Every season is a big season in the NFL for each franchise and player involved. The beauty of a 16-game season is that each week is a do-or-die affair and reputations are formed for better or worse with each passing week. Unlike the 82 game basketball season or the 162 game baseball season, the NFL realizes that less is more and the level of drama with each game is significant.
Yet every year there is a tier of players for whom the games are that much more meaningful. Players who are entering the final year of their contracts, otherwise known as a contract year, have more on the line than others with a bit more job security. While the NFL can become a cruel business for players who believe they are on solid footing (i.e. the Ravens recent dealings with offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie), the guys who are entering their final season with an official contract all realize a significant level of pressure.
Think about the names that are out there for a minute: Dwayne Bowe at wide receiver, Brandon Albert at left tackle, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey at defensive end, Ryan Lilja at guard, Peyton Hillis at running back. Even punter Dustin Colquitt can walk next season. Those are significant players at impact positions for the Chiefs, and that can be a very good thing for the 2012 NFL season.
Several of these players will likely re-sign with the Chiefs at some point, whether by warranting an in-season extension or by returning to the team in the offseason. But the pressure hanging over their heads is likely something that the front office wanted all along for these players in particular.
Let's take the case of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, who is technically not a free agent in 2013 but whose contract is certainly cost-prohibitive next year at over $14 million. Both LSU players were top five NFL draft picks (No. 3 in Jackson's case) who have developed an unfair reputation as potential draft busts and players who have failed to live up to the billing. While both are fine run stoppers, neither one has made the national splash expected and their next contract should reflect that perception.
Yet they also have the chance to make that impression over the next 16 games. The Chiefs defense is predicated on what the front line can do to free up playmaking linebackers like Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, so Dorsey and Jackson absolutely must become a consistent force in the Chiefs base to earn that next check. While neither player will find themselves out of the NFL anytime soon, it's that first contract after the rookie deal that can set them up for life. Just ask Brandon Carr.
None of these players can afford to miss a game or fail to practice hard. Every one of these players must show up on every down. While they are always being watched by the front office and coaching staff, this is a significant year of evaluation for each player along the trenches and among the skill positions. This is a good thing for the Chiefs, who can expect each player to perform at the highest levels possible knowing that their earning power is at stake for the next 16 weeks.