While some players around the football world find a way to play at an exceptionally high level at the most-important time, others tend to struggle.
We’re not talking late in the game with the outcome on the line. Instead, we’re talking about soon-to-be free agents. Maybe it’s too much pressure for some of these players or something completely different, but the following eight NFL veterans have failed to capitalize during their contract years.
From a struggling quarterback in the Big Apple to an injured running back in Green Bay, here are eight players that won’t collect the big checks in free agency due to a combination of different factors.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback, New York Jets
A whole ado was made about Fitzpatrick’s contract situation during the offseason. He wasn’t valued at the level he thought was justified. The Jets didn’t want to pay the career journeyman elite-level money. In the end, the two sides came together on a one-year, $12 million contract.
Through the first nine games of the season, it’s looking like a major mistake on the Jets’ part. After throwing two more interceptions in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick has now recorded a league high 13 picks.
He was benched in favor of Geno Smith earlier in the year, only to regain his starting job when Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury. Now, pretty much out of the playoff race in the AFC, Fitzpatrick himself is suffering through a sprained MCL.
We know how poor quarterback play has been in the NFL. Look no further than San Francisco, Cleveland and even Denver. That’s well documented. In no way does this mean that a quarterback-needy team is going to be desperate enough to throw starter-level money Fitzpatrick’s way. One good season in a career that’s represented a decade of mediocrity won’t change that.
2. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
Injuries. Really, that’s what has held Jeffery back over the past couple seasons with the Bears. And while he has played in all eight of his team’s games this season, it’s readily apparent that Jeffery hasn’t been 100 percent. This comes on the heels of him missing seven games during the 2015 season with a multitude of injuries.
Despite this, Jeffery has been somewhat productive for an otherwise downtrodden two-win Bears team. He’s recorded 36 receptions for 583 yards and a touchdown.
It’s still not the elite-level production that this former second-round pick displayed back in 2013 and 2014 when he combined for 174 receptions and over 2,500 yards.
And in reality, that’s likely to cost Jeffery elite-level money on the open market. He’s still going to get top-10 receiver money. But he won’t be in the level of a Julio Jones or Dez Bryant.
3. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Buffalo Bills
It wasn’t too long ago that Gilmore’s value seemed to be right up there among the top corners in the NFL. He recorded 18 passes defended and three interceptions while yielding a sub 65 quarterback rating a season ago. All tremendous numbers.
Unfortunately for Gilmore, that simply isn’t the case any longer. Through the first nine weeks of the 2016 season, this former first-round pick is yielding a 93.5 quarterback rating and a whopping 18 yards per reception. Those aren’t elite numbers. Heck, those aren’t even starter-caliber numbers.
The primary issue here for Gilmore has been his inability to keep the receiver in front of him. He’s giving up a 70 percent catch rate and 23.4 yards per reception on go routes. That’s not acceptable. In fact, this has forced Buffalo to throw safety help over the top. Again, that’s not a sign of an elite-level cover guy.
4. Morris Claiborne, cornerback, Dallas Cowboys
All was going swimmingly in Claiborne’s contract year. He was 100 percent healthy for the first time in years. He was playing at a tremendous level for a surprising Cowboys team. Then, in one instant against the Philadelphia Eagles back in Week 8, that came crashing down to earth.
Jerry Jones said on @1053thefan that Morris Claiborne and Barry Church likely to miss 4-6 weeks.
— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) November 1, 2016
Considering this former first-round pick missed 23 of a possible 48 games in the three seasons leading up to this year, this most definitely isn’t good news for his free-agent stock.
The bit of good news here is that Claiborne has an opportunity to up his stock for a potential Super Bowl contender when he returns later in the season. Even then, it’s hard to imagine him getting true starter money on the open market.
5. Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals
After struggling through his first season back in 2012, this former Notre Dame standout broke out big time as a sophomore. He recorded 65 receptions for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns. At that point, it looked like Floyd would quickly ascend towards the status of a No. 1 receiver for the Cardinals.
It’s been downhill ever since. After tallying an absurdly low 53 percent catch rate over the past two seasons and failing to hit even the 900-yard mark each year, Floyd has dropped off the map big time in 2016. Through eight games, he has caught just 19 passes for 257 yards and boasts a 44 percent catch rate.
These aren’t No. 1 receiver numbers. Heck, they’re not even starting receiver numbers. And in reality, Floyd’s value once he hits the open market will surely reflect this.
6. Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite struggling through his first four NFL seasons, Kirkpatrick had an opportunity to put that all behind him this season. Hitting the final year of his rookie contract, the former first-round pick could have proven skeptics wrong. Unfortunately, it has gone in the complete opposite direction.
It hasn’t necessarily been that Kirkpatrick has struggled in coverage. In fact, he’s been much better than each of the previous four seasons. It’s the dumb penalties. The mistake-proneness.
Dre Kirkpatrick with an awful penalty on the third-down conversion horse collar and he was OB.
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) October 30, 2016
If Kirkpatrick were able to stray away from this, he might be in a good position to earn a decent paycheck during the spring. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t seem like there’s much of a chance of this happening.
7. Jarvis Jones, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh selected Jones No. 17 overall back in 2013 for one single purpose. The idea was for him to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback in the team’s 3-4 scheme. In no way has Jones come close to living up to these expectations.
The Georgia product recorded a total of five sacks in is first three seasons. To put that into perspective, Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack racked up five sacks in one game last season. This just goes to show you how little of a presence Jones has been from a pass-rush perspective.
Now in his contract season, Jones has yet to record a single sack in eight games. And while he’s been decent against the run, that’s most definitely not what teams are looking for in a 3-4 outside linebacker. Short of Jones adding weight and being able to play hands down in a 4-3, that will be reflected during free agency in March.
8. Eddie Lacy, running back, Green Bay Packers
Conditioning issues over the past two seasons gave way to injury problems this year. These aren’t two things you correlate with a high-priced running back in an NFL where running backs themselves are not valued where they used to be.
Lacy’s career got off to a tremendous start after he recorded 3,000-plus total yards and 24 touchdowns in his first two seasons. It all came crashing down last season when Lacy recorded 758 yards for Green Bay. And while Lacy did look good in limited action this season, an ankle injury has forced him on to injured reserve.
Maybe Lacy can return late in the season and prove skeptics wrong. Maybe he will show a slimmed down version of himself. Heck, he might be able to help a struggling Packers squad right the ship. Unfortunately, that seems extremely unlikely right now. If so, don’t look for this former Pro Bowler to receive a huge check on the free-agent market.