A Look at the 2012 Rookie Options

Recently I have been getting some questions on the 2012 rookie option years so I thought it made sense to get a post together on it and update it as the options gets picked up.  For those unfamiliar with the rookie option system, every first round pick in the draft signs a four year contract with a team option for a fifth season. The team option must be exercised between the end of the 2014 regular season and May 3, 2015 at 4PM.  The value of the option depends upon the position of the player and if the player was drafted in the top 10.  Once the option is exercised it is guaranteed for injury. If the player is still on the roster on the first day of the 2016 League Year the option will be fully guaranteed. If the team fails to exercise the option the player will become a free agent in 2016.

Exercised

20 players  had their options picked up by their respective teams. The players are Andrew Luck (Colts), Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Matt Kalil (Vikings), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Luke Kuechley (Panthers), Stephon Gilmore (Bills), Dontari Poe (Chiefs), Fletcher Cox (Eagles), Michael Floyd (Cardinals), Michael Brockers (Rams), Quinton Coples (Jets), Dre Kirkpatrick (Bengals), Melvin Ingram (Chargers), Kendall Wright (Titans), Chandler Jones (Patriots), Riley Reiff (Lions), David DeCastro (Steelers), Dont’a Hightower (Patriots), Kevin Zeitler (Bengals) and Harrison Smith (Vikings).

Andrew Luck is considered the best young QB in the NFL so picking up his option was the most likely event of the year.

Washington exercised the option on Robert Griffin despite the injury history. Though they could have franchised him if he had a great season the uncertainty associated with the tag process as well as the potential cost likely led to this. Expect them to cross their fingers that he stays healthy.

I wasn’t sure if the Vikings would use this on Kalil due to the $11 million price tag as I think it makes working out a reasonable long term deal more difficult. Like the RGIII move this is an investment protection.

The Dolphins had tried to sign Tannehill to a contract extension, but with no movement on that front that protected their interest with the 5th year option.

Kuechley is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL and it was a given his option would be exercised. This is a steep price for an inside linebacker but they will likely address that by working out an extension sooner rather than later.

With the recent increase in salary at the corner spot using the option for Stephon Gilmore was a logical decision.If he has a strong year under Rex Ryan his salary potential will skyrocket.

Poe just missed out on the top 10 which is a big loss in pay. He probably won’t be happy next season, but the Chiefs have plenty of time to address that after the 2015 season is over.

Fletcher Cox developed into one of the best 34 DEs in the NFL, so this made sense for Philadelphia. Cox is rumored to be involved in a possible trade package on draft day. The option year does transfer with the player in the event of a trade. If not traded I would expect an extension sometime in the summer.

Michael Floyd is arguably the best receiver in Arizona so they had no reason to decline his option. His chances for an extension might hinge on how he and the others around him play this season.

Brockers was a player I was on the fence about and I think this is more or less an insurance play by the Rams. There is little downside to picking it up so  they protect themselves in the event he plays more and ups his stock for next season. If all things stay constant he likely won’t play next year at this number.

Coples is a hard player to grasp. There are times he looks terrific and times he looks like he doesn’t care.  The pass rusher market was way down for player like Coples last season so it is somewhat surprising that the Jets picked this up. It may mean the new staff wants to see him without a contract dangling in front of him as added motivation.

Kirkpatrick is likely to see more time this season and the Bengals cant chance losing a young player at a position where they are getting older.

Ingram has only started 12 games in his three year career and has been injury prone, so this was a bit of more of a surprise. He has flashed when healthy and considering the Chargers have limited long term depth on the team he may have benefitted from the situation.  He’ll need to be productive to keep the option at its current value.

Wright has shown an ability to be a very good receiver despite the poor QB play. On a team with such poor offensive talent this was a must to do.

Chandler Jones is a dominant player for the Patriots and should be a fixture for the next five seasons.

Reiff has started 31 games over the last two seasons for Detroit and graded out well per Pro Football Focus. Keeping a young player on the line was a must for Detroit.

DeCastro is a Pro Bowl caliber player and a no-brainer for the Steelers to pick up.

Hightower has developed into one of the better interior linebackers in the NFL so this should have been an easy choice.

The only question that the Bengals likely had with Zeitler was the cost based on position as that can possibly make an extension a touch more difficult, but they had to protect themselves by picking this up.

Smith is one of the best safeties in the NFL. It was obvious that the Vikings would pick this up unless a long term contract has been worked out sooner.

Declined

The following players had their options declined: Morris Claiborne (cowboys), Mark Barron (Rams), Bruce Irvin (Seahawks), Shea McClellin (Bears), Nick Perry (Packers), Whitney Mercilus (Texans), and Doug Martin (Buccaneers). Each player will be a free agent in 2016. Here are some brief thoughts on the players:

While there is much to be said about protecting an investment, it made almost no sense to protect Claiborne. Claiborne looks to be at best a 3rd or 4th corner and his injury potential made it too risky to consider a $11M+ option.

The cost for Barron was far too expensive for a third wheel type of player.

Irvin not having his option picked up surprised me. I thought he was solid and there would be no reason to pss on it. This decision was likely made due to the decline in payments being made to linebackers this offseason and knowing they can save money long term by not picking it up. Its the same path I thought the Jets would have gone with Coples, but was surprised Seattle went there with Irvin.

McClellin has been essentially useless for Chicago and there is no need to pick up an additional year.

Perry has only started 15 games for Green Bay and they have looked for other options due to his disappointing play. They won’t sink $7.7 million in him on a one year contract.

I thought Mercilus’ option might have been picked up as Clowney injury protection, but again the cost was likely too high, especially in light of the declining market for mid grade rushers at the position.

Martin has fallen off the face of the earth and there is no reason to pay him more than he would earn as a free agent even if he had a terrific season.

Ineligible

Trent Richardson was traded by the Browns and later released by the Colts, which officially terminated his rookie contract. He is currently signed with the Raiders.

Justin Blackmon has spent most of his career suspended. He should have to honor his missed seasons if he is ever reinstated. Even if he did not have to honor them he would be a restricted free agent making the option far too expensive.

Brandon Weeden was released by Cleveland. He signed a low cost contract with the Cowboys.

AJ Jenkins was traded to Kansas City and later released. He is currently out of the NFL.

David Wilson retired from the NFL due to injuries.

The 2012 Rookie Option Tracker

PickPlayerPosTeamCostExercised
1Andrew LuckQBColts$16,155,000YES
2Robert Griffin IIIQBRedskins$16,155,000YES
3Trent RichardsonRBNA$0NA
4Matt KalilTVikings$11,096,000YES
5Justin BlackmonWRJaguars$0NA
6Morris ClaiborneCBCowboys$11,082,000NO
7Mark BarronSRams$8,263,000NO
8Ryan TannehillQBDolphins$16,155,000YES
9Luke KuechlyLBPanthers$11,058,000YES
10Stephon GilmoreCBBills$11,082,000YES
11Dontari PoeDTChiefs$6,146,000YES
12Fletcher CoxDEEagles$7,799,000YES
13Michael FloydWRCardinals$7,320,000YES
14Michael BrockersDTRams$6,146,000YES
15Bruce IrvinLBSeahawks$7,751,000NO
16Quinton CoplesLBJets$7,751,000YES
17Dre KirkpatrickCBBengals$7,507,000YES
18Melvin IngramLBChargers$7,751,000YES
19Shea McClellinLBBears$7,751,000NO
20Kendall WrightWRTitans$7,320,000YES
21Chandler JonesDEPatriots$7,799,000YES
22Brandon WeedenQBNA$0NA
23Riley ReiffTLions$8,070,000YES
24David DeCastroGSteelers$8,070,000YES
25Dont’a HightowerLBPatriots$7,751,000YES
26Whitney MercilusLBTexans$7,751,000NO
27Kevin ZeitlerGBengals$8,070,000YES
28Nick PerryLBPackers$7,751,000NO
29Harrison SmithSVikings$5,278,000YES
30AJ JenkinsWRNA$0NA
31Doug MartinRBBuccaneers$5,621,000NO
32David WilsonRBNA$0NA
  • NW86

    Thanks for the article, I was one of those asking. It’s interesting that 5 1st rounders have already had their contracts terminated. In today’s CBA rookie scale, these guys weren’t making a lot of money so that really shouldn’t happen, and it means the team whiffed pretty badly with that pick.

    All those “might be exercised” decisions will be interesting to watch – especially RGIII. Washington has to be weighing the risk/reward – exercise it and risk him getting injured and being on the hook for $16M. Or don’t exercise it and risk facing the choice of having to use the Franchise tag for ~$20M or going back to the drawing board at QB – all the while dealing with the media speculation throughout the season that they have no faith in him and are moving on. Besides, I believe the injury guarantee only kicks in if it is severe enough to jeopardize the next season, so it’s not like any old ankle sprain would guarantee the option. In the end, I think they exercise it.

    • Bo Jørgensen

      It’is because of the new rookie scale with relatively small signing bonuses that teams can write off a bad investment in a player – even a first round pick. Before the signing bonuses in the first round were so large and other loopholes made the guaranteed money even larger. Those players were almost guaranteed to play out there 5 year rookie contract.

      That’s no longer the case. The upper half of the first round are almost as protected as in the old system, because they have guaranteed contracts – but only with a four year contract. Those in the button half of first round haven’t got full guarantees, and they can be cut – and the team can save cap-room – after their third year.

    • eddiea

      When they were talking about this on NFL channel, they said if player was hurt and couldn’t pass a physical/or be able to play right then the option yr pay becomes guaranteed. If that’s true Griffins option p/u was bad. Being a Skins fan fir some reason I think it was bad/wrong, but it’s not my money. Anyway, your understanding might be right and I’m wrong.

      • NW86

        I’m pretty sure the player just needs to pass a physical at the time the team releases him (next March). If they release him in March and he passes a physical then, the money is gone.

  • Jim

    I wonder how tempting it is to trade back if you’re at pick #9 or #10. If the Bills traded back just one or two spots to pick McKelvin (who would have still been available), they would have saved $3.5m, which is no small amount.

    It’s the difference between needing to give the guy an extension (and having less leverage), because he’s not an $11m/yr player, or letting him play out at $7.5m or negotiating on the teams terms, because that’s about his value.

  • NW86

    So the final count was 20 that were exercised. The only real surprise to me is Seattle not exercising Irvin. It will be interesting to see what happens there – they could sign him to an extension this summer which pays less on an annual basis but gives him more security. Not exercising it doesn’t give his agent that $7,75M starting number to shoot for.

    Without going back to check, I think 24 or 25 were last year so I’d say the 2012 was a little less “successful” overall.