Every player wants the security of a long-term contract, but it’s not in the cards for most.
Sure, some quarterbacks, pass rushers, wideouts, cornerbacks and premier blockers receive large deals, but most of the contracts handed out during the offseason are short-term pacts, often one-year deals that will see the player hit free agency again the following year.
There are a multitude of reasons a player, even a star player, might ink a one-year contract. It could be that he didn’t get the offer he desired on the open market, settling for a prove-it deal. Sometimes an aging veteran will sign for one year to help take a club to the next level.
One-year-contract players often have a disparate effect on their team’s fortunes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 players who could make a big impact in 2023 after signing one-year deals with new teams in the offseason.
NOTE: Over the Cap was a source for contract data.
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Contract: One year for $6.5 million.
Perhaps CJGJ misplayed free agency this spring, but there is no question the Swiss Army Knife is a ballhawking playmaker. A centerpiece of the Lions’ remade secondary, Gardner-Johnson’s ability to play in the slot or at safety provides the Lions versatility they previously lacked. If he helps turn Detroit’s secondary from the worst in the league to a difference-maker, he’ll hit the market at just 26 years old looking for that big-time payday.
Contract: One year for $15 million (worth up to $18 million in incentives).
After sitting out all last season, the jury remains out on how much juice is left in Beckham’s tank, but his mere presence in Baltimore should help open the offense. Beckham can still run routes and owns sticky hands, giving the Ravens a threat they’ve missed. Pairing OBJ with rookie Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman (when healthy) and the ever-reliable Mark Andrews makes the new Ravens passing attack more dangerous than it’s ever been in the Lamar Jackson era.
Contract: One year for $13 million.
An athletic, 6-foot-6 edge rusher, Davenport creates pressure with power that should pair well opposite Danielle Hunter. The 26-year-old former first-round pick profiles as the type of prove-it-year player who can earn bucks with a studly season. Davenport’s biggest issue has been health, playing more than 500 snaps only once in five seasons with the Saints. He’s the type of player who could thrive in defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ system if he can stay on the field.
Contract: One year for $5 million (worth up to $6 million in incentives).
Stuck behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw in San Francisco, Al-Shaair has a chance to plow his own path in Tennessee. When thrust into a full-time role in 2021, the linebacker showed sideline-to-sideline ability and good blitz timing. In the middle of Tennessee’s defense, Al-Shaair should feast. The 26-year-old’s ability to shoot the gap behind the Titans’ defensive line and play in space make him an underrated signing who could cash in next offseason.
Contract: One year for $7 million (worth up to $9 million in incentives).
The fact that the 36-year-old signed with Atlanta instead of a more ballyhooed Super Bowl contender represents budding optimism in Flowery Branch that the Falcons can quickly turn things around. When healthy, Campbell remains a force on the line and should immediately help take attention off Grady Jarrett. He might no longer be spry, but Campbell can still move bodies. On a revamped defense, the veteran will play a vital role in any chance the Falcons have of taking the NFC South.
Contract: One year for $1.35 million ($600,000 guaranteed; max value of $2.1 million).
When healthy, Penny is a home run hitting force, averaging 5.7 yards per carry in his five-year career. The 27-year-old can gash defenses and hit another gear at the second level. If healthy, he’s the best early-down option on the Eagles roster and meshes well with the Philly run game. Of course, injuries are the reason Philly got him for close to the veteran minimum salary. He’s never stayed healthy for an entire season and appeared in 18 games the past three years combined, including five in 2022 before a broken leg ended his season. Most players battle Father Time. Penny wrestles Uncle Injury. The Eagles plan to have a committee at running back, but IF he stays healthy, Penny could be the difference-maker in a postseason run.
Contract: One year for $2.25 million ($1.5 million guaranteed).
The Bills stole Ford for cheap coming off a down campaign in Seattle’s defense. The nimble-footed DT turned down more money to chase a ring in Buffalo. The 27-year-old is a penetrator who can immediately boost a Buffalo D-line that got pushed around last postseason. A stout run defender who can shoot the gap, Ford is the type of discombobulator that instantly upgrades the interior rotation alongside Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones. Ford has already turned teammates’ heads during camp — along with picking off a screen pass for a 72-yard touchdown.
Contract: One year for $3 million (reportedly worth up to $5 million in incentives).
Perhaps he’s not a starter off the bat, but I love Tranquill’s fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. He brings superior coverage skills and good timing on blitzes. With the ability to line up in any linebacker position, Tranquill offers Kansas City versatility and depth as it seeks to repeat as Super Bowl champs. He might not be the flashiest player on this list, but Tranquill could play a vital role in a postseason run. This is how Patrick Mahomes recently described the new Chiefs linebacker:
“He’s just a smart player. I hated playing against him because he’s one of those linebackers that’s calling out what you’re saying at the line of scrimmage because he studies that much. I’ve already had to make up new code words because I can hear him on the other side.”
Contract: One year for $4.5 million ($3.55 million guaranteed; max value of $9 million).
Admittedly, it’s been a struggle for Gesicki and most of the Patriots pass-catching corps early in training camp. However, the 6-foot-6 tight end has come on stronger in recent days. Gesicki makes this list based on upside. New England lacks a go-to receiver target, meaning Gesicki should often find his way onto the field in two-TE sets with Hunter Henry. After being miscast in Mike McDaniel’s offense last season in Miami, we should see Gesicki back in his natural pass-catching role in New England. Given that his contract includes a host of incentives based on playing time, receptions and yards, Gesicki is also betting on himself.
Contract: One year for $7 million.
Adding Wagner to this list feels unfair because he’s synonymous with Seattle. After a one-year sojourn to Los Angeles, the linebacker returns to help boost a defense that was lost without him in 2022. At 33, Wagner might have lost one step, but he can still diagnose and befuddle defenses. He still made second-team All-Pro in a supposed down season last year, recording 140 tackles and a career-high six sacks. Seattle’s D was a mess last season. No one denies that. A young, talented secondary, along with free-agent upgrades up front, should help, and Wagner’s stabilizing force immediately boosts the middle of the D. Battling San Francisco for supremacy in the NFC West, Wagner will play a key role in the Seahawks’ fortunes.
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