Every season, a different set of players face a crossroads or have something to prove for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are related to age, contract or salary cap concerns, injury, poor performance or off-the-field issues.
Tight end Evan Engram is a prime example of capitalizing when there's something to prove. He signed a one-year, $9 million deal worth up to $10 million though incentives with the Jaguars in March 2022 after a disappointing 2021 campaign for the Giants. Engram had a career year in Jacksonville last season. He had 73 catches, 766 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
The Jaguars designated Engram as a franchise player for $11.345 million in March. He received a three-year, $41.25 million contract (worth up to $42 million with incentives) right before the mid-July deadline for franchise players to sign long term.
Here are 10 offensive players -- who aren't quarterbacks and who fit into one of those categories -- to keep an eye on in 2023.
Odell Beckham Jr. missed the entire 2022 season recovering from tearing the ACL in his left knee for a second time during Super Bowl LVI. Beckham signed a one-year, $15 million contract worth up to $18 million through incentives with the Ravens despite his injury history. $13.835 million of the $15 million is a signing bonus, with the remaining $1.165 million in base salary.
Surprisingly, Beckham's contract doesn't contain any per game roster bonuses. By contrast, the two-year, $26 million deal DeAndre Hopkins signed with the Titans at the start of training camp has $1.02 million of per game roster bonuses ($60,000 each game active) annually. The per game amount is only payable if the player is on active list for that particular game, which would have been appropriate given Beckham's circumstances. Beckham should be a leading candidate for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award if he can with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and stay on the football field.
Jonathan Taylor has asked for a trade because the Colts aren't willing to have discussions about a new deal. He is scheduled to make $4.304 million in the final year of his four-year rookie contract. Colts owner Jim Irsay is .
Taylor is coming off a career-low 861 rushing yards in 11 games behind an inconsistent offensive line while being slowed by a right ankle injury, which required offseason surgery. He was easily the league's best running back in 2021 when won the rushing title by 552 yards averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The 2021 first-team All-Pro led the NFL with 2,171 yards from scrimmage, 1,811 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns and 18 rushing touchdowns. Since entering the NFL in 2020, Taylor ranks third in yards from scrimmage (4,643), fourth in rushing yards (3,841) and fourth in touchdowns (36).
Once Taylor passes his physical, he is going to have to play for the Colts this season in aunless Irsay changes his stance on a trade. Taylor probably needs to demonstrate that his down 2022 season (by his standards) was an anomaly because of the ankle injury.
It's conceivable that a return to his previous form could convince the Colts to give him a new deal near the top of the running back market early next offseason. The more likely outcome is Taylor getting a franchise tag in 2024. The non-exclusive franchise tag for running backs next year projects to 4.653% of 2024 salary cap. Assuming the 2024 salary cap is set in the $245 million neighborhood, this number would be right around $11.4 million.
Michael Thomas took a substantial pay cut in March to remain with the Saints after only playing 10 games in the last three seasons because of foot and ankle injuries. There was plenty of speculation that Thomas would be released instead. He is making $6.46 million in 2023 on a one-year deal worth a maximum of $11.46 million because of incentives.
A discussion about the NFL's best wide receiver couldn't occur without Thomas prior to his injuries. In 2019, the last time Thomas was healthy for an extended period of time, he set the single-season record for receptions with 149 and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott in March after 2022 was the worst season of his seven-year NFL career. Elliott had 231 rushing attempts for 876 rushing yards with 3.8 yards per carry, all career lows. He caught 17 passes for 92 yards, which were more career worsts.
Elliott had been trending in the wrong direction statistically ever since becoming the first running back in the league history to sign a $100 million contract shortly before the start of the 2019 regular season to end a lengthy holdout. The two-time rushing champion signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension, which made him the NFL's highest-paid running back at $15 million per year, with two years remaining on his rookie contact.
Elliott just signed a one-year contract with the Patriots with a base value of $3 million. The deal is worth up to $6 million through incentives. Elliott will need to perform better than last season to earn any of the incentives.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Calvin Ridley returns after being suspended for the 2022 season under the NFL's gambling policy. His contract tolled during the suspension, so he's playing this year under his $11.116 million fifth-year option from the 2022 season.
Ridley is getting a change of scenery as the Falcons dealt him to the Jaguars during the middle of last season for a 2023 fifth-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick. The 2024 pick can elevate to either a third-round pick based on Ridley's 2023 playtime or a second-round pick if he signs a new deal with the Jaguars.
Ridley had a breakout season of 90 catches for 1,374 yards with nine touchdowns in 2020. He only played five games in 2021 because of personal problems. Getting back on track by becoming Jacksonville's primary wide receiver would likely mean the Jaguars would have to pay Ridley more than Christian Kirk (four-year, $72 million contract averaging $18 million per year and worth up to $84 million through incentives for a maximum value of $21 million per year) in order to keep him in the fold.
A disappointing contract year in 2021 didn't dissuade the Rams from signing Allen Robinson to a three-year, $46.5 million contract (worth up to $48 million through incentives) with $30.75 million fully guaranteed. Things went from bad to worse last season in Los Angeles. Robinson had 33 catches for 339 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a left foot injury.
The Rams were so motivated to get rid of Robinson that $3.4 million of 2023 salary cap space was lost in his April trade to Steelers, which was a swap of 2023 seventh-round picks. Robinson's 2023 salary cap number was $18.05 million. The Rams have $21.45 million of dead money, a cap charge for a player no longer on team's roster, for him. A willingness by the Rams to eat $10.25 million of Robinson's $15.25 million 2023 salary made the trade possible. For his brief stay in Los Angeles, Robinson made $25.75 million from the Rams.
Robinson reworked his contract in connection with the trade. He's scheduled to make $10 million in 2024 instead of $15.75 million. If the 2023 season is a continuation of Robinson's last couple of years, the Steelers won't hesitate to release him next offseason because the $10 million isn't guaranteed.
Mike Gesicki wasn't a great fit in Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel's offense last season because blocking isn't his strong suit. 2022 was Gesicki's worst season since his rookie year in 2018. He had 32 catches, 362 yards and five touchdowns. His playtime went from 71.73% in 2021 to 45.17% last season.
Gesicki signed a one year, $4.5 million deal worth up to $9 million through incentives with the Patriots. Proving last season was anomaly could put Gesicki in position to follow in Engram's footsteps.
Jonah Williams tying for the league lead with 12 sacks allowed last season according to Pro Football Focus prompted the Bengals to sign Orlando Brown, Jr. to a four-year, $64.092 million deal in free agency. A trade request which Williams has rescinded was made because of displeasure with Brown replacing him at left tackle. Williams, who is making $12.604 million this season on a fully guaranteed fifth-year option, has shifted to right tackle. Faltering in the transition would likely result in La'el Collins resuming last year's right tackle role after he returns from the left ACL and MCL tears he suffered late last season.
The Jets rightfully passed on a fully guaranteed $13.565 million fifth-year option for Mekhi Becton in 2024 because he can't stay on the field. Becton only played 48 snaps over the last two seasons because of injury. Exchanging first-round picks with the Packers in a trade for four-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers cost the Jets a shot at taking a left tackle with their first selection of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Steelers moved up to the 14th spot, one place ahead of the Jets, in a trade with the Patriots, to pick Georgia's Broderick Jones. Working his way back from his knee injuries, Becton is currently second on the depth at left tackle behind Billy Turner, who signed a one-year, $1.65 million deal worth up to $3.15 million with incentives in March as an unrestricted free agent.
Alexander Mattison has big shoes to fill as a lead running back because the Vikings released Dalvin Cook from his five-year, $63 million extension with three years remaining in June. Cook has four straight seasons of rushing for more than 1,100 yards. Mattison, who backed up Cook during those seasons, remained in Minnesota on the two-year, $7 million deal worth a maximum of $8 million through incentives he received in free agency.