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5 NFL players who have 1 year to prove they're worth big money

"Prove-it" deals aren't necessarily smart for players, but maybe things will be different for these guys ... maybe!

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

One-year "prove-it" deals are an annual NFL tradition. Players sign short-term contracts with the belief that they will play as well as they think they're capable of, thereby earning a big deal on the open market the following season. These kinds of deals rarely work out for players.

But there's always a chance it will, so teams and players keep taking their chances. Just this past week, two recent first-rounders signed one-year deals with new teams, looking for a fresh start after struggling early in their careers. Defensive end Bjoern Werner, drafted by the Colts in 2013, is trying to rebound with the Jacksonville Jaguars while defensive tackle Dominique Easley, released by the Patriots two years after being taken in the first round, joined the Los Angeles Rams. There's no guarantee that they'll ever live up to their first-round promise, but Werner and Easley are getting second chances to prove themselves.

Elsewhere around the league, five other players who signed one-year contracts this offseason actually have a decent chance to reestablish their careers and and cash in on the free agent market next year.

Jason Jones, DE, Miami Dolphins

Jones waited on the open market until after the NFL Draft to sign with a new team, joining the Dolphins on a one-year deal. Jones has been an on-again, off-again starter for much of his career since the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the second round in 2008. But he was a productive member of the Detroit Lions defensive line the past two seasons, amassing 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 53 tackles in 31 games.

Jones, 29, has displayed starter-level talent in the past but he'll have to earn his playing time with the Dolphins. They signed Mario Williams to be a starter this offseason, and also added Andre Branch as depth. Jones will likely be called on to spell Cameron Wake, who is coming off Achilles tendon surgery.

Since the Dolphins will likely go with a deep rotation, Miami seems like a solid landing spot for Jones. He'll be auditioning for a starting job both with the Dolphins and the rest of the league heading into the season. He's also looking at what could be his final shot at a big contract before he leaves his NFL prime.

Andre Smith, OT, Minnesota Vikings

Smith, the one-time draft bust and eventual starting right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Vikings during free agency. His deal included just $500,000 in guaranteed salary, a number that seems low for a player who has effectively squashed all talk of off-field issues that plagued him early in his career and who has all the makings of a franchise right tackle.

Smith dealt with weight concerns and questions of his dedication to the game after the Bengals made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He also battled injuries early in his career, but ultimately he ended up developing into a top right tackle and the Vikings are getting a good value on his deal.

But Smith may be auditioning for other teams more than he is with the Vikings. The team drafted Willie Beavers in the fourth round and likely view him as a future starter, possibly on the right side. The Vikings also signed guard Alex Boone to a four-year deal in free agency, committing a lot of money to the offensive line. Finally, Phil Loadholt should be returning from injury and while that won't hurt Smith right away, he could easily be with his third team in three years after playing out his prove-it deal.

Nick Fairley, DT, New Orleans Saints

The Detroit Lions drafted Fairley with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2011. He was supposed to take an offensive line that already featured Ndamukong Suh on the inside to ridiculous heights. Yet he did not do enough to convince the Lions he deserved a starting spot, even if he was pretty good at dancing.


Fairley was at one point considered the top player of that year's draft class, and there was always thought he'd be able to succeed somewhere. In free agency in 2015, Fairley signed a prove-it deal with the then-St. Louis Rams -- the team with the best defensive line in the NFL. It was an ill-advised decision by both parties and Fairley never saw the field much.

Now in New Orleans, where he signed a one-year, $3 million deal, he has a good chance of hitting the open market again in 2017. The Saints spent a first-round pick on defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and a fourth-round pick on defensive tackle David Onyemata. Fairley could be on borrowed time, though the Saints ultimately rewarding a big year wouldn't be unheard of, especially after they neglected to re-sign Kevin Williams, Austin Brown and Phillip Hunt.

Nick Perry, LB, Green Bay Packers

Perry hasn't quite developed into a productive pass rusher like the Packers hoped when they took him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Despite being given plenty of opportunities, he never developed into a full-time starter. At just 26 years old, though, the Packers weren't willing to let him go and signed him to a one-year contract worth $5.05 million.

Surely there's a reason. Oh, right:


But this is a system that Perry hasn't found sustained success in during his first four years in the league, so it's a bit of a baffling deal on both sides. The Packers drafted linebacker Kyler Fackrell in the third round, and he could be a successor to Perry at the position. They chose not to re-sign Michael Neal, another linebacker.

Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay Packers

Cook signed a big deal with the Rams in 2013 and while it was a good deal for him financially, he was joining a team with no quarterback and a passing game that hasn't been its focus in several years. It was no surprise when the Rams released him. His best season remains the 2011, when he had 759 yards and three touchdowns on a bad Tennessee Titans team.

But the Packers took interest, and signed Cook to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. It's the definition of a "prove-it" deal and considering that Cook has 273 catches, 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns in 107 career games with nobodies playing quarterback, he could be in line for a huge year with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Fortunately for Cook, it looks like the Packers plan to keep him around if he shows any progress. They've been looking for a steady tight end since Jermichael Finley's career came to an end, and if he develops a rapport with Rodgers, they will likely extend him. They didn't draft a tight end and they did not re-sign Andrew Quarless, which bodes well for Cook.