside and outside the NFL.
So let’s dig in. Do skill players Cheap Custom NFL Jerseys entering the final year of their contract, and thus heading for unrestricted free agency, tend to see their performances increase? For this research project, I sliced and diced a lot of data and tried to be as fair as possible. I removed any impending free agent who missed a significant portion of his walk year because of injury or holdout. I also didn’t include skill position players who’d mostly been fantasy nonfactors to that point in their careers, even if they would later emerge as important players. At the same time, I did include players like Justin Forsett circa 2014, who had never done much for fantasy prior to last season but then exploded onto the scene. If anything, my data is weighted in favor of the contract-year phenomenon being a real thing.
I looked at data over the past five seasons, and my universe of relevant players broke down like this: five healthy quarterbacks who were significant for fantasy and nevertheless entered a season aware that they would be free agents (Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Vince Young and Alex Smith twice); 27 running backs; 39 wide receivers; and 13 tight ends.
I’ll use the quarterbacks to introduce my methodology. Of the five I just mentioned, three generally improved in their contract seasons and the other two either regressed or stayed roughly the same. I reached this conclusion by comparing these quarterbacks’ two-year average performance prior to their contract seasons — both in fantasy points and in passing yardage — with their contract-year performance:
As you can see, Smith’s performance in 2011 stands out here; the others aren’t particularly scintillating, certainly not to the point where you’d hoot and holler about a contract-year phenomenon.
For the other skill Cheap NFL Jerseys China positions, I don’t have the space here to list every player, but I do have larger sample sizes than for the quarterbacks, which can help us draw firmer conclusions. Once again, I compared each impending free agent’s contract-year performance to his two-year average prior to the contract year:
The significant takeaway from this chart isn’t so much the slight average increases in fantasy points and total scrimmage yardage. Those averages are skewed by a few players who, like Forsett in 2014, exploded in their walk years. I’m thinking of guys like Pierre Garcon (2011), Knowshon Moreno (2013), Julian Edelman (2013) and DeMarco Murray (2014).
No, it’s more significant that there are just about as many contract-year “fallers” as “risers.” And again, I must emphasize, I eliminated upward of 50 other skill position players over the past five years who played as impending free agents but simply weren’t owned by many fantasy teams. Sorry, Darrius Heyward-Bey circa 2013. You didn’t factor here.
As a final step in this analysis, I wondered whether there were perhaps different rules for the rare “super-elite” fantasy players who make it to their walk years. Let’s look at the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends who averaged at least 10 fantasy points per game the two seasons before their contract year and how they subsequently fared in their walk season:
Dez Bryant Cheap Custom Jerseys and Demaryius Thomas were awesome last season. But don’t they look like the exception rather than the rule among established fantasy studs in contract years?
I think the reason this crutch argument gets under my (and perhaps your) skin is that it’s one step away from pop psychology. It purports to explain the psyche of the NFL player and contends that although these elite professional athletes have had to scrap and work and fight to get to the pinnacle of their sport, something has been missing from their motivation, something that can be ignited by a possible payday. While I have no doubt that there are some athletes to whom this explanation applies, I think the majority of NFL players are competitive freaks who know that they’re one underperforming season away from the unemployment line. I file the foolishness of this crutch argument right next to the one that says Player X “plays hard.” They all play hard, don’t they? It’s kind of a hard game.
I think year-to-year variance in fantasy performance correlates much more closely to things like age, experience and coaches’ trust, to say nothing of health and raw ability. While the numbers I’ve reported here may indicate a gentle upward drift in the average performance of good players in contract years, there are way too many players whose performances drop off to proclaim any kind of real victory. Thus “he’s going into a contract year” is just another one of those things people say when they’re trying to bamboozle you with a litany of reasons they like 2015 impending free agents like T.Y. Hilton, Alfred Morris, Philip Rivers, Lamar Miller and many others. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t like those players. I’m just saying the reason you like them shouldn’t be their contract status.