One of the benefits a team gets when it drafts a player in the first round is the fifth-year option on those contracts. If a player does well, a team gets a fifth year out of that player before worrying about them hitting free agency.
Typically, if a player shows promise, exercising the option becomes an easy decision. While it’s far from a guarantee that the fifth-year option gets picked up, it’s not a great sign when teams decline.
This year, based on various reports, 12 of the 31 2016 first-round picks didn’t have their fifth-year option picked up, and Corey Coleman and Paxton Lynch have already been released from their rookie contracts (there were 31 first-round picks because New England’s was taken away as a result of the deflate-gate scandal).
When close to half of the first-round picks in a class don’t get their fifth-year option, that’s not good.
Who are the 2016 picks who had their options declined?
Here’s the list of players who, according to NFL.com’s tracker, won’t have their fifth-year options exercised, along with their draft position (Coleman was the 15th pick and Lynch was 26th):
15. Cleveland Browns WR Corey Coleman (traded, released)
26. Denver Broncos QB Paxton Lynch (released)
Want a reminder that nobody in last week’s draft is a sure thing? Read that list again.
Other than Conklin, who was a surprise because he has been a solid tackle for the Titans, most of the players on that list have ranged from disappointing to outright failures. Many in that class are quite good, especially at the top — Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey to name a few — but overall the 2016 class will also be remembered as one with a bad hit rate.
Many 2016 first-rounders will be free agents in 2020
There are good reasons to pass on the fifth-year option. The salaries go up for the fifth year, if the option is exercised. The top 10 picks get an average of the 10 highest salaries at their position, and the rest of the first round is an average of the third through 25th highest salaries for their position. That’s a significant investment. However, the salaries aren’t guaranteed unless there’s an injury, lessening the risk.
Last year, 12 fifth-year options were declined. The year before, nine players were declined or released before their rookie contracts were up. So 14 of 31 isn’t that far off the norm. But it’s a high number.
Just because a player doesn’t get the fifth year picked up doesn’t mean he’s a bust. Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller might be the best example of a player breaking out in his fourth year after having his option declined. Players like Conklin, Apple (who was originally a Giants draft pick and traded to the Saints) or Doctson, who are still getting significant playing time, could end up seeing the light turn on in 2019, making those respective teams regret not using the fifth-year option.
There were many mistakes made in that 2016 draft, and some teams seem ready to move on.
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