Should the Saints pick up Marcus Davenport’s fifth-year option?

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John Sigler
·3 min read
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It used to be simple to calculate how much a player’s fifth-round option would cost a team. Under the old NFL collective bargaining agreement, those numbers were based off of draft slot — top-10 picks against the rest of the first rounders. But the renegotiated CBA introduced a performance-based system that rewards players for getting on the field often and earning accolades like Pro Bowl nods (scroll to page 41 for details).

Which isn’t great news for New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport. The 2018 first-round pick is not a free agent yet, but he will be in 2022 if the Saints choose to not exercise his fifth-year option, which New Orleans must make a decision on by May 3. Davenport has not met the snap counts benchmarks (having appeared on 40%, 50%, and 36% of defensive plays through his first three years), and he has not been voted into a Pro Bowl, which qualifies him only for the least-valuable tier.

So his fifth-year option will be determined by the cap percentage average of the 2020 transition tag, using the third through twenty-fifth highest salaries of his peers. That estimates Davenport’s fifth-year option as valued at $11,311,513. That number will change slightly once the 2021 salary cap is established, but not by much. Exercising the option will also fully guarantee his fourth- and fifth-year salaries.

Now that we have an idea of how much that would cost, we can make an educated guess at the problem in front of the Saints. Davenport hasn’t played up to his billing as a transformational pass rusher, though the defense has performed better with him in the lineup than without him. The issue is that he hasn’t taken any big strides since his rookie year, and his injuries have continued to pile up.

After racking up 30 quarterback pressures in 2018 (in 13 games) and 51 pressures in 2019 (through 13 games), Davenport took a step back with 37 pressures in 2020 (appearing in 11 games). That’s an average of 2.3 pressures per game in 2018, 3.9 in 2019, and 3.4 in 2020. He was also credited with just 1.5 sacks last season.

We’ve seen the Saints take a patient approach with players in a similar position; left guard Andrus Peat has a similar injury history and record of up-and-down play. Peat’s fifth-year option was exercised, and after a brief look into free agency he returned to sign a long-term contract with New Orleans. It’s very possible Davenport’s career takes a similar track, even though he plays a more highly-valued position.

And we just saw Trey Hendrickson break out with a career year in 2020, leading the team and ranking second-best in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Maybe Davenport enjoys similar, sudden success in 2021. But based off his career so far and even the relatively-low fifth-year option value, the Saints would do better to let him play this deal out as-is.

There’s certainly logic in picking up the option and keeping Davenport under contract through 2022. But with so many other contract extensions to hammer out on the team — and, frankly, with so many better players ahead of Davenport in priority — this is a situation where the Saints should let Davenport bet on himself and go all in on 2021. If he finally meets expectations, he’ll be rewarded with a rich payday in 2022. If he falls short again, he might be out of football altogether.