A number of top NFL names face a very critical 2014 season. Which ones need it to go well at all costs?
Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals
The team certainly wins when he is under center, but the Cincinnati Bengals are nonetheless at a crossroads with Andy Dalton. Despite three-straight years of regular season success, the young signal caller has looked awful in the post-season, failing to score more than 13 points in any of those contests, let alone win one of them. If he can’t deliver with the premier cast he has around him now, things might change in 2015.
Dwayne Bowe – Kansas City Chiefs
His big NFL playoff performance got some people off his back but Dwayne Bowe is not out of the woods yet. The Kansas City Chiefs paid him a lot of money to become their franchise receiver. Thus far he hasn’t lived up to that promise. Based on the fact his cap number hits $14 million next year, Bowe has to breakthrough now or he could find himself out on the street.
Jake Long – St. Louis Rams
He managed to play 15 games last season in his first stint with the St. Louis Rams, but left tackle Jake Long ended what had been a decent year by tearing his ACL. It marked the third-straight season he’s suffered a significant injury of some kind. Though still only 29-years old, Long is on thin ice. Rookie 1st round pick Greg Robinson will start his career at left guard but projects to move outside eventually. Another setback for Long might accelerate that process.
Jason Pierre-Paul – New York Giants
For one season it was clear to everybody that Jason Pierre-Paul was the next great pass rusher for the New York Giants in the style of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan. Since his 16.5 sacks in 2011 though, JPP has looked very human. He has just 8.5 sacks in two seasons since and has proven an injury problem. Unless he can prove himself that franchise player the Giants expect, then his plans for a huge new contract will be snuffed.
Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
J.J. Watt said up front that the Houston Texans defense is a different animal when Brian Cushing is on the field. Indeed the outspoken linebacker has Pro Bowl ability and great leadership but also a fragile body. In 2012 he tore his ACL and last season he broke his fibula. Leg injuries are dangerous territory for linebackers, and given his $9.2 million average salary per year, he is short on time to start earning his place.
Morris Claiborne – Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys invested heavily when they traded up for Morris Claiborne in the 2012 NFL draft. So far it seem they overspent. The cornerback has not only failed to produce any meaningful results in his first two seasons, but he’s struggling to stay healthy on top of it. Whether he can live up to what he accomplished at LSU will depend on his body and what new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can get out of it.