Agent’s Take: Ten offensive bounce-back candidates who are out to prove they still belong

Every season, different players face a crossroads or need to prove something for various reasons. The most common reasons relate to age, contract or salary cap issues, injuries, underperformance or off-field issues.

Here are 10 offensive players who aren’t quarterbacks who fall into one of those categories to watch in 2022.

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Elliott has been statistically going 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 extension that made him the NFL’s highest-paid running back, ending a long preseason shortly before the 2019 regular season began race. With two years left on his rookie deal, Elliott set a new standard for running backs, signing $50,052,137 in total and $28,052,137 in full guarantees.

Elliott averaged a career-low 58.9 rushing yards per game last season. Before Elliott got his contract extension, he averaged 101.2 rushing yards per game. Elliott wasn’t Dallas’ most efficient running back last season. Some people think that Tony Pollard is the best running back on the Cowboys roster.

If this season proves to be the case, it’s hard to imagine Elliott returning to the Cowboys in 2023. It may be necessary to part ways with Elliott to keep Pollard on a contract year. There has been speculation that no matter what happens to Pollard, Elliott will be released next offseason.

Elliott plans to make $10.9 million in 2023 on a salary cap figure of $16.72 million. The Cowboys will have $11.86 million in dead money, a salary cap fee for players who are no longer on the roster, by letting Elliott go without using the post-June 1 title.

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Thomas missed the 2021 season after a setback in his recovery from ankle surgery in June. The Saints are already frustrated with Thomas after he waited until a few weeks before training camp to have surgery on a left ankle injury for the 2020 season.

The 2020 season has also been challenging for Thomas. He was the subject of trade rumors after a one-game suspension due to a practice spat with teammates and was limited to seven regular-season games because of his ankle.

With several young players emerging over the past two seasons, Thomas has been an afterthought in the best wide receiver discussion. In 2019, Thomas’ last healthy season, he set a one-man reception record with 149 and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

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Barkley’s stellar debut season, in which he led the NFL with 2,028 yards (both rushing and receiving) and in the process earned 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, may seem like a distant memory . His return from the 2020 season was lacklustre in 2021, where he was limited to two games due to a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Barkley had 593 rushing yards in 13 games last season, 3.7 yards per push. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft is in jeopardy on his five-year rookie deal, which averages $7,682,350 a year, including his current $7.217 million annual option salary, the largest deal of his NFL career.

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Robinson’s contract year playing under the $17.88 million franchise tag leaves a lot to be desired. The 2021 season is Robinson’s worst season in the NFL (aside from torn left ACL in his season opener with the Jaguars in 2017). Robinson had 36 catches for 410 yards and a touchdown in 12 games, which he attributed in part to an injury-plagued season in which he never developed chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

Still, the Rams signed Robinson to a three-year, $46.5 million contract (up to $48 million through incentives) with $30.75 million fully guaranteed. Robinson can reach 2,201 total receiving yards in 2022 and 2023, making it invalid for the third year in 2024. The Rams are counting on 2021 to be an anomaly, as Robert Woods, who tore the ACL in his left knee in a practice last November, is the Rams. To accommodate Robinson’s signing, he was traded to the Titans in a salary dump trade.

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Stanley turns 2019 All-Pro campaign into a five-year, $98.75 million extension worth up to $100 million with incentives, record-breaking guaranteed contract for offensive lineman mid-2020 season . The total guaranteed amount was just over $65.5 million, and the full amount guaranteed at signing was just over $58.8 million.

Since then, Stanley has only played two games. A few days after signing, he suffered a season-ending left ankle injury that required surgery. Stanley started his first game in 2021 and ended up undergoing additional ankle surgery this season. Stanley has just been activated from the physically incapable list. Returning to anything close to the level of his previous game would be a huge boost for the Ravens.

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Gorradi became the recipient of the biggest pass-receiver trade of 2021 after the Lions declined to designate him as a franchise player. After various injuries limited him to five games in 2020, he signed a four-year, $72 million contract (up to $76 million through incentives) and a $40 million guarantee. The 2019 Pro Bowl contestants had 37 catches, 521 yards and zero touchdowns in 14 games last season. Galadi may need to thrive in new head coach Brian Dabore’s offense this season or New York won’t have a third year, despite his $4.5 million roster on day three of the 2023 league year roster. The dollar bonus (March 17 next year) fully guarantees this part of March.

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When the Patriots signed Smith to a three-year deal averaging $12.5 million a year in 2021, Smith exceeded the most plausible contract projections. He set the record for the highest amount fully guaranteed with a tight contract of $31.25 million.

Smith doesn’t live up to the old “give more, expect more” adage. He had just 28 catches for 294 yards and one touchdown in 16 games last season while occupying 47.64 percent of New England’s offensive fast break (525 of 1,102). Among tight ends, Smith ranks 34th in the NFL in receiving yards and 31st in receiving yards. Another season like 2021, Smith won’t be making $12 million around 2023.

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The Browns signed Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal, and his 2020 All-Star honor paid off handsomely. A dislocated left elbow and a torn right patellar tendon limited Conklin to a career-low seven games last season. Conklin slashed his $4 million salary from $12 million to a fully guaranteed $8 million, which he could earn back in the offseason with playing time bonuses. He recently said he wanted to stay in Cleveland after this season. Conklin could benefit from a sharp takeoff in the right tackle market in 2021, and this season he will return to his 2020 form. Last year, four right tackles signed deals worth an average of $17 million or more.

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The tepid interest in free agency led Smith-Schuster to return to Pittsburgh last season in a one-year “proof” deal worth $8 million. According to reports, he seeks more than $15 million a year in the public markets.

Smith-Schuster didn’t prove himself well when a left shoulder injury kept him out of the regular season after five games. In those games, he had 15 catches for 129 yards and no touchdowns. Smith-Schuster returned in a wild-card playoff game against the Chiefs, where he had five catches for 26 yards.

There has been 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 through incentives, worth a whopping $10.75 million. The Chiefs recently revised his contract so he could earn an additional $510,000 as his per-game roster bonus of $510,000 ($30,000 per effective game) increased to $1.02 million (per effective game Competition is $60,000).

Smith-Schuster has a huge opportunity in Kansas City because he doesn’t have an established No. 1 receiver after Tyrek Hill was traded to the Dolphins. He could be a big payday in free agency next March with a prolific 2022 season.

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Ingram had a disappointing 2021 season with the Giants, completing 46 passes for 408 yards and 3 touchdowns, but that didn’t stop him from acquiring a one-year, $9 million deal from the Jaguars USD contract, which includes a full security deposit of USD 8.25 million. He can earn up to $10 million through incentives. The underlying value of the deal is no less than the $9.293 million the Giants need to designate Ingram as a transition player.

Ingram may be the right place to showcase himself in 2023 free agency. New Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson is tight end friendly on the Hawks’ offense. In five seasons as head coach in Philadelphia, Ertz averaged nearly 80 catches per year, including an NFL record for a single-season catch in 2018 with 116.

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