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Players in contract years could be key to fantasy title

The movie "Jerry Maguire," which follows the trials and tribulations of life as a sports agent, will forever be remembered for the memorable quote, "Show me the money!" That line also has quite a bit of relevance in the world of fantasy football. While a Super Bowl championship is the ultimate motivation for most players, professional sports is now a business that's based on contracts loaded with dead presidents. So when a player is in a contract year, he has extra incentive to find statistical success. As a result, that player could also have added draft value.

With that in mind, here's a look at 12 players who are slated to become free agents in 2013.

This list doesn't include franchised players Drew Brees (Saints), Ray Rice (Ravens), Matt Forte (Bears), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Wes Welker (Patriots), Mike Wallace (Steelers) or Fred Davis (Redskins).

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Schaub is coming off a 2011 campaign that saw him miss six games with a Lisfranc fracture that required a surgical procedure to repair. His recovery is on schedule, so there's little worry that he won't be back in time for Houston's regular-season opener. With that said, he'll be hard pressed to post enormous numbers in his contract year because of the team's impressive running game and suddenly stout defense. From a fantasy perspective, Schaub should be considered a No. 2 quarterback in the middle to late rounds.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: A disappointment in fantasy circles last season, Flacco finished just 17th in fantasy points at his position while being outscored by the likes of Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. As a result, his stock in drafts has already taken a death blow of sorts. Does the motivation to produce on a higher level in order to land a contract make Flacco a potential draft bargain in 2012? Maybe, but the Ravens aren't suddenly going to turn into a pass-laden team like the Packers or Lions -- especially with Ray Rice in the mix.

Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins: Bush is coming off the best fantasy season of his career, posting personal bests in carries and rushing yards while also finding the end zone seven times. At the age of 27, this could be the last chance for him to land another lucrative deal at the pro level. That makes Bush an interesting option based on the fact that he'll be motivated to post solid numbers. Of course, the caveat here is that last season was the first time since 2006 that Bush played in at least 15 games. I still think there's some risk.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers: Few players have seen their value fall as fast as Mendenhall, who was a borderline first-round pick in 2011 drafts but might not be worth as little as a late-round look. Coming off reconstructive knee surgery, there are no guarantees that Mendenhall will even be ready for action in time for the start of the 2012 campaign. That means Isaac Redman, who will be a restricted free agent in 2013, could end up being a popular sleeper in fantasy drafts. Regardless, Mendenhall has lost a lost of his fantasy luster.

Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: Have we seen the best of Greene? He carried the ball 253 times last season, rushing for 1,054 yards with six touchdowns while finishing a respectable 18th in fantasy points among running backs. The fact that the Jets are going to a ground and pound offense, not to mention that he's in a contract year, seems to bode well for Greene's potential value for 2012. The problem is that he'll lose some work to Joe McKnight, and Tim Tebow could vulture touchdowns. To me, Greene remains a No. 2 fantasy back in drafts.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs: Hillis is coming off a terrible season ("Madden" curse, anyone?), rushing for a mere 587 yards with three touchdowns. Now in Kansas City, he'll serve in a potential backfield committee with Jamaal Charles that will limit his overall value. Considering he's 26, playing for a contract and possibly even a starting role with another team next year, Hillis does have some added appeal. The problem is that his touches are unlikely to be excessive with the explosive Charles ahead of him on the depth chart.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: If Stewart could ever land a featured role, he could turn into one of the better running backs in fantasy football. That scenario could happen in 2013, as Stewart is scheduled to be a free agent and the Panthers are on the hook for a sizeable contract with DeAngelo Williams. If he were guaranteed to see more work, I'd like Stewart as a potential breakout candidate. But with Williams and Mike Tolbert in the mix, not to mention a running quarterback in Cam Newton, it's tough to love Stewart as a fantasy option.

Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (RFA): Brown came out of nowhere to become one of the better waiver-wire pickups in fantasy football last season, posting 69 catches for 1,108 yards while averaging 16.1 yards per catch. Now entering his third NFL season, could Brown be a candidate to take the next step to fantasy stardom? With Mendenhall's status in question and Todd Haley calling the offensive shots, I would look for the Steelers to throw the ball often. That's good news for Brown's prospects, and playing for a future contract does nothing but help.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (RFA): There might not have been a better fantasy free-agent addition (outside of Cam Newton) last season than Cruz, who exploded for 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. Can he repeat those enormous totals and finish in the top five in fantasy points at his position again in 2012? That might be asking a lot, but you know he'll be extremely motivated to prove he was no one-year wonder. While it will be tough to pass on Cruz as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy wideout, you will need to temper expectations.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers: Jennings ranked just 17th in fantasy points among wideouts last season, but he did miss the final three games with a knee injury. Based on the numbers from the games he was active, the veteran would have projected to finish seventh at his position. Back at 100 percent and with a stud quarterback like Aaron Rodgers under center, there's no reason Jennings won't get back into the upper echelon at wideout. The fact that he's in the last year of his current deal makes the Western Michigan product more attractive.

Dustin Keller, TE, Jets: The Jets' leader in receptions, receiving yards, first downs and receptions of 20-plus yards last season, Keller is clearly a valuable option in New York. The problem from a fantasy angle, however, is that Keller has been very inconsistent over the last two years. In 2011, he averaged a solid 12.3 fantasy points in his first three games. Keller averaged fewer than six points the rest of the season. If playing for a contract helps his level of reliability, Keller will be a No. 1 tight end. That's a big if, though.

Jared Cook, TE, Titans: Cook has been the opposite of Keller over the last two years. He's barely even visible from a statistical perspective until the last few games, at which point he does his best Antonio Gates impression and puts up monster numbers. If there is a year Cook needs to prove himself as a consistent contributor, it's 2012 while he's playing for a contract. While there is potential all over the place here, Cook should not be drafted as a No. 1 fantasy tight end. Instead, target him late as a No. 2 option with real upside.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to _**@MichaelFabiano**_ or send a question via **Facebook**!

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