Agent Presentation: Ten offensive rebound candidates looking to prove they still belong

Every season, a different set of players face a crossroads or have something to prove for different reasons. The most common reasons are related to age, contract or salary cap concerns, injury, poor performance or off-field issues.

Here are 10 non-quarterback offensive players who fit into one of those categories to keep an eye on in 2022.

Statistically, Elliott has been trending in the wrong direction since becoming the first running back in league history to sign a $100 million contract. The two-time rushing champion signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension, making him the NFL’s highest-paid running back, shortly before the start of the 2019 regular season to end a long preseason holdout. Elliott, who had two years remaining on his rookie contract, set new standards for running backs with $50,052,137 in total guarantees and $28,052,137 fully guaranteed at signing.

Elliott averaged a career-low 58.9 yards per game last season. Before Elliott received his contract extension, he averaged 101.2 yards per game. Elliott wasn’t Dallas’ most effective running back last season. It was Tony Pollard, who some believe is the best running back on the Cowboys roster.

If that turns out to be the case this season, it’s hard to envision Elliott back with the Cowboys in 2023. It would likely be necessary to part with Elliott to keep Pollard, who is in a contract year. There is already speculation that Elliott will be released next offseason regardless of what happens with Pollard.

Elliott is scheduled to make $10.9 million against the $16.72 million salary cap in 2023. The Cowboys will have $11.86 million in dead money, a cap hit for a player no longer on the team’s roster, leaving Elliott to leave without using a post-June 1 designation.

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Thomas missed the 2021 season after suffering a setback in his rehab from ankle surgery he had in June. The Saints were already frustrated with Thomas for waiting a few weeks before training camp to have surgery on the left ankle injured during the 2020 season.

The 2020 season was also challenging for Thomas. He was the subject of trade rumors after being suspended for one game due to a practice dispute with a teammate and limited to seven regular season games because of his ankle.

Thomas has been an afterthought in discussions of the best wide receivers with the emergence of several younger players at the position over the past two seasons. In 2019, Thomas’ final healthy season, he set the singles record for receptions with 149 and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

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Barkley’s stellar debut season, in which he led the NFL with 2,028 scrimmage yards (combined rushing and receiving yards) and won 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, seems like a distant memory. He had a poor 2021 in his comeback from the 2020 season where he was limited to two games due to a torn right ACL. Barkley had 593 rushing yards with 3.7 yards per carry in 13 games last season. The second overall pick in the 2018 draft is at risk from his five-year rookie contract, averaging $7,682,350 per year, which includes his current salary of $7.217 million per year option, the largest deal of his NFL career.

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Robinson’s contract year, when he was playing under the franchise at $17.88 million, left a lot to be desired. The 2021 season was Robinson’s worst NFL campaign (with the exception of 2017, when he tore his left ACL in the Jaguars’ season opener). Robinson had 36 catches for 410 yards with one touchdown in 12 games, which can be attributed in part to an injury-plagued season in which he never found chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

However, the Rams signed Robinson to a three-year, $46.5 million contract (worth up to $48 million through incentives) with $30.75 million fully guaranteed. Robinson can opt out of a third year in 2024 after reaching 2,201 combined receiving yards in 2022 and 2023. The Rams are counting on 2021 to be an anomaly as Robert Woods, who tore the ACL in his left knee during at practice last November, was traded to the Titans in a salary-cutting move to accommodate the signing of Robinson.

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Stanley parlayed an All-Pro 2019 campaign into a five-year, $98.75 million extension worth up to $100 million in incentives with record-setting guarantees for an offensive lineman’s contract midway through the 2020 season. There’s just over $65.5 million in total guarantees, with just over $58.8 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Stanley has only played in two games since then. He suffered a season-ending left ankle injury that required surgery a few days after signing his contract. Stanley started the first game in 2021 before ultimately undergoing additional ankle surgery during the season. Stanley had just been activated from the physically unable to perform list. Getting back to something close to his previous level of play would be a big boost for the Ravens.

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Golladay was the recipient of the 2021 max deal for a pass catcher after the Lions declined to designate him a franchise player. He signed a four-year, $72 million contract (worth a maximum of $76 million in incentives) with $40 million guaranteed after various injuries limited him to five games in 2020. The 2019 Pro Bowler had 37 catches for 521 yards and zero touchdowns in 14 games last season. Golladay likely needs to thrive this season in new head coach Brian Daboll’s offensive system or he won’t have a third year in New York, despite his $4.5 million third-day bonus for the league’s 2023 roster (next March 17) became fully guaranteed part March.

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Smith exceeded most reasonable contract projections when the Patriots signed him to a three-year contract worth an average of $12.5 million per year in 2021 free agency. He set the record for the most money fully guaranteed in a tight end contract with $31.25 million.

Smith didn’t come close to the old adage “to whom much is given, much is expected.” He had just 28 catches for 294 yards and one touchdown in 16 games last season while completing 47.64 percent of New England’s offensive snaps (525 of 1,102 plays). Among tight ends, Smith was 34th in the NFL in receptions and 31st in receiving yards. With one more season left in 2021, Smith will not be available in 2023 to collect his $12 million salary.

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The Browns’ signing of Conklin to a three-year, $42 million contract paid big dividends in 2020 as he earned All-Pro honors. A sprained left elbow and a torn right patellar tendon limited Conklin to a career-low seven games last season. Conklin took a $4 million pay cut from $12 million to a fully guaranteed $8 million, in which he can earn the money back through playing time incentives during the offseason. He recently indicated that he would like to stay in Cleveland beyond this season. Conklin could take advantage of a right tackle market that grew dramatically in 2021 with a return to his 2020 form this season. Four right tackles signed deals averaging $17 million or more last year.

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Low interest in free agency led Smith-Schuster to return to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $8 million prove-it deal last season. He reportedly sought more than $15 million a year on the open market.

Smith-Schuster wasn’t proving much when a left shoulder injury sidelined him for the regular season after five games. He had 15 receptions for 129 yards with no touchdowns in those games. Smith-Schuster returned for a wild-card playoff game against the Chiefs in which he had five catches for 26 yards.

There was less interest in Smith-Schuster during free agency this year than in 2021. He signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Chiefs worth up to $10.75 million in incentives. The Chiefs recently modified his contract so he could earn an additional $510,000 as his $510,000 per game roster bonus ($30,000 for each active game) was increased to $1.02 million ($60,000 for each active game) .

Smith-Schuster has a huge opportunity in Kansas City, as they are without an established No. 1 wide receiver with the trade of Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. He could be positioned for the big payday that eluded him in free agency next March with a highly productive 2022 season.

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Engram’s disappointing 2021 campaign with the Giants, where he caught 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns, didn’t stop him from receiving a one-year, $9 million deal from the Jaguars that includes $8.25 million fully guaranteed. He can earn up to $10 million in incentives. The base value of the deal is not much less than the $9.293 million it would cost the Giants to designate Engram as a transition player.

Engram may be in the right place to file for free agency in 2023. New Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson’s offense with the Eagles has been tight end friendly. During his five seasons as head coach in Philadelphia, Zach Ertz averaged nearly 80 catches per year, including setting the NFL single-season receptions record for a tight end with 116 in 2018.

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