The NFL is a prove-it league. No job is safe, and every player is one bad hit or unlucky step away from fighting for his career.
Certain players enter each season in a much more contractual prove-it situation. Whether due to an injury, inconsistent play or age, some settle for a one-year contract. The plan is -- it's always the plan -- to perform well on that single-year contract in hopes of cashing in the following offseason.
Sometimes it pays off, with the player staying fit and milking the most out of his talents. Sometimes it's just a matter of that proven player finally staying healthy and returning to form. Other times, the bottom continues to fall out, and the player's in a similar situation -- or worse -- next year.
Here is my pick of 11 players on one-year deals with new teams who are in the best situation to stand out in 2022 -- and potentially cash in come 2023.
Note: All contract values and rankings were sourced from Over the Cap.
Signed for: $10 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-34th.
Chark would have likely cashed in this past offseason had his 2021 campaign not been wiped out by a fractured ankle in Week 4. When healthy, the 25-year-old LSU product is a proven field-stretcher and he has a Pro Bowl season on his résumé. Chark has stood out thus far in Lions camp and is the ideal deep threat to complement Amon-Ra St. Brown in Detroit -- especially with rookie Jameson Williams set to miss the start of the season. Two big questions heading into the 2022 season for Chark: 1) Can he stay healthy? 2) Is Jared Goff willing to take enough shots to take advantage of the veteran wideout's skill set?
Signed for: $7.25 million. Rank in annual average among CBs: T-30th.
Bradberry might not have lived up to the big-money deal in New York last season, leading to his May release, but the corner can still play. Still just 29 years old, Bradberry joins an Eagles defense with the horses to be very good. In a league constantly searching for steady cornerbacks, if Bradberry, who leads the NFL with 62 passes defensed since 2018, does his part in the back end alongside Darius Slay, he could be in for another payday.
Signed for: $3 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-69th.
I'm chalking the worst statistical year of Landry's career up to playing through injury and the play of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who himself was injured. At 29 years old, Landry might not gain as much separation as he once did, but the veteran didn't forget how to catch. With Michael Thomas and rookie Chris Olave in New Orleans, Landry won't see the enormous chunk of targets he did in his previous stops. However, he also won't be the focus of defensive schemes, as he was in Cleveland. Give me Landry versus No. 2 and 3 corners with no help, and he'll eat well.
Signed for: $8 million. Rank in annual average among IDLs: T-24th.
Remember, Ogunjobi agreed to a three-year, $40.5 million contract with Chicago this offseason before a failed physical negated the pact. So, teams around the league clearly value the people-mover. The Steelers stepped in a few months later and scooped up Ogunjobi on a one-year deal. He landed in a great spot in Pittsburgh to prove he can still make splash plays before hitting the market again next offseason. The Steelers desperately needed help along the line after Stephon Tuitt's retirement. If Ogunjobi proves the injury issue wasn't a big deal, he'll get paid next year.
Signed for: $1.272 million. Rank in annual average among CBs: T-106th.
The Chargers garnered headlines for signing J.C. Jackson, but adding Callahan on a basement-bargain deal could prove just as significant. Callahan is slated as L.A.'s starting slot corner and reportedly looks good in camp. The 30-year-old's versatility could be big in Brandon Staley's defense. The key is staying healthy, as the seventh-year pro has never played an entire season's slate.
Signed for: $9 million. Rank in annual average among TEs: 12th.
It's fair that if you've seen enough flabbergasting Engram drops you refuse to believe he can become a consistent player. But he's a classic prove-it deal candidate -- a high draft pick with enticing talent who has lacked consistency while playing on a struggling club, mostly with subpar QB play. Playing in Doug Pederson's scheme with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, we could see the best out of Engram in 2022. Given his draft pedigree (No. 23 overall in 2017) and the need for pass-catching TEs around the league, it wouldn't be stunning to see Engram cash in if he has a big year. First, he needs to hang onto the dang ball.
Signed for: $5.9 million. Rank in annual average among IDLs: 40th.
An underrated trench player in Washington, Ioannidis can push the pocket and cause havoc in the backfield. He should see one-on-one situations playing alongside Brian Burns and Derrick Brown in the Panthers' front. With Carolina shallow along the line, the 28-year-old has the chance to raise his stock on his one-year deal after a torn biceps in 2020 relegated him to just three games, and he never looked right in 2021. Playing under Matt Rhule and Phil Snow, who coached him at Temple, should benefit Ioannidis.
Signed for: $3.25 million. Rank in annual average among IDLs: 60th.
Reed can immediately boost the Packers' run defense, a trouble spot last season in Green Bay. Playing next to Kenny Clark should provide Reed ample chances to make plays, particularly on early downs. As his 10.5-sack season with Seattle in 2018 showed, Reed can push the pocket in one-on-one situations. He's earned solid reviews during camp, particularly during joint practices with the Saints this week. The biggest question for Reed is how long he fends off first-round rookie Devonte Wyatt for snaps early in the season.
Signed for: $2.125 million. Rank in annual average among RBs: 32nd.
Miami's backfield is crowded with the Dolphins also adding Chase Edmonds and Sony Michel this offseason. But I'm betting on Mostert's familiarity with coach Mike McDaniel's scheme in San Francisco paying dividends. Of course, health will be the biggest factor, but the back said last month he's been cleared -- whether he's full-go for Week 1 remains to be seen. When he's on the field, Mostert is a home run threat with one-cut ability. If he stays healthy, he can bring a completely different mojo to the Dolphins' offense.
Signed for: $3.25 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: 66th.
Smith-Schuster was a prove-it candidate last year but struggled to stay healthy in Pittsburgh. Joining Patrick Mahomes and a revamped receiver corps could get JuJu back on track. The Chiefs entered the offseason wanting to win more over the middle to make teams pay for playing two-high against Mahomes. That's where the 25-year-old can butter his bread. Playing with Mahomes boosts the profile of most pass-catchers, and a big season could set up Smith-Schuster in what looks to be a down year for the free-agent market at receiver next offseason.
Signed for: $6 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-43rd.
I was going to keep this list to 10, but it's more fun to shoe-horn in a seven-time Pro Bowler. Like your grandparents moving to Florida to soak up the sun and rejuvenate their spirits, Jones could enjoy a turn-back-the-clock season alongside Tom Brady in Tampa. Jones has been hampered by injury but still has the sticky hands that made him one of the best receivers in the NFL for much of his career. In an offense that boasts Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage, Jones doesn't have to be a go-to target. But as we saw with Antonio Brown before his dramatic exit from the team in Week 17, the Bucs' pass-happy offense has room for three or four wideouts to do damage every week.
Others considered: Sammy Watkins, WR, Green Bay Packers; O.J. Howard, TE, Buffalo Bills; DeShon Elliott, S, Detroit Lions; Marlon Mack, RB, Houston Texans; Melvin Ingram, OLB, Miami Dolphins; Riley Reiff, OT, Chicago Bears; Anthony Barr, LB, Dallas Cowboys; Akiem Hicks, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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