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You know what motivates players unlike anything else? Simply being in a contract year. It's the one season upon which financial futures hinge for hundreds across the NFL. Have a down contract year, and you could be looking at the vested veteran minimum or a cheap one-year "prove-it" contract. 

Erupt in your contract year, and you're fielding a variety of multiyear deals with signing bonuses that eclipse all the money you've made to date. 

Which players are bound to ascend in their contract years this season in the NFL? Below I've listed my five favorites.

You won't find players who've already experienced a breakout. Franchise-tagged players weren't included, either. 

This is the fourth year I've written this article. And while all of my past predictions haven't been correct, of course, Jordan Mailata, D.J. Reed, Josh Sweat, Bryce Huff, John Franklin-MyersDre'Mont Jones and Tony Pollard have all been "hits." 

Rashid Shaheed
NO • WR • #22
REC YDs719
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Shaheed is technically an impending restricted free agent, but every once in a while, an RFA gets signed to offer sheet by other teams and moves locales when the original team doesn't match. 

That very well could be Shaheed after the 2024 season. 

For as much fun as Shaheed is down the field, I will remain bugged that he didn't test before the 2022 draft coming out of Weber State, because the dude ab-so-lutely erupts deep. 

A regular in Next Gen Stats fastest ball-carrier metric, routinely topping over 21 mph and boastfully carrying a hefty 16.3 yards-per-snag into 2024 after his first two seasons in the NFL, Shaheed is swiftly becoming an elite deep threat before our collective eyes, even with Derek Carr throwing him the football.

And, what's amazing about Shaheed, he's been incredibly efficient catching his targets despite a lengthy average depth of target of 14.1 yards, which was the 15th-highest among all qualifying receivers in 2023. He's caught nearly 68% of his targets to date, and his five touchdowns on deep targets ranked third in the NFL behind only Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans last season.

With the Saints only picking a receiver in the fifth round -- ironically another linear burner in Bub Means -- Shaheed's locked into a top-three receiver role in New Orleans and with another efficient and explosive season, he'll be sought after, even on the restricted free agent market. 

Barnett was a top-20 selection all the way back in 2017. Fascinating thing about that -- he was only 20 when he was drafted, so despite being as much of a household name as one instantly becomes as a first-round pick, the former Tennessee Volunteers phenom was a relative disappointment in Philadelphia. Yes, he played with the Eagles for over six seasons but his career high in sacks is only 6.5. 

The lights came on for Barnett after being harmlessly claimed off waivers by Houston in late November. Under DeMeco Ryans' tutelage, Barnett registered 18 pressures on 110 pass-rushing snaps in the regular season (16.3% pressure-creation rate) and four in the playoff win over the Browns before getting blanked by the Ravens offensive line in the divisional round. 

Barnett will only be 28 this season, so while I won't call you crazy if you think he is who he is at this point in his NFL career, he is literally one day younger than Bradley Chubb. There's still room for growth for this former first-rounder who battled through a litany of injuries early in what started as a very promising career. In Houston, opposite Danielle Hunter, Barnett is in a luxurious situation to get a sizable payday next March (if not before via an extension).

When we think Cowboys defense we think Micah Parsons. And since he's on a first-ballot Hall of Fame trajectory, no one will blame you for him coming to mind before anyone else. Then there's Trevon Diggs who, when healthy, has been a magnet for the football with 18 interceptions in 46 career starts. 

This is the season we start to recognize Odighizuwa too as one of the true stars on Dallas' vaunted defense. The former third-round pick has played right around 600 snaps in each of his first three seasons and set a career high in pressures last season with 47 on 356 pass-rush attempts. 

At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds with a 84-inch wingspan, he routinely eats running backs for lunch between the tackles and has showcased the same athletic gifts that made him a star at UCLA. With plenty of attention paid to Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, inside, Odighizuwa will see ample one-on-one scenarios. If he eclipses 50 pressures in 2024, which is totally doable for him, money will come flooding in. 

If you don't pay close attention to the Jaguars, or maybe your favorite team isn't in the AFC playing the Jaguars twice a year, the name Andre Cisco probably doesn't mean much to you. But let me tell you, this is one of the premier young safeties in football. 

The former Syracuse star, whose final season with the Orange was cut way short due to an early injury, has elite ball-tracking range. After experiencing the nightmarish Urban Meyer experiment that went about as well as the Stanford prison experiment, Cisco had three interceptions in 2022 and tacked on four last season. 

And he just turned 24 in March. The 6-foot, 210-pounder is built like a stocky strong safety but glides to the football downfield like he's making the transition from playing center field on a Major League Baseball team. Do not be surprised if Cisco's interception total rises again, which then leads to a sizable new deal either during or after his fourth season in Jacksonville.

Right now, Cosmi is probably the most underrated blocker in football. Never hear or read a word about him. But the collegiate tackle turned professional guard started strong as a rookie and has gradually improved since 2021 inside, closer to the football. 

He went from allowing a pressure on 6.1% of his pass-blocking snaps as an NFL sophomore two years ago to just 3.9% on significantly more snaps in 2023. And, if you happen to not remember, Cosmi is an absolute physical freak. Sure, his pre-workout was at the Texas Pro Day, so not as verifiable as the combine, but for the guard position, his 10-yard split was in the 95th percentile. His 40-yard time was in the 99th percentile. His 117-inch broad jump ... 98th percentile. And 7.35 three-cone time, 92nd percentile.

He turned 25 in February. Cosmi is a currently non-household name blocker tracking toward being handsomely paid. Very soon.