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NFL 5th Year Options – Players & GM’s on the Hot Seat

NFL Hot Seat

“It’s that time of year” is a cliche that can be used at many points of the adventure we collectively refer to as the NFL Calendar Year. Today we are referring to the decisions almost all 32 NFL teams face at this time, which is having the option to pick up an additional year on any first-round pick whose contract expires next season. To be clear the team must inform the player “during the period after the last regular season game of the player’s third contract year and May 3 of the next League Year (Art. 7, Sec. 7, (a), 31)” or what we call “today” for players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.

This deadline puts both players and GM’s on the hot seat. Let’s take a look.

5th Year Option

It’s not uniform. The first round is broken into two groups. Top ten picks are group one. Their 5th-year salary is defined in the CBA as being taken from the average of the top ten highest “Prior Year Salaries” for the players at the same position. Everyone else in the first-round gets the average from the third through twenty-fifth previous years salary as their formula. More than a wee bit cheaper.

The contracts are guaranteed against injury only with the exception of option money which becomes guaranteed on the first day of the league year.

There are all sorts of other caveats in regards to any “terms” brought forth from the rookie contract, however, it is all very team friendly and non-negotiable, EXCEPT for designating a players position. Occasionally there is a disagreement in regards to which position a player qualifies for. The player will want to qualify for the highest paying position and of course, the team will want to pay them at the lowest.  Saints vs TE/WR Jimmy Grahm was a well-publicized example. The NFL appointed arbitrator unsurprisingly ruled in the NFL’s favor, however, it resulted in some specific rules being defined in regards to what makes a WR vs a TE.

Bean Counting Time

It all boils down to what the team thinks. If they believe the player’s performance does not warrant the salary, they pass. If they think the non-negotiable extension would keep a player on the team at a cheaper cost than letting them get to their next contract a year early, they pull the trigger.  It’s a fairly straight-forward process that is ultimately quite revealing in regards to how a team views it’s former first-round investments.

Keeping Score

If a team chooses NOT to pick up the fifth-year option on a player the club chose to burn first round currency on then it’s a bust for both the player AND the GM. This is true for any first-round selection, not just the top ten guys where it can get pretty expensive to keep a player who is just not getting it done on game-day.

A team taking a pass on a guy not selected in the top ten is almost worse as they are so much cheaper in comparison with the very bottom of the round being the exception as they are most often rated as second-round selections talent wise to begin with.

Top Ten Results

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston – Easy call as the team picked up the option.

Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Another easy call as both teams got excellent values for top two selections.

Jacksonville Jaguars OLB Dante Fowler Jr. – BUST ALERT – Fowler may very well go onto have a fine career, however, injuries cut hard into the player’s early development and $14.2 million samolians was far too much to pay for limited production and snaps. The team could still sign him to a second contract. GM Doug Caldwell takes a ding to his resume on this one, however, he got his contract extended through 2021 in February.

Oakland Raiders WR Amari Cooper – After a down 2017 Cooper needs to have a big year as the team opted to pick up the option for 2019. A great fit for his QB and now with his coach.

Washington Redskins OG Brandon Scherff – Washington with a solid pick and an easy decision as they picked up the option on Scherff who is killing it at OG in the NFL.

New York Jets DE Leonard Williams – Yes, the Jets managed to not screw this up as the option was picked up. Well done.

Chicago Bears WR Kevin White – OUCH, no pickup. The potential is still there. That’s all you need to know in regards to a player that can’t seem to get or stay on the field.

Atlanta Falcons OLB Vic Beasley – The second of two of the uber-exciting edge rushers from 2015 had his option picked up but it was in large part due to how he finished the season as his production hasn’t been on par with his pick in the draft. The talent is there however and the Jag’s wisely pulled the trigger.

New York Giants OG Ereck Flowers – NOT GOOD as the drama is big in New York as the team decided to not pick up the option on their former turnstile at LT immediately after he hired agent Drew Rosenhaus. Both sides are all smiles, compliments and in denial, as the player continues to stay away from offseason activities after a public trade effort had negative results in the recent NFL Draft. Oh yeah, this is going to end well.

Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley – Great pick, great player, easy call.

Bottom Bust

Cleveland Browns DT Danny Shelton – The New England Patriots declined to pick up the option on the former #12 selection and at the $7.154 million salary that’s a fail on two teams part. When the best you can say is a pick wasn’t a “complete bust” then it’s a bust. At least they didn’t actually spend the pick, that’s on Cleveland.

Cleveland Browns OC Cameron Erving – The Kansas City Chiefs are the partner in this duo of disaster. Have to give the Browns a bit of credit for at least getting some value back from both bust picks from 2015.

Cincinnati Bengals OT Cedric Ogbuehi – LOADS of potential in this bust. That doesn’t make it better. 2018 now being a contract year for the OT he will probably have a nice season.

Denver Broncos DE Shane Ray – Not a total bust of a player but ya, this was a bust of a pick.

Baltimore Ravens WR Breshad Perriman – Injuries and lack of production made this an easy call as the team even gave Dez Bryant a contract offer. This is a major fail.

Detroit Lions OG Laken Tomlinson – In a close call, Tomlinson may very well stick with the 49ers after being traded to them and having a solid campaign.

Indianapolis Colts WR Phillip Dorsett – What can you say.

New Orleans Saints LB Stephone Anthony –  Traded to Miami who doesn’t play him.

New England Patriots DT Malcolm Brown – A starter who hasn’t lived up to his selection status but is a regular in the rotation. #ComeOnBill aren’t you infallible? I have to admit I am pretty damn certain this doesn’t put Belichick on the hot seat.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Steven Van Over

Steven Van Over

Senior Analyst, Editor, Photographer, Podcaster at SportsTalkLine
Senior Analyst, Editor, Podcaster & Photographer for @SportsTalkLine Network. Started covering the Cowboys on CowboysNation.com. Moved to the same gig here and now head the NFL desk. Catch me on Twitter @StevenVanOver
Steven Van Over
Steven Van Over