Do Players Perform Better in Fantasy Football in a Contract Year?

May 26, 2022
Do Players Perform Better in Fantasy Football in a Contract Year?

A while back, while I was looking through 4for4’s history of incredible content, I stumbled upon this article written way back in 2012 by Jonathan Bales. It got me thinking. I love taking a look at players in a contract year, but with updated data, does the old adage about players improving play when the pressure is on for new money hold up? Bales found it to be more myth than fact a decade ago, but has the data changed? This year, I built off my data from the previous two years, adding additional data from 2020, and new data from 2021 to see if anything changed.

Getting Started

I looked at the last seven years of players in a contract year to determine whether or not there was a significant increase in fantasy points per game (FPPG) from the previous season.

Some qualifiers:

  • Players must have played at least half the season in both years. Since I was using FPPG, I didn’t want to skew the results by including someone who was productive in a small sample size, nor did I want to include someone who missed significant time due to injury in either of the seasons (i.e. Rob Gronkowski didn't play in 2019).
  • Players must’ve scored at least 5.0 FPPG in their contract year. Anything less than that was unlikely to return a player worth seriously considering in a redraft league.
  • I excluded players who re-signed with their own teams early or during the season. The data comes from players who were expected to be top-100 free agents after the end of the season, and was pulled from various archived news outlets and reports. The attempt is to be more meaningful than completely comprehensive.

I started with an overall look at the numbers by year, to check for annual consistency.

Contract Year Performance by Season
Year Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Change in FPPG Percentage Change
2015 118.9 160.0 +41.1 +34.6%
2016 181.5 188.2 +6.7 +3.7%
2017 152.7 141.2 -11.5 -7.5%
2018 95.2 105.1 +9.9 +10.4%
2019 289.9 281.3 -8.6 -3.0%
2020 397.6 464.7 +67.1 +16.9%
2021 460.6 463.4 +2.8 +0.6%
Grand Total 1,696.4 1,803.9 +107.5 +6.3%

The first thing that stands out is there is no consistency year-to-year. That's not a good sign for making determinations, and there’s a huge jump back in 2015 followed by a significant fall in 2017. That seems like there’s a likely outlier in each year. There is an overall increase of 6.3% over the course of the last seven years, so at least there’s a little bit of a premise for contract year improvements on a macro scale.

Let’s take a look at it by position:

Contract Year Performance by Position
Position Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Change in FPPG Percentage Change
QB 323.8 310.8 -13.0 -4.0%
RB 614.6 651.8 +28.2 +4.6%
TE 115.7 134.3 +18.6 +16.1%
WR 642.3 716.0 +73.7 +11.5%
Grand Total 1,696.4 1,803.9 +107.5 +6.3%

It's interesting that quarterbacks are the only position that showed a drop in production in the aggregate data. Adding in the 2021 numbers further dropped the numbers, largely because we saw Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton in twilight seasons, and Teddy Bridgewater struggled in his move to Denver. With a huge free agent running back class, we saw the data spike from +1.4% to +4.6% after adding in the 2021 numbers, and a similar increase at wide receiver, going from +9.5% to +11.5%. Tight end continued to normalize with larger sample size, dropping from +78.5% in 2020 to +34.5% last year, and now +16.9% with the seventh year of data. Still, with tight end, when looking a little deeper, very few players qualify for consideration each year. More on that later.

The data continues to show a macro increase for players in a contract year. To get an idea of how significant each category is, let’s look at the players and years broken out by position and see if we notice any trends.

Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks are so dependent on opportunity, coaching, and supporting cast, that it’s difficult to take all the different factors into consideration when evaluating whether or not being in a contract year was an actual motivator.

Quarterback Contract Year Production
Player Year Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Sum of Increase in FPPG Percentage Increase
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2015 15 17.8 2.8 18.7%
Colin Kaepernick 2016 12 15.3 3.3 27.5%
Kirk Cousins 2016 18.1 18.8 0.7 3.9%
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2016 17.8 9.5 -8.3 -46.6%
Case Keenum 2017 11.1 15.7 4.6 41.4%
Drew Brees 2017 20.8 16.4 -4.4 -21.2%
Kirk Cousins 2017 18.8 17.4 -1.4 -7.4%
Case Keenum 2019 13.4 7.4 -6 -44.8%
Dak Prescott 2019 17.6 21.1 3.5 19.9%
Drew Brees 2019 20.1 20.4 0.3 1.5%
Jameis Winston 2019 17.8 18.7 0.9 5.1%
Marcus Mariota 2019 12.5 6.5 -6 -48.0%
Philip Rivers 2019 17.2 14.7 -2.5 -14.5%
Ryan Tannehill 2019 12.9 18.7 5.8 45.0%
Tom Brady 2019 17.5 16.5 -1 -5.7%
Mitch Trubisky 2020 13.4 15.4 2 14.9%
Philip Rivers 2020 14.7 15 0.3 2.0%
Ben Roethlisberger 2021 17.8 13.6 -4.2 -23.6%
Cam Newton 2021 17.3 10.8 -6.5 -37.6%
Jacoby Brissett 2021 1.9 6.6 4.7 247.4%
Teddy Bridgewater 2021 16.1 14.5 -1.6 -9.9%
Grand Total 323.8 310.8 -13 -4.0%

Looking at the names involved, I immediately discount players like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. These guys are/were established, consistent producers for long-term teams, and it’s unlikely that contract status has anything to do with their production levels year-to-year. There are a lot of repeat names on the list, which makes sense. Contract-year quarterbacks are often journeymen and/or players toward the end of their careers that struggle to lock up long-term money and don’t re-sign during the final year.

Case Keenum had a huge increase when he played in Denver, then a huge decrease over two years in Washington. That’s not surprising, as he fits the journeyman designation, and his increase in production was more likely a product of surprise opportunity than anything else.

Teddy Bridgewater last year is notable, although his change of scenery makes him hard to bank on as well.

The names I’m looking at are Mitch Trubisky, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Ryan Tannehill, and Kirk Cousins in 2016 before the repeated franchise tag put a sour taste in his mouth.

Combined, these six quarterbacks saw a 6.9 FPPG improvement in contract years or a 7.5% increase. We could argue over whether Tannehill should be included since he entered the season as a backup and was in an entirely new situation, but the only one of the six players who saw a decrease was Mariota in 2019, who was benched for Tannehill. Likewise, Winston went into a Bruce Arians offense for the first time in his career in 2019, which definitely contributed to his increase in production. Prescott in 2019 and Trubisky in 2020 are perhaps the most notable examples since they were openly gunning for new contracts.

Verdict: Some Impact. Contract year can potentially make a difference in the rare instance you find a quality starting quarterback young enough to show progress.

Potential 2022 Candidates: Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Lamar Jackson, Drew Lock

Running Backs

Running backs are primarily dependent on workload. In that, contract year seems less likely to be a factor for this position group. Let’s look:

Running Back Contract Year Production
Player Year Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Sum of Increase in FPPG Percentage Increase
Alfred Morris 2015 10.7 5.4 -5.3 -49.5%
Bilal Powell 2015 2 8 6 300.0%
Chris Ivory 2015 8.4 11.5 3.1 36.9%
Chris Johnson 2015 5.7 9.2 3.5 61.4%
Doug Martin 2015 6.2 12.5 6.3 101.6%
Lamar Miller 2015 11.6 11.6 0 0.0%
LeGarrette Blount 2015 5.5 9.7 4.2 76.4%
Matt Forte 2015 15 13 -2 -13.3%
Christine Michael 2016 3.2 7.7 4.5 140.6%
DeAngelo Williams 2016 12 9.1 -2.9 -24.2%
Latavius Murray 2016 10.1 12.5 2.4 23.8%
LeGarrette Blount 2016 9.7 14.1 4.4 45.4%
Doug Martin 2017 8.9 5.9 -3 -33.7%
Frank Gore 2017 11 9 -2 -18.2%
Isaiah Crowell 2017 10.3 7.1 -3.2 -31.1%
Jerick McKinnon 2017 6.9 7.8 0.9 13.0%
LeGarrette Blount 2017 14.1 6.1 -8 -56.7%
LeVeon Bell 2017 20 17.1 -2.9 -14.5%
Rex Burkhead 2017 3.7 10 6.3 170.3%
Adrian Peterson 2018 6.8 10.6 3.8 55.9%
Mark Ingram 2018 13.8 10.1 -3.7 -26.8%
T.J. Yeldon 2018 5.8 8.4 2.6 44.8%
Tevin Coleman 2018 9.4 10.1 0.7 7.4%
Austin Ekeler 2019 9.3 13.6 4.3 46.2%
Derrick Henry 2019 11.6 18.4 6.8 58.6%
Frank Gore 2019 6.5 5.1 -1.4 -21.5%
Jordan Howard 2019 10 10.1 0.1 1.0%
Kareem Hunt 2019 18.6 8.1 -10.5 -56.5%
Kenyan Drake 2019 9.6 11.6 2 20.8%
Melvin Gordon 2019 18.5 11.6 -6.9 -37.3%
Peyton Barber 2019 8.1 6.3 -1.8 -22.2%
Aaron Jones 2020 16.6 16.8 0.2 1.2%
Alvin Kamara 2020 12 22.4 10.4 86.7%
Chris Carson 2020 13 14.1 1.1 8.5%
Chris Thompson 2020 4.7 4.1 -0.6 -12.8%
Dalvin Cook 2020 17.1 22.6 5.5 32.2%
Derrick Henry 2020 18.4 20.2 1.8 9.8%
Gus Edwards 2020 5.4 7.7 2.3 42.6%
Jamaal Williams 2020 7.7 8 0.3 3.9%
James Conner 2020 11.2 11.3 0.1 0.9%
James White 2020 8.5 6.6 -1.9 -22.4%
Kareem Hunt 2020 8.1 12.5 4.4 54.3%
Kenyan Drake 2020 11.6 12 0.4 3.4%
Leonard Fournette 2020 12.2 8.8 -3.4 -27.9%
Malcolm Brown 2020 4.1 6.1 2 48.8%
Rex Burkhead 2020 5.7 9.5 3.8 66.7%
Tevin Coleman 2020 8.2 1.3 -6.9 -84.1%
Todd Gurley 2020 12.6 10 -2.6 -20.6%
Boston Scott 2021 5.2 9.2 4 76.9%
Chase Edmonds 2021 8.8 10.2 1.4 15.9%
Cordarrelle Patterson 2021 3.3 13 9.7 293.9%
Darrel Williams 2021 3.5 10.1 6.6 188.6%
David Johnson 2021 13.6 5 -8.6 -63.2%
J.D. McKissic 2021 9.5 9.7 0.2 2.1%
James Conner 2021 11.3 15.9 4.6 40.7%
Jeff Wilson 2021 12.3 5.3 -7 -56.9%
Jerick McKinnon 2021 7.3 2.5 -4.8 -65.8%
Justin Jackson 2021 6.2 5.8 -0.4 -6.5%
Kalen Ballage 2021 7.2 0.6 -6.6 -91.7%
Latavius Murray 2021 8.3 7 -1.3 -15.7%
Leonard Fournette 2021 8.8 15.8 7 79.5%
Melvin Gordon 2021 12.2 11.3 -0.9 -7.4%
Peyton Barber 2021 3.3 5 1.7 51.5%
Phillip Lindsay 2021 5.7 3.1 -2.6 -45.6%
Sony Michel 2021 8 8 0 0.0%
Grand Total 614.6 642.8 28.2 4.6%

Verdict: Very Little Impact. While some of these running backs definitely showed up big in contract years (Tevin Coleman, Latavius Murray, and Henry, specifically) it’s not consistent enough across the board to attribute real substance to contract status. The overall numbers show a slight increase at the position, and there are several candidates this season, but I think we can safely say opportunity and workload are still the primary indicators to use for evaluating running backs. There are a lot of older guys on one-year deals (Adrian Peterson) and journeyman role-players (LeGarrette Blount), but there are some notable players on the list. Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and Austin Ekeler all shined in contract years in 2019 and then Henry and Drake managed to maintain similar production in 2020 contract years - though Drake and Ekeler in 2019 were aided by a significant increase in workload due to external factors. Meanwhile, in 2020, we saw Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, and James Conner all see decreases. Last season might be the best hope for contract-year success at the position, with Chase Edmonds, Boston Scott, and Leonard Fournette all increasing production on semi-similar usage. Cordarrelle Patterson and Darrell Williams also saw significant increases, but those seem affected more by usage than contract motivation. We also saw decline from Melvin Gordon and Latavius Murray, but those seem more age and role-related than anything else.

Potential 2022 Candidates: Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, Kenyan Drake, Jamaal Williams, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Darrell Henderson, Devin Singletary, David Montgomery, Damien Harris, Tony Pollard, James Robinson, Alexander Mattison, Myles Gaskin

Wide Receivers

From the eyeball test, I always found wide receivers to fluctuate in intensity more noticeably. You can tell when a receiver is trying hard on blocks, or when his routes get a little crisper. This position group saw an 11.5% overall increase, so I was anxious to take a deeper look at it:

Wide Receiver Contract Year Production
Player Year Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Sum of Increase in FPPG Percentage Increase
Alshon Jeffery 2015 11 11.6 0.6 5.5%
Anquan Boldin 2015 8.5 7.2 -1.3 -15.3%
Jermaine Kearse 2015 4.1 6.2 2.1 51.2%
Rishard Matthews 2015 1.8 8.2 6.4 355.6%
Rueben Randle 2015 7 8 1 14.3%
Travis Benjamin 2015 3.2 7.7 4.5 140.6%
Alshon Jeffery 2016 11.6 7.8 -3.8 -32.8%
Anquan Boldin 2016 7.2 6.7 -0.5 -6.9%
Brandon LaFell 2016 4.8 7.6 2.8 58.3%
Brandon Marshall 2016 14.4 6.4 -8 -55.6%
DeSean Jackson 2016 7.5 8.3 0.8 10.7%
Jeremy Kerley 2016 1.7 5.2 3.5 205.9%
Kendall Wright 2016 6.1 5.6 -0.5 -8.2%
Kenny Britt 2016 5.4 8.5 3.1 57.4%
Kenny Stills 2016 3.9 7.9 4 102.6%
Michael Floyd 2016 8.1 5.3 -2.8 -34.6%
Pierre Garcon 2016 7.1 7.6 0.5 7.0%
Robert Woods 2016 5.1 5.2 0.1 2.0%
Ted Ginn 2016 9.3 6.6 -2.7 -29.0%
Danny Amendola 2017 3.9 5.2 1.3 33.3%
Jarvis Landry 2017 8.5 9.3 0.8 9.4%
Sammy Watkins 2017 6.9 7.2 0.3 4.3%
Adam Humphries 2018 4.2 7 2.8 66.7%
DeSean Jackson 2018 6.3 9.2 2.9 46.0%
Devin Funchess 2018 8.3 5.6 -2.7 -32.5%
Donte Moncrief 2018 4.3 5.2 0.9 20.9%
Golden Tate 2018 8.2 7.1 -1.1 -13.4%
Jamison Crowder 2018 6.3 6 -0.3 -4.8%
John Brown 2018 4.9 6.4 1.5 30.6%
Randall Cobb 2018 6.1 5.4 -0.7 -11.5%
Tyrell Williams 2018 5.9 6.1 0.2 3.4%
Amari Cooper 2019 9.4 10.5 1.1 11.7%
Breshad Perriman 2019 4.6 7.3 2.7 58.7%
Danny Amendola 2019 4.6 5.2 0.6 13.0%
Emmanuel Sanders 2019 10.6 7.2 -3.4 -32.1%
Larry Fitzgerald 2019 7.2 6.4 -0.8 -11.1%
Nelson Agholor 2019 6.3 5 -1.3 -20.6%
Phillip Dorsett 2019 3.1 5.1 2 64.5%
Robby Anderson 2019 7.6 6.9 -0.7 -9.2%
Sammy Watkins 2019 7.5 6.2 -1.3 -17.3%
Taylor Gabriel 2019 5.3 6.8 1.5 28.3%
Zach Pascal 2019 2.5 5.9 3.4 136.0%
Allen Lazard 2020 4.2 8.1 3.9 92.9%
Allen Robinson 2020 9.8 13.2 3.4 34.7%
Breshad Perriman 2020 7.3 7 -0.3 -4.1%
Chris Conley 2020 6.7 5.1 -1.6 -23.9%
Chris Godwin 2020 13.4 13.2 -0.2 -1.5%
Cooper Kupp 2020 11 10.8 -0.2 -1.8%
Corey Davis 2020 4.8 11.4 6.6 137.5%
Curtis Samuel 2020 7.4 11.6 4.2 56.8%
Danny Amendola 2020 5.2 6 0.8 15.4%
Demarcus Robinson 2020 4.3 5.3 1 23.3%
JuJu Smith-Schuster 2020 5.9 11.6 5.7 96.6%
Keelan Cole 2020 3.4 7.6 4.2 123.5%
Keenan Allen 2020 9.8 13.9 4.1 41.8%
Kendrick Bourne 2020 4.2 7 2.8 66.7%
Kenny Stills 2020 6.2 2.6 -3.6 -58.1%
Larry Fitzgerald 2020 6.4 5.7 -0.7 -10.9%
Marvin Jones 2020 10.1 11.9 1.8 17.8%
Nelson Agholor 2020 5 10.1 5.1 102.0%
Sammy Watkins 2020 6.2 6.9 0.7 11.3%
T.Y. Hilton 2020 8 9.1 1.1 13.8%
Will Fuller 2020 7.7 14.8 7.1 92.2%
Willie Snead 2020 4 6 2 50.0%
Zach Pascal 2020 5.9 7.2 1.3 22.0%
A.J. Green 2021 5.5 8.1 2.6 47.3%
Adam Thielen 2021 14.5 12.8 -1.7 -11.7%
Allen Lazard 2021 8.1 8.2 0.1 1.2%
Allen Robinson 2021 13.2 5.7 -7.5 -56.8%
Braxton Berrios 2021 4.9 5.8 0.9 18.4%
Byron Pringle 2021 2.4 6.2 3.8 158.3%
Cedrick Wilson 2021 2.7 7.8 5.1 188.9%
Chris Conley 2021 5.1 3.4 -1.7 -33.3%
Chris Godwin 2021 13.2 13.8 0.6 4.5%
Christian Kirk 2021 8.7 9.9 1.2 13.8%
Danny Amendola 2021 6 7.1 1.1 18.3%
Davante Adams 2021 21.5 17.7 -3.8 -17.7%
Emmanuel Sanders 2021 9.6 7.9 -1.7 -17.7%
Isaiah McKenzie 2021 4.9 2.8 -2.1 -42.9%
Jakobi Meyers 2021 8.1 8.5 0.4 4.9%
Jalen Guyton 2021 5.2 5.1 -0.1 -1.9%
Jamison Crowder 2021 11.9 7 -4.9 -41.2%
Josh Reynolds 2021 6.1 5.5 -0.6 -9.8%
Kalif Raymond 2021 1.5 6.8 5.3 353.3%
Mack Hollins 2021 1.9 3.1 1.2 63.2%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling 2021 7.6 6.7 -0.9 -11.8%
Michael Gallup 2021 9 8.2 -0.8 -8.9%
Mike Williams 2021 8.6 13 4.4 51.2%
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine 2021 0.6 5.5 4.9 816.7%
Randall Cobb 2021 8.1 6.6 -1.5 -18.5%
Russell Gage 2021 9.1 9.3 0.2 2.2%
T.Y. Hilton 2021 9.1 6.3 -2.8 -30.8%
Tre'Quan Smith 2021 6.2 6.5 0.3 4.8%
Zay Jones 2021 1.8 4.8 3 166.7%
Grand Total 642.3 716 73.7 11.5%

Throughout the list, once again, there are many older players playing on short-term deals such as Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, and A.J. Green. There are also some notable negatives, with Robby Anderson in 2019 the most glaring, as well as Michael Floyd in 2016. Some notable increases I largely attribute to surprise opportunities include Breshad Perriman and Zach Pascal in 2019, as well as Travis Benjamin and Rishard Matthews in 2015.

The names that pop out as meaningful to me: Alshon Jeffery (2015); Kenny Britt (2016); Jarvis Landry (2017); Adam Humphries, Devin Funchess, Jamison Crowder, and John Brown (2018); Amari Cooper and Nelson Agholor (2019), Corey Davis, Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Marvin Jones, and Curtis Samuel (2020); Adam Thielen, Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Michael Gallup, and Mike Williams (2021).

Crowder, Funchess, Godwin, Agholor, Thielen, Adams, Valdes-Scantling, and Gallup had decreases in production, but the rest of that group increased. Each member of this group fits the criteria of what I would call "meaningful contract status," where a player's contract status is likely to be the most dominating factor in any change in production. I consider this when the WR:

  1. Has a fairly safe position on the depth chart
  2. Has no noticeable offensive decline around him (i.e. injury to star quarterback, etc.)
  3. Is not disgruntled for an easily discernible reason

It’s not perfect. Funchess, for example, suffered from a decline in Cam Newton’s health and Agholor actually got more of an opportunity in 2019 than expected due to injuries. But overall, it’s a good way to whittle the list down to find something meaningful.

Corey Davis in 2020 is a shining example of a contract-year boon. He was labeled a bust before an 87.5% increase in FPPG in 2020 and then signed a fat new contract in New York. Likewise, Mike Williams showed up last year with a 51.2% increase in FPPG, prompting the Chargers to re-sign him to a long-term deal.

My notable players group listed above saw an overall combined increase of 10.9% in FPPG from the previous year to their contract seasons. That’s fairly significant and is worth thinking about when evaluating the players with deals expiring after this season.

Verdict: Conditional Impact. Contract-year receivers who fit my three qualifiers have shown an overall increase in production. This is significant enough to warrant consideration as a factor, but still probably not enough to be a prime motivator for drafting them.

Potential 2022 Candidates: D.J. Chark, Allen Lazard, Jakobi Meyers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sterling Shepard, Deebo Samuel, Mecole Hardman, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, Jalen Guyton

Tight Ends

My theory about wide receivers would also be the case for tight ends. They can block with more intensity, work harder to come back to the quarterback, and run crisper routes with extra motivation. Here are the results:

Tight End Contract Year Production
Player Year Sum of Previous Year FPPG Sum of Contract Year FPPG Sum of Increase in FPPG Percentage Increase
Ben Watson 2015 1.6 7.3 5.7 356.3%
Ladarius Green 2015 1.6 5.1 3.5 218.8%
Jack Doyle 2016 0.8 5.4 4.6 575.0%
Martellus Bennett 2016 5.6 7.1 1.5 26.8%
Jimmy Graham 2017 7.8 7 -0.8 -10.3%
Jared Cook 2018 4.9 7.9 3 61.2%
George Kittle 2020 9.8 12.6 2.8 28.6%
Gerald Everett 2020 4.1 4.5 0.4 9.8%
Hunter Henry 2020 7.9 8.2 0.3 3.8%
Jared Cook 2020 8.9 7.3 -1.6 -18.0%
Jason Witten 2020 4.8 1.6 -3.2 -66.7%
Anthony Firkser 2021 4 4.1 0.1 2.5%
David Njoku 2021 3.3 5.6 2.3 69.7%
Evan Engram 2021 6.8 5.3 -1.5 -22.1%
Jared Cook 2021 7.3 6.8 -0.5 -6.8%
Mike Gesicki 2021 8.9 7.6 -1.3 -14.6%
MyCole Pruitt 2021 1.8 2.6 0.8 44.4%
Rob Gronkowski 2021 7.9 12 4.1 51.9%
Robert Tonyan 2021 9.4 5.2 -4.2 -44.7%
Will Dissly 2021 3.1 2.6 -0.5 -16.1%
Zach Ertz 2021 5.4 8.5 3.1 57.4%
Grand Total 115.7 134.3 18.6 16.1%

There’s not enough data to come up with something conclusive here, but seeing Jared Cook (until last season) and Martellus Bennett increase production on short-term deals might be significant. You could say the same thing for Zach Ertz last year, but a mid-season trade was likely the biggest factor in his increased production. It’s a small sample size for tight ends who meet the games played and FPPG minimum requirements over the past six years. That being said, it's a huge increase, largely aided by increased opportunities from guys like Ladarius Green and Ben Watson in 2015 and Jack Doyle the following year. The last two years have helped normalize it a little with more significant additions in both 2020 (Hunter Henry, George Kittle) and 2021 (Mike Gesicki, David Njoku, Evan Engram).

Gerald Everett, Gesicki, Njoku, and Engram were at the end of rookie deals. The most notable data point is probably Jonnu Smith in 2020, who jumped in production before signing a big deal in New England. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with Dalton Schultz and Dawson Knox this year, adding a couple more end-of-rookie-deal guys to the list might create something conclusive.

Verdict: Possible Impact? Contract-year tight ends could see an increase in production, but fantasy managers shouldn’t put a ton of stock into it, and opportunity still seems to be the primary factor. Next year, the sample size should continue to normalize with more marquee players set to hit free agency in 2023.

Potential 2022 Candidates: Dalton Schultz, Robert Tonyan, Austin Hooper, Hayden Hurst, Evan Engram, Mike Gesicki, O.J. Howard, Dawson Knox

Bottom Line

While I walked into this exercise wanting to disagree with Bales’ assessment from way back in 2012, I couldn’t completely disagree with him. Though there is some increase in production from contract year players in this sample, the variables are far too significant to say contract status is the leading factor.

  • Situation and opportunity still reign as the best categories to consider for improved fantasy production, particularly for running backs.
  • Quarterbacks are rarely in a situation where contract status is the most significant determining factor.
  • Wide receivers seem to be the most likely to see a bump in a contract year, assuming all other factors remain reasonably constant.
  • Tight ends have a small sample size to work with, but there’s something to be said for a tight end on the last season of a rookie deal, or set to start on a one-year prove-it deal.
  • In general, fantasy managers should view contract status as a tiebreaker or just one small part of the rankings puzzle, and not as a major factor.

Potential 2022 Candidates from OverTheCap.

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