Cowboys’ Tony Pollard and Bills’ Jamison Crowder headline NFL players in contract year ready for breakout season

Cowboys’ Tony Pollard and Bills’ Jamison Crowder headline NFL players in contract year ready for breakout season

The year of the contract. Motivation unlikely than another. The only season on which the financial futures are based for hundreds of people in the NFL. Have a contract year down, and you could be looking at the vest veteran minimum, or a relatively cheap one-year “prove it” contract.

Break into your contract year and you could land a variety of multi-year deals with signing bonuses that dwarf all the money you’ve made to date.

Which players are required to move up in their contract years this season in the NFL? Below, I’ve listed my five favorites.

You won’t find players who have ever had a breakout, like DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Hunter Renfrow or Diontae Johnson. Each of those receivers has 1,000-yard seasons on their NFL resume. Players labeled franchise were also not included.


Jones was an expert pass rusher at Ohio State, a sleek inside rusher with slippery hands, loose hips and a flawless flurry to the quarterback. He slowly became that type of player in the NFL with the Broncos. He’s had more pass-rush opportunities and generated more snaps in each of his three professional seasons to date, starting with a 23-pressing 213 pass-rush snap campaign as a rookie in 2019. .

Now in Year 4, Jones will be tasked with operating as Denver’s inside marquee passing threat, and having fully healthy Bradley Chubb – with explosive second-round pick Nik Bonitto – on the outside will help deflect Jones’ attention. Also, with Russell Wilson in the shotgun this season, the Broncos defense should find themselves in more favorable and more obvious situations.

The stars have lined up for Jones to dramatically elevate his reputation in 2021 as a consistent full-time insider disrupter.


Pollard is Dallas’ most effective guard. Twice he’s averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry, which includes 2021 when he had his biggest workload — 130 carries in the regular season. If you dive deeper into the analytical frame of reference, he’s averaging 3.29 yards after contact per rush in 2021, the lowest in his three-year career to date, but still more than what Ezekiel Elliott has accomplished in the during one of the last three seasons. The feature hasn’t had a rushing yards after contact figure above 3.00 since 2019.

In 2021, Elliott forced a missed tackle every 12.4 carries. Pollard did it once every 4.37 attempts. The dude is downright good, a more dynamic and explosive option out of the backfield for the Cowboys, regardless of draft position or celebrity status. Elliott has certainly handled a much larger annual workload than Pollard, which makes it harder to keep pace on the efficiency front, but the fact is the Cowboys running game works best when the ball is in the hands of Pollard.

I don’t know why I made this Elliott v Pollard, but here we are. I think it was mostly to emphasize that Pollard is a modern producer at running back, and now, with Elliott entering 2022 with over 1,700 careers on his resume, Pollard – 321 career attempts – is in a prime position to secure greater responsibility in the Dallas offense and truly break out once and for all.


The incredibly long Omenihu started the third year strong with 16 pressures in his 105 rushing passes at Houston. That productivity caught the ears of 49ers general manager John Lynch, who traded for Omenihu before the trade deadline.

What’s odd is that after being on the field for nearly 40 snaps a game with the Texans, the newly acquired 49ers, a one-time passer, have never played more than 20 snaps in a single contest for the rest of the regular season. That changed in the first playoff win, when he busted for six pressures on 27 pass-rush opportunities on 35 total snaps against the Cowboys. Sure, it was just one contest, a pretty big one, but Omenihu made a statement to his new coaching staff – he should have played more since the jump to his new region.

The former Texas star has become more comfortable and productive pressing the passer in each of his first three NFL seasons. And in what should be a bigger role on the 49ers defensive line, I expect a notable breakthrough en route to a major extension in the 2023 offseason for the nearly 6-6 defender with 36 tentacles. thumbs attached to his chest.


Yeah, yeah, that’s a bit of a stretch. Listen to me, though. Crowder has never had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, and he’s not even 30 yet. Is a household name for, say, the religious fantasy owner or family who’s had the Sunday NFL Ticket for the past five years, sure, but I wouldn’t call him a star. Still.

Crowder was rewarded for working with inferior quarterbacks early in his career to land Buffalo, along with Josh Allen, in Cole Beasley’s former gig. And Beasley felt like a player with current Crowder notoriety when he signed with the Bills in 2019 at age 30.

With Allen, Beasley saw over 100 targets over the three regular seasons and set career highs in every major receiving category. As far as Allen’s rocket arm is the star, he’s become a superstar largely due to his pinpoint accuracy and willingness to use his inferior options. That new option underneath now happens to be Crowder, and everything about his signing at Buffalo has legitimate feelings for Beasley.


Of course, Gaines plays in the background on the Rams defensive line. He rushes next to, arguably, the best defensive lineman in the history of the game in Aaron Donald.

But Gaines brings it too. At 6-1 and 312 pounds, he has a stocky build but wins with a burst, speed-to-power conversion and non-stop motoring. His manual work is also refined. After barely playing in his first two seasons – less than 250 total snaps combined – Gaines fell into a major rotational role in 2021 and thrived with 38 pressures from 476 rushing snaps. No, it does not equate to a huge rate. It does indicate, however, that Gaines seized the opportunity when his snaps were augmented.

The Rams didn’t draft a defensive tackle in April. Gaines will be the first starter alongside Donald at the start of the 2022 season. The former Washington Husky has a big year ahead of him, which he’ll turn into a big payday next March.

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