The 2017 NFL season is drawing closer. It also stands to mark the final year certain players could remain employed in the league. Many veterans signed short one or two-year prove-it deals in free agency. They must hold up their end of the bargain. Otherwise retirement could be looming right around the corner.
This could easily be the case for one of the league’s oldest active receivers trying to reach his first ever visit to the postseason.
In other cases, younger guys could wind up on the outs in 2018. Rookies poised to compete may pull the rug right out from their new teammates.
Facing make-it or break-it seasons this fall, the following group needs to prove they are still worth employing in 2018.
Adrian Peterson, running back, New Orleans Saints
Peterson finally found employment when the New Orleans Saints eventually reached out to him during free agency. They signed the 32-year-old running back to a two-year contract.
Peterson will need to shine as he has in past seasons to be sure his services will be needed again in 2018. The seven-time Pro Bowl running back is coming off of a terrible 2016 campaign with the Minnesota Vikings. He managed only 1.9 yards per carry during the three games in which he played. Peterson injured his knee and landed on IR after having rushed for only 72 yards.
This time around, he will need to bring up these sluggish stats that won’t get the job done in New Orleans. Peterson will work in unison with lead running back Mark Ingram, something that quarterback Drew Brees is quite thrilled about.
“Everybody is very excited to the element he can bring,” Brees said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” (h/t Lenny Vangilder of Sports Nola). “We’re talking about the guy who led the league in rushing two years ago. To see him walk into the locker room got a lot of people excited.”
Peterson has averaged 265.9 total touches per season since 2007. He will show us how much gas is left in his tank soon enough.
Ahmad Brooks, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Brooks has been in the NFL since 2006. He started his career with the Cincinnati Bengals where he played for two years. Brooks has spent the majority of his career, however, with the San Francisco 49ers after signing with them in 2009.
The one-time Pro Bowl linebacker turned 33 in March. He is still producing at a decent enough level after putting up six sacks and a career-high 41 solo tackles in 2016.
According to this report by 49ers reporter Joe Fann, it appears Brooks is holding his own in offseason practices. New head coach Kyle Shanahan apparently likes what he sees. That’s a positive for any aging player working with a new coach.
Kyle Shanahan had plenty of good things to say about Ahmad Brooks, said he's earned his first-team reps.
— Joe Fann (@Joe_Fann) May 23, 2017
But, despite Shanahan’s praises, Brooks’ career is winding down. He is in the final year of his contract and the 49ers are surely looking to get younger as they continue their rebuild. If Brooks wants to pursue a career beyond 2017, he’s going to have to produce this season. After all, some are of the opinion that Brooks should have already hung up his jersey for good.
Mike Glennon, quarterback, Chicago Bears
Glennon needs to prove himself more than ever before in 2017. The fourth-year quarterback failed to stand out with his former Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and faded under Jameis Winston’s spotlight.
Now, Glennon will have to outshine another rookie anxious to get under center in Chicago. The Bears slapped Glennon in the face when they traded a ton to move up one spot to draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It was only one month prior that the Bears invested in Glennon as the team’s starter.
Glennon acknowledged that this is his year, but at the same time said he is not worried about what might come his way after 2017.
“My focus is on right now, getting better every day w/ my teammates, right now this is my year and I’m not worried about the future, Glennon said.
Well, perhaps Glennon should be more concerned. If he can’t help the Bears crawl out of last place in the NFC North, his future in Chicago will be in jeopardy. Should Glennon truly stink up the place, he might not find work anywhere in 2018.
Glennon was a third-round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft. He currently sports a 5-13 career record as a starter.
Michael Oher, tackle, Carolina Panthers
Oher was an original 23rd overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. The one-time Super Bowl champion never missed a game during his five years as a Raven.
He then played one season with the Tennessee Titans before signing a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers in 2015. But, 2016 marked a bumpy year for the soon-to-be 31-year-old tackle.
Oher has yet to be cleared from a concussion that forced him out of the game in Week 3 last year. He has since skipped both the Panthers’ voluntary practices and OTA’s. Though, he has been working out five days a week as noted by general manager Dave Gettleman, per David Newton of ESPN.
Along with remaining a no-show, Oher was recently cited for a misdemeanor assault of an Uber driver in April.
The citing was uncharacteristic considering Oher has had no other off-field like-type incidents in his nine years in the league.
The Panthers are showing support of Oher who plans to attend mandatory minicamp in June. Per the ESPN report, Oher intends to play this season if he clears concussion protocol.
Should Oher experience another injury-plagued year, it might spell the end of his tenure in the league.
Carlos Hyde, running back, San Francisco 49ers
When healthy, Hyde can be a beast to slow down and tackle on the field. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old running back can’t catch a break and has never played a full 16-game season.
Hyde was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft and has a total of just 34 games on record. He has averaged 4.3 yards per attempt and has 16 total touchdowns on the books.
The Ohio St. product will now be playing out the final year of his rookie contract in San Francisco. Hyde will need to stay healthy and have a productive season if he wants to re-sign with the 49ers. If they decide to move on, Hyde does not have a very impressive resume to hit the open market with.
The work to save his career starts now for Hyde. Hyde will reportedly compete with rookie Joe Williams for the starting job.
The 49ers went to great lengths to select Williams which should have Hyde feeling nervous.
Prince Amukamara, cornerback, Chicago Bears
If Amukamara’s NFL career ended at the close of the 2017 NFL season, he would at least retire a one-time Super Bowl champ. At a mere 27 years old, that is unlikely to be in his plans.
The young cornerback just signed with his third team since being selected 19th overall by the New York Giants in 2011. Amukamara spent five seasons with the Giants before landing a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. His career thus far has been one filled with various injuries.
Amukamara played in 14 games for the Jags, managing zero interceptions, six passes defended and 49 combined tackles. Pro Football Focus rated Amukamara No. 41 among his position in 2016.
He is now the property of the Bears who signed him to a one-year, fully guaranteed, $7 million deal. Considering Amukamara’s injury history, the fully guaranteed money is a bit curious.
Nonetheless, if Amukamara wants to play beyond 2017, he’ll need to stay healthy and prove he is worthy of all of that guaranteed cash.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, New York Giants
Marshall is 33 years old and will be suiting up with his fifth and likely final team before he retires. The six-time Pro Bowl receiver signed a two-year deal with the Giants.
Worth noting, Marshall joined the Giants not with dollar signs in his eyes, but to complete his career “as a winner.” Throughout Marshall’s 11 years in the league, playing for the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and New York Jets, he has yet to even play in the postseason.
To date, Marshall has tallied 941 receptions for 12,061 yards and 82 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he struggled last season, catching only 46.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction for 788 yards and three touchdowns.
If for some reason Marshall fails to play up to expectations, he could find himself the odd man out. The similar situation happened to former Giants veteran wideout Victor Cruz who took a backseat to youngsters Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
Eddie Lacy, running back, Seattle Seahawks
Lacy’s first two seasons in the league in 2013-14 as a member of the Green Bay Packers were stellar. The former Alabama product put up a total of 2,317 rushing yards on top of 684 receiving yards and a total of 24 touchdowns.
Lacy chose to test free agency this year and will start fresh with his new Seahawks team. Seattle signed him to a one-year trial deal to prove himself. Lacy’s contract is an interesting one filled with several incentives for production. Fortunately, Lacy passed his first test with flying colors when his recent weigh-in registered him at 253 pounds.
If Lacy remains in top physical shape throughout the season, he’ll surely finish the year as the bell cow rusher for Seattle. But should Lacy start packing on the pounds or struggle, he will have a tough time selling his services for the 2018 season.