Looking Ahead to The First Rookie Option Years


With 2013 rapidly drawing to a close we will soon get our first look at one of the new provisions in the CBA- the 5th Year Option for first rounders drafted in 2011.  The 2011 CBA agreement limited all contracts to a period of four years, including those of first round draft picks. In previous CBA’s the standard contract length was five or six seasons for a first round pick. The make up for the difference every player drafted in the first round has an option year in his contract that allows a team to extend the term of the contract from four to five years.

The option itself must be exercised between the end of the 2013 NFL regular season (December 29, 2013) and May 3, 2014. The option year is guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2015 League Year at which time it will be guaranteed for skill, injury, and salary cap termination. If the option is not exercised, the player will become a free agent on the first day of the 2015 League Year. It is important to also note that a player can be cut with no cap or cash ramifications before 2015 as long as he is uninjured, so the risk in the option is minimal

Nothing prevents a team from extending a player after the option is exercised, but the large window to use it is likely there to give NFL teams some leverage in negotiations on extensions, which are also not permitted for draft picks until after the completion of their third season. The option year is similar to the Franchise tag in that it provides no long term job security at all so it can be held over a players head. Once signed it also locks in a price for a season that in many cases will be lower than the actual value of the player.  This can lead to an extension being signed on May 4 that will either contain less money over a five year period or force the player into a six year contract than if an extension was agreed upon before the option year becomes official.

The Top 10

The price for the option year will depend on where the player is selected in the draft. If selected in the first 10 picks the option year will be equal to the calculated Transition tag for each position in 2014. For the 2011 draft the positions in question are Quarterback,  Linebacker, Defensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Cornerback, and Offensive Line.  I can’t give any firm estimates of the number but based on last years numbers I would say a fair guesstimate is as follows:

PositionRough Estimate

There are only two top 10 picks who I do not think will have their option year picked up or be extended. The first is the Jaguars’ Blaine Gabbert who is the first real bust of the 2011 draft. There is no need to even chance him getting injured and paying him around $14 million. The other would be Jake Locker. Locker is so injury prone that I think the injury guarantee aspect would be a real consideration.

I would think the most obvious extension first candidates would be QB Cam Newton, LB Aldon Smith, and T Tyron Smith. The Panthers and Cowboys could both be in a tight salary cap situation both in 2014 and 2015. They could, in theory, negotiate extensions that provide benefits in both 2014 and 2015 before having the big cap charges kick in during the 2016 season.  The 49ers have always extended players early and even with Smith’s off field problems he would be a logical early extension candidate.

LB Von Miller presents an interesting case in that his off field issues may have him close to being suspended for a full season. If that was to occur Miller would actually lose UFA status in 2015 and instead be a lower cost restricted free agent if the option was not picked up. While that may be a consideration I would imagine that he will have the option picked up.

My gut feeling is that Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Marcell Dareus and AJ Green will all have their options exercised and not immediately be extended. Peterson’s camp will likely wait until Richard Sherman signs a new contract which could linger into the summer or regular season. Jones is coming off injury and is not at a strong leverage position and may just opt to play things out for the year.  The Bills could be gun shy after the Mario Williams contract plus the cost of a good DT on a tag is going to be a bargain. Green is a tricky one to read. The Bengals have been opening the pocket book lately but seeing how much money Mike Wallace got in free agency makes me think Green has to be looking for $14 million a year. That may be too steep for the Bengals, especially if they decide to go in another QB direction after 2015.

Picks 11-32

Outside of the top 10 we calculate our value based on the average of the number 3 to number 25 salaries at the position. I don’t have a baseline to really work from on this one but I can take a really rough estimate based on the cap values I have estimated at the position and making a downward adjustment for the 5 year average that is used to calculate the real number. The positions in question are Quarterback, Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, Offensive Line, Cornerback, Wide Receiver, and Running Back. Please note again that these will not be the real numbers and are really rough guesses at a figure.

















I can not imagine QB Christian Ponder, RB Mark Ingram, WR Jonathan Baldwin, T Derek Sherrod, G Gabe Carimi, G James Carpenter, and G Danny Watkins even getting consideration. They are either ineffective, constantly injured, or a poor fit.

C Mike Pouncey of the Dolphins could be an interesting decision depending on what the real option value is calculated to be. He’s a good player, but his value is going to be based primarily on the Tackle market, which earns significantly more than Centers. The option in his case would likely increase the value of his contract, so I would think they would instead begin extension talks with him as soon as their season is over.

I would imagine that none of the Defensive Tackles (Nick Fairley, Corey Liuget, and Phil Taylor) have done enough to really merit an extension, but the option value should be reasonable enough to use it in all cases to maintain the rights to the player. DT is sometimes a slow to develop position so having an extra year might be a good thing.

T Nate Solder has allowed a lot of sacks this season in New England but he is a durable and good player. I’m not sure if the Patriots would want to commit that much in one year to Solder so I think  they would try to extend first on team friendly terms before exercising the option. The Colts should have significant cap space in 2014 and they have overpaid for players so I would think doing an extension with T Anthony Castonzo will occur.

There are multiple good Defensive Ends in this draft. Robert Quinn, JJ Watt, Cam Jordan, and Muhammad Wilkerson are all top line players. Considering the Rams history I’d be very surprised if Quinn was not extended this March. He’s a keeper and they have extended early in the past. Watt should be extended because he is the top player at the position and the Texans would get some good press out of a move as they exit a disastrous season.  Their salary cap is tight, which could be a road block, but I think they would  get this done before May.

Cam Jordan is a prolific pass rusher who fits in perfect with the Saints defense. I don’t think the Saints can actually afford, with their cap situation, to have him play 2015 on an option year. The problem is that their salary cap is in bad shape in 2014 and can not really get relief by extending him because his cap hit is already so low. Even though Jordan’s value will likely rise I think they have to exercise the option and then extend him in 2015. With significant cap room in 2014 I’d be amazed if the Jets did not lock Wilkerson up long term. Its kind of the exact opposite situation of the Saints.

Adrian Clayborn of the Buccaneers should have his option exercised. He has an injury history and has yet to establish himself in the NFL, but there are enough glimpses to where there is no negative to using the option. Ryan Kerrigan is one of the few decent players on the Redskins defense. The price of the option could be too steep for his position so I would think they will work first on an extension. If one cant be worked out it is probably best to protect their interests. When I first wrote this I actually forgot that Steelers DE Cam Heyward had been moved from a rarely playing player to a near full timer. Thanks to our friend (and Steelers fan) Ian I think its safe to say he will have the option exercised so the team can evaluate further.

That leaves us with two players-Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Prince Amukamara. Neither is really worth the value of the option year but I don’t think either has proven to be worthless either. I’d see both players having their option years picked up but no extension talks occurring until after the 2014 season begins and the teams get more of a look at the players.