I once had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman who played offensive line for LSU quite a few years ago. Upon discovering this I, of course, asked him whether he followed the Saints. He quickly laughed at the notion and explained that he didn't like the way money had tainted and changed the game at the NFL level. He only watched college ball. It was no coincidence, he explained, that players would only put up big numbers during seasons directly before they had to sign new contracts. He felt once players got paid, it was back to taking it easy on the field. At the time it was something I had never thought about but after further reflection it has stuck with me ever since.
As much as we love to watch NFL football as a source of entertainment there is no denying that to the players on the field it's not just a game. It's a job. The organizations are the employers and each player is an employee. And just like any other workplace there is a delicate balance between both. The NFL organizations want to get the most out of their players and the players want to feel valued and compensated adequetely. A workforce is a living, breathing organism. Like any job, sometimes employees work hardest only when it matters most to them, not necessarily their employer. In the NFL that time is called a contract year.
For those that don't know, a contract year is the final season that any given player is under contract. It is almost always in a players best interest to have a productive season in their contract year so as to maximize the amount of money they will be offered when it's time for them to sign a new contract at the end of the season. In other words, if you're hoping for Charles Grant or Will Smith to finally play at the level that their contracts would lead you to believe they are capable of playing you might be waiting until 2013 or 2014, their respective contract years. It's a tough pill to swallow but whether we like it or not, it's inevitable in the NFL. Money is a powerful motivator, especially ridiculous amounts of it, and fans want to see results but because of the rough nature of the game players only have so much to give of themselves before their bodies break down. They've got their own legitimate concerns. Again, a delicate balance.
Allow me to be particularly clear on one small point before we go any further: I am not accusing any player of dogging it. I am, however, working under the assumption that a contract year would be the ideal time for any player to have a succesful season, a career season even, and that financial motivation would only serve to increase production, never take away. With all of this in mind I thought it would be interesting to find out which players on the 2009 Saints are entering contract years and might have a bit more than usual to play for this season.
I am very excited about this one. Being an undersized, undrafted free agent has been enough motivation enough for PT Bruiser to work his butt off in the NFL and become the Cinderella story he has. But the possibiliy of a huge payday might inspire him to take it to a whole other level in 2009. If Payton has any shred of football smarts he'll put the ball in Pierre's hands and let him run with it. I mean that literally and figuratively.
When Sharper signed with the New Orleans Saints not too long ago it was revealed the terms of his contract were only for a year. If Sharper isn't planning on retiring next year and wants to continue making good money he'll have to stay healthy and play at the high level he's been able to reach in years prior. Otherwise Sharper, who waited out for a little while before signing with the Saints, can expect more of the same next year.
2009 will be Miller's fourth season with the Saints, the most he's spent with any team in his career. It will also be his tenth year in the NFL. Last year Billy became a fan favorite while stepping up in the absence of Jeremy Shockey and Mark Campbell. Maintaining that high level of play and proving that he's a competent number two tight end on the Saints would be the best thing he could do for himself. If not I think there is a good possibility the Saints could cut him loose after this year and send him looking for work with his fifth NFL team.
Dude is already good. But he's about to turn 30 at the end of this month and I'm sure he would love nothing more than one last long-term contract to finish out his career and secure a stable future for his young twin girls. If we do see an improvement in Fujita's play this year then I look forward to the amazing production we should expect from he and Vilma.
Usama hasn't totally lived up to expectations when it comes to his cornerback play but his special teams skills make him invaluable. Still, the secondary has been upgraded - again - this year and Usama will get left behind if he doesn't elevate with it. There's also talk of a switch to safety which, if sucessful and effortless, could pay off big time. Young has always appeared to be a player giving it his all every game so there might not be as noticeable a change. If things don't go so well then the Saints might think twice about re-signing him next season.
Moore, a restricted free agent, was tendered a one-year, $1.545 million deal following the 2008 season. With less than a week left in the restricted free agency signing period, it's almost assured that Lance will remain a Saint for 2009. The team does have the option to offer him a long term deal but with the possibility of an uncapped year in 2010 they may wait until then to ink a lengthy contract. If this is the case then Lance will have extra incentive to continue amazing fans and being Brees' go-to guy. I am expecting huge things from my man Lance Moore this year.
The starting safety could be entering the most pivotal season of his career. Roman has never quite lived up to the high expectations that fans have had for him. Now free of Gary Gibbs' system, Harper has a chance to make himself invaluable. Safety is a key position in new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' defensive scheme. If things don't start to click for him this year in Williams' new system, Harper - rumored to be trade bait in the Shockey deal - may find himself parting ways with the Saints.