With three weeks down in the 2023 NFL season, there's still plenty of time for players, coaches and teams to reverse course and change their fortunes. But already we can get a pretty good idea of which folks might be for real, and which ones are on a fast track to 2024 change. With that in mind, we decided to take stock of some of the big names on expiring contracts.
Which players are noticeably helping their cause ahead of a potential trip to free agency? And which ones might need a boost in production to warrant big-money deals when it comes to next offseason? Here are 15 to monitor:
Players who are helping their cause
The Vikings are 0-3, which puts at least a small asterisk on his production, but even with a banged-up line and rebuilding defense, he's threaded the needle in three close games, leading the NFL in both yards (1,075) and passing touchdowns (nine) while ranking fifth in yards per attempt (7.8). The real kicker: quarterbacks always have a market, and he remains a borderline top-10 starter. If Minnesota moves on to dive fully into a roster reset, he should be able to cash in once again.
Mayfield's redemption tour took a dent on Monday night when his Buccaneers struggled to move the ball against a feisty Eagles front, but he's still given Tampa Bay more than expected as a cheap Tom Brady successor. Four TDs and just one pick, with a 95.9 QB rating in a 2-1 start? Fans would've signed up for that in a heartbeat. Maybe as the year wears on, if his run-game support doesn't improve, things will even out. But he's on his way to earning at least another competition for a starting gig.
The issue with Swift in Detroit was never a lack of talent, but availability and consistency. Headlining the Eagles' rotation early in his Philly debut, however, he's been pure dynamite, showcasing more burst than any Birds running back since LeSean McCoy. Still just 24, the guy simply explodes through open space, suggesting he's still capable of being a three-down weapon.
You can understand why the Buccaneers might've been hesitant to commit long-term money to a 30-year-old wideout, but Evans hasn't slowed down with Baker Mayfield replacing Tom Brady. He's well on pace for a 10th straight 1,000-yard campaign, and it's clear he hasn't lost a step as a downfield target. Anyone in need of size, experience and big-play ability out wide will pay up.
Undrafted in 2022, the second-year wideout had more than 500 scrimmage yards as a rookie, and he's remained a big-play threat at Derek Carr's disposal, averaging almost 17 yards per catch while also chipping in as a splashy return specialist. He'll be a restricted free agent after the year, but he could draw outside looks if the Saints don't want to match a higher offer.
The Dolphins are cruising with a video-game-like offense, which means just about anyone ripe for a new deal should be able to command it. But Hunt has been legitimately sturdy protecting the interior for Tua Tagovailoa, this year's early MVP favorite. The 2020 second-round pick entered this season with 45 career starts under his belt and is off to his best start yet.
Hunter's been in and out of contract talks with the Vikings so often that it's hard to believe he'll only be 29 this October. Fresh off a 10.5-sack rebound in 2022, the imposing pass rusher is off to an even better start under new coordinator Brian Flores, even as the Vikings as a whole struggle to finish games. His five sacks in three games rank second only to the Steelers' T.J. Watt.
Everyone on the Jets defense is worthy of praise, but Whitehead doesn't get enough of it. The former Buccaneers starter, who won a Super Bowl in Tampa, has always been solid, but this year he's been especially active around the ball, already setting a career high in picks with an NFL-leading three. New York has to pay plenty of others on "D," so he may get a chance to cash in elsewhere.
Players who are hurting their cause
Tannehill held off the Titans' young backup QBs this offseason, but he's had a rough go of it in real game action to open Year 12, throwing one TD to three picks and twice finishing with fewer than 200 yards in an ugly 1-2 stretch. It's arguable his lucrative contract was the primary reason Tennessee didn't deal him ahead of this year. Going on 36, he might be out of a surefire top job.
You could just as easily swap him out for any big-name back who unsuccessfully fought for a big-time extension this offseason. Rusty after a prolonged summer holdout, Jacobs has yet to average even four yards a carry in a game this year, infamously amassing -2 yards on nine carries in a Week 2 defeat. That's not all on him, but in a devalued RB market, looking sluggish after a heavy 2022 workload isn't going to make teams drastically rethink his desire for lucrative long-term money.
The Bears have publicly acknowledged his effort wasn't up to par early in the year, and ever since coming over via trade with the Steelers, he's failed to consistently register as a viable target for struggling young QB Justin Fields. Pittsburgh tends to know when to keep or divorce from seemingly ascending pass catchers, and they've been on the right side of this one all along.
Two years removed from an 800-yard, six-touchdown season, Jefferson entered 2023 with a chance to reclaim the stage as Cooper Kupp battled a hamstring injury, only to be quickly and clearly outplayed by youngsters Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell. His own durability questions have also remained, as he's still looking to rebound from a 2022 campaign that saw him miss six games.
One of the bigger-name additions for the Vikings during their "competitive rebuild" in free agency, the ex-Saints first-rounder was moved all over Brian Flores' new defense in the offseason. He's been a total non-factor since, failing to register even a single tackle in Week 1 and then missing the next two games with a lingering ankle issue. On a prove-it one-year deal, he needs a turnaround.
He's not fellow corner J.C. Jackson, whose struggles are exacerbated by a monster contract. But he's been equally as troublesome on the field, where the Chargers have struggled to contain just about everyone on the back end. Davis is experienced, but he's graded out among the NFL's least effective cover men to open 2023, according to PFF.
Baker is an animal when healthy, but he played just one game in 2023 before a hamstring issue sent him to injured reserve, guaranteeing a four-week absence. All that came after an offseason contract dispute, which resulted in the Cardinals making him a top-eight safety in terms of per-year earnings. The team can opt out of his deal after 2023 for almost $15 million in savings.