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Players helping themselves in a contract year were covered in an article earlier in the week. The focus now turns to the opposite end of the spectrum. 

With the NFL regular season coming to a close, here are five players who haven't done themselves any favors in their contract year. A key contract benchmark and the probability of hitting this financial target ranging from one dollar sign to four dollars signs are listed for each player.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans

  • Financial benchmark: Jacoby Brissett ($8 million-avg./$7.5 million in guarantees/1 year worth up to $9.5 million with incentives)
  • Probability: $$$

The Titans moving up in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to take Will Levis with the 33rd overall pick, after using a 2022 third-round pick on Malik Willis, was a clear sign for Tannehill, whose four-year, $118 million contract is expiring, to treat this season as an audition for a starting job with another team. A right ankle sprain in a Week 6 loss to the Ravens opened the door for Levis, who threw four touchdown passes in his first career start in a victory over the Falcons

Tannehill wasn't nailing his audition when he got hurt. The Titans got off to a slow start with a 2-4 record. Through six games, Tannehill had completed 62% of his passes for 1,128 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions to post a 71.9 passer rating. Levis remained at quarterback once Tannehill was healthy. 

Tannehill will be looking for a place where he can be the starting quarterback or have an opportunity to complete to start in free agency. He may have to settle for the best backup situation that could eventually provide him a chance to play should the starting quarterback falter.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

  • Financial benchmark: Michael Thomas ($10 million-avg./$6.26 million in guarantees/1 year worth up to $15 million with incentives)
  • Probability: $

A discussion about the NFL's best wide receiver couldn't occur without Thomas prior to him only playing 10 games over the 2020 through 2022 seasons because of foot and ankle injuries. In 2019, the last time Thomas had been healthy before being bitten by the injury bug, he set the single-season record for receptions with 149 and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year. 

There was plenty of speculation that Thomas would be released before he took a pay cut in March to remain with the Saints. He is playing under essentially a one-year, $10 million deal with $6.26 million fully guaranteed that's worth up to $15 million through incentives. 

Thomas, who turns 31 in March, was sidelined with a knee injury 10 games into the season. He remains on injured reserve. Thomas had 39 catches for 448 yards with a touchdown when he hurt his knee.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers

  • Financial benchmark: Dalvin Cook ($7 million-avg./$5.8 million in guarantees/1 year worth up to $8.62 million with incentives)
  • Probability: $

It hasn't been a banner year for running backs with expiring contracts. In addition to Ekeler, the three running backs given franchise tags (Saquon Barkley-Giants, Josh Jacobs-Raiders, Tony Pollard-Cowboys) haven't replicated their 2022 production.

Ekeler's camp couldn't find any takers when granted permission to seek a trade prior to last year's late-April draft after the Chargers refused to extend his contract. As a compromise, the Chargers added $1.75 million of incentives to Ekeler's contract at the end of May.

Ekeler got off to a great start before spraining his right ankle in the season opener against the Dolphins. He rushed for 117 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown and caught four passes for 47 yards. Ekeler missed three games because of the ankle. He hasn't been able to get untracked since returning from the injury.

Ekeler has rushed for 617 yards while averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per carry in 13 games this season. Known for his dual-threat capabilities, Ekeler has caught 44 passes for 398 yards. It's a far cry from the 107 receptions Ekeler had in 2022, which tied for the second most a running back has ever had in an NFL season. He has 1,015 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) and six touchdowns in 2023.  

Ekeler, who is 29 in May, will be entering a tough free agency environment for running backs if last year is any indication. The top running back deal on the open market belonged to Miles Sanders. He received a four-year, $25.64 million contract from the Panthers, averaging $6.35 million per year where $13 million was fully guaranteed. Sanders, who is 26, was coming off a 2022 season with the Eagles where he had career highs of 1,269 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, which were fifth and eight in the NFL, respectively.

Devin White, ILB, Buccaneers

  • Financial benchmark: Tremaine Edmunds ($18 million-avg./$50 million in guarantees/4 years)
  • Probability: $

White asked for a trade during the early part of the offseason because of the lack of a contract extension. He reportedly wanted top off-ball linebacker money. That distinction belongs to Roquan Smith, who signed a five-year, $100 million contract, averaging $20 million per year, last January right before the playoffs started. The deal has $60 million in guarantees, of which $45 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Since the Buccaneers held their ground on White's trade request and a new deal, he is playing this season under a fully guaranteed $11.706 million fifth-year option.

White's goal for this season was to become a complete overall linebacker rather than just a blitzing linebacker who made splash plays. That hasn't come to fruition. White, who has missed three games with a foot injury, could be in for a rude awakening in free agency if his contract expectations remain the same. However, it only takes one team to be seduced by the talent that made him the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Mekhi Becton, OT, Jets

  • Financial benchmark: Andre Dillard ($9,666,667-avg./$13 million in guarantees/3 years worth up to $35 million with incentives)
  • Probability: $$

The Jets rightfully passed on a fully guaranteed $13.565 million fifth-year option for Becton in 2024 because he couldn't stay on the field. Becton only played 48 snaps over the 2021 and 2022 seasons because of injury. 

Exchanging first-round picks with the Packers in a trade for four-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers cost the Jets a shot at taking a left tackle with their first selection of the 2023 Draft. The Steelers moved up to the 14th spot, one place ahead of the Jets, in a trade with the Patriots, to pick Georgia's Broderick Jones

Becton worked his way back from his knee injuries to become a fixture at left tackle this season. He's been on the field for 89% (922 of 1,036 snaps) of the Jets' offensive plays, which hasn't necessarily been a good thing. 

The 12 sacks Becton has given up are the second most in the NFL behind Titans left tackle Andre Dillard's 13, according to Pro Football Focus. Dillard's have occurred in just 508 offensive snaps. Becton's 52 quarterback pressures allowed (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) are tied for the sixth most in the NFL with teammate and left guard Laken Tomlinson, according to PFF calculations. 

Becton has also been one of the NFL's most-penalized players. His 12 penalties trail only Chiefs right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who has been penalized 16 times, according to Pro Football Reference. Taylor received a four-year, $80 million contract, averaging $20 million per year with $60 million of guarantees, where $40 million was fully guaranteed at signing, from the Chiefs in March as an unrestricted free agent. Eight of Becton's penalties have been false starts, which are tied for the most in the NFL.