Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Friday, May 31, 2013
Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract

By Paul Kuharsky

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player entering a contract year on each AFC South team who must deliver in 2013:

Houston Texans: Running back Ben Tate will backup Arian Foster, who is already signed long term. Tate’s deal runs out after that. A solid year as the No. 2 in Houston who produces in his chances, and perhaps can show his value if Foster misses any time, will line Tate up for the best possible scenario. Though the best possible scenario for a running back lining up for a second contract isn’t close to what it used to be. The Texans could re-sign him as insurance for Foster, or he could attract some interest on the market considering he won’t have much wear and tear on him through four years.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts need cornerback Vontae Davis to have a big, consistent season as their top cornerback, forcing them to make a significant offer to keep him long term. They gave up a second-round pick for him last year in a deal with Miami and need some stability at the top of a cornerback depth chart that is hardly loaded with great options. If he’s good, he could be a hot commodity on the free-agent market. Losing him would mean the Colts would be searching for a top cornerback again. He took a while to settle in last year, but when he played his best, he was pretty good. I expect good things from him with a chance to work more regularly with Chuck Pagano, who came up coaching DBs.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, who is 28 years old, is coming off a serious foot injury where he averaged 318 carries a season and 361 touches a season from 2009-2011. In a new offensive scheme run by coordinator Jedd Fisch, MJD will be running a lot more zone plays. He held out last year in a failed bid for a new contract but has pledged he won’t make a similar push this time around. The Jaguars' new brass said it will decide how to move forward with him after this season. So whether Jones-Drew remains in Jacksonville or moves on, his ability to rebound and show he can still produce will be crucial. Running backs approaching 30 are not hot commodities in today’s NFL, and Jones-Drew has to show why he’s different.

Tennessee Titans: While Kenny Britt has proven, when healthy, he can be a dynamic threat, the Titans have gotten more headaches from off-field issues than big plays on it from the receiver. If GM Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak are still the decision-makers in 2014, I won’t be at all surprised if the Titans let Britt move on no matter how well he plays this season. The franchise has drafted two receivers high in the last two years -- Kendall Wright in the first round in 2012 and Justin Hunter in the second round in 2013. They are already prepared for life without Britt, and if Jake Locker builds a rapport with those guys and others, it will do even more for their willingness to move on.