Do NFL Players Play Better With Money at Stake?
It’s interesting how fans and even many in the sports media, believe that professional football players, playing for their next contract, someone amp things up, turn on the juice and elevate their level of play. And of course the motivating factor is that next contract – allegedly.
I was reminded of this as fans and media members responded to the Ravens trade of Timmy Jernigan to the Philadelphia Eagles. It seems that many believe the Ravens gave away a good player on the verge of a breakout season driven by a money grab.
But why? Why do some think that during contract seasons players run into Superman’s phone booth and emerge as superstars?
Jernigan’s Career Stats
Jernigan is who he is. There’s little reason to believe that he would have performed much differently in 2017 as a member of the Ravens than he did in the 3 seasons documented above. However it is entirely possible that Jernigan’s numbers will look better as an Eagle given the 4-3 base defense they employ which is a better fit for the defensive tackle’s skill set. Playing beside 2-time second-team All Pro Fletcher Cox won’t hurt his cause either.
Football Outsiders conducted an extensive study of NFL players in their contract years, The Contract Year Phenomenon, and they concluded:
“[There] isn’t any evidence that players improve their performance significantly in their contract year. Similarly, while there may be some indication of a decline after signing a multiyear contract, this decline seems to fall disproportionately on players who sign with new teams out of free agency –- especially quarterbacks.
Ultimately, it still doesn’t seem like there is evidence to support the notion that the contract year phenomenon exists in the NFL. But for teams looking to sign another team’s free agents, there is some evidence to suggest that they should not expect them to match or exceed their contract-year performance in their first year with their new teams.”
The theory didn’t apply to Haloti Ngata who had a better season after signing a new contract than the season before. And we can only hope that the same is true of Brandon Williams who actually played better in 2015 than he did in 2016, his contract season.