Friday, May 31, 2013
Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract
By Kevin Seifert
A look at a player entering a contract year on each NFC North team who must deliver in 2013:
Chicago Bears: More than a half-dozen prominent starters have contracts set to expire after this season, including returner Devin Hester, center Roberto Garza, defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Major Wright and cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. But no one has more riding on this season than quarterback Jay Cutler, who will earn $8.97 million in the final year of the contract he signed after his acquisition in 2009. A great and well-timed season under new coach Marc Trestman could lift Cutler into the upper echelon of well-paid quarterbacks. A step back could leave the Bears in search of a new starter at the game's most important position. It doesn't get more significant than that.
Detroit Lions: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is probably in a contract year, assuming the 2015 component of his deal is voided as expected. But for now, we'll focus on tight end Brandon Pettigrew, a 2009 first-round draft choice who has been productive (243 receptions in 57 games) but has struggled with drops. Both Pettigrew and backup Tony Scheffler are entering the final year of their contracts, but Pettigrew is the more complete tight end, and his pedigree as a former first-round pick puts more scrutiny on his season. Tight ends will always get opportunities in an offense led by coordinator Scott Linehan and focused around receiver Calvin Johnson, and Pettigrew will need to make the most of them to ensure his future with the team.
Green Bay Packers: Those with contracts set to expire after 2013 include receiver James Jones, tight end Jermichael Finley, nose tackle B.J. Raji and safety Morgan Burnett. Jones could position himself for a big payday with another productive season, but Finley might have the most riding on his 2013 performance. As it is, he will be one of the Packers' highest-paid players this season at $8.25 million. Finley will need a career-best season to earn the kind of long-term deal he's been seeking from the Packers. Otherwise, you wonder if the Packers would let him test his market value in free agency.
Minnesota Vikings: Three starting defensive linemen -- Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison -- have contracts that expire after the season. But the production of a fourth pending free agent, Everson Griffen, could lessen the importance of the other three situations. Griffen finished last season with eight sacks, including three in the playoff-clinching Week 17 victory over the Packers, and he could be in position for big things in 2013.