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Predicting the fifth-year option decisions for all 32 2019 first-round draft picks

Los Angeles, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles out of the pocket against the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game. Nfc Wild Card Playoff Cardinals Vs Rams

Since the NFL rookie wage scale began in 2011, all first-round picks from 2011 until 2018 who are still under contract following their third season have had their fifth-year option either exercised or declined heading into Year 4 of their NFL careers. However, for the first time in the 2021 offseason, the 2018 NFL Draft class had a new set of rules governing the amount and structure of their fifth-year options. 

Most importantly, the option used to be guaranteed for injury only until the player’s fifth year began. If a player stayed healthy in their fourth season but the team decided they no longer wanted to pay — as was the case with then Chicago Bears edge defender Leonard Floyd — the team could release the player with no financial penalty.

Starting last offseason with the 2018 class, the option is fully guaranteed the moment it is exercised. It may seem like a small tweak, but in reality, it’s a huge distinction.


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Despite this change, the 2018 class had the second-most options exercised of any draft class since 2011 (22). In the eight-year sample, each year landed between 17 and 23 options exercised, and the 2016 class was the weakest while the 2014 class was the strongest. This year’s class appears to be no different, with our predictions landing us at 19 options exercised for the 2019 class.

In hindsight, there may be a few teams that regret their decision to exercise the new fully guaranteed option — none more so than the Carolina Panthers after they picked up quarterback Sam Darnold‘s option following his trade to the club. Yes, if a first-round draft pick is traded prior to May 3rd following his third season, that new team still has the right to exercise the option. 

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Darnold now carries a fully guaranteed $18.858 million salary for 2022, and the Panthers are presumably looking into every available avenue to offload at least some of the money. Under the old rules, Darnold would have simply been cut before the 2022 league year began on March 16th with $0 left behind. A salary dump trade doesn’t seem outside of the realm of possibilities, though even that may be tough to accomplish.

It’s probably not accurate to say the Cleveland Browns regret making the same decision on quarterback Baker Mayfield, but after replacing him with Deshaun Watson, his big one-year deal doesn’t appear to be very easy to move in a trade. The biggest question for the 2019 class presented by these two examples is: What do the New York Giants do with quarterback Daniel Jones?


JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU
IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT
SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH


*Order of teams is draft order from 2019 NFL Draft


PICK NO. 1: ARIZONA CARDINALS: QB Kyler Murray

PFF grade, 2019-21: 81.9 (17/61)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: 6.132 (15th)

Fifth-year option amount: $29,703,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Before the NFL calendar even turned to 2022, Murray and his camp released a statement about their desire for a long-term contract extension this offseason. For reference, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen signed his six-year, $258 million extension on August 6th last offseason — a more common time of year for a first-round pick's early extension while heading into their fourth season. 

The decision to exercise Murray’s fifth-year option, which carries the maximum value on account of his two Pro Bowl nods in his first three seasons, is a no-brainer. Ironing out the details of a mega-extension before Week 1 of 2022 may be a more complicated matter.


PICK NO. 2: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: EDGE Nick Bosa

PFF grade, 2019-21: 90.2 (6/147)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: 0.73 (11th)

Fifth-year option amount: $17,859,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Bosa is already among the league’s best edge rushers, and a torn ACL suffered in 2020 did hardly anything to change that reality. He also qualified for the highest value fifth-year option by making the Pro Bowl in the only two seasons he’s actually played in thus far. 

Bosa’s 16.0% pressure percentage since 2019 ranks fifth among edge defenders with at least 100 pass-rush snaps, and his 160 total pressures rank 10th despite missing effectively an entire season in the sample. There is no question of whether this option gets exercised, as there’s a only question of whether he’ll actually play on it or become the NFL’s first $30 million per year defender before that time comes.


PICK NO. 3: NEW YORK JETS: DI Quinnen Williams

PFF grade, 2019-21: 74.4 (34/155)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: 0.316 (19th)

Fifth-year option amount: $8,830,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Jets general manager Joe Douglas said during his media availability at the NFL combine that the team will exercise Williams's option, and the news came as no surprise. Williams had extremely high expectations coming out of Alabama, and while he may not have gotten off to the start people were hoping for, his 73 quarterback pressures over the last two seasons ranks tied for 18th among interior defenders, and his 10.6% pressure percentage ranks 23rd. 

Heading into Year 4, Williams is comfortably a top-20 player at his position when healthy with room for more growth going forward. Because of some missed playing time to minor injuries, his option is also at the lowest value for his position. Los Angeles Rams interior defender Aaron Donald might soon sign an extension for $20 million more per year than Williams’ $9.594 million option. 

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PICK NO. 4: LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: EDGE Clelin Ferrell

PFF grade, 2019-21: 64.0 (83/147)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: .071 (70th)

Fifth-year option amount: $11,500,000
PFF Prediction: Decline

The first in a series of extremely puzzling Raiders first-round picks from 2019-21, Ferrell pretty much immediately failed to live up to his draft status, which is certainly not to blame the player for where he was taken. It’s rare that a top-five pick is a healthy scratch in their third NFL season, but that was the case, at times, in 2021 for Ferrell. 

After extending edge defender Maxx Crosby on a deal that pays him $23.5 million per year and following that up by signing Chandler Jones for $17 million per year, Las Vegas likely isn’t looking to invest more fully guaranteed dollars at the position for 2023.


PICK NO. 5: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: LB Devin White

PFF grade, 2019-21: 37.2 (115/122)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: -.074 (270th)

Fifth-year option amount: $11,706,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise (Pewter Report)

With the off-ball linebacker market explosion set off by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner and subsequently Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, White's fifth-year option seems all the more affordable. While he didn’t grade particularly well in 2021, earning a 36.2 overall grade in large part due to struggles in coverage, the rare athleticism that made him a top-five pick is frequently on display. 

White’s 64 quarterback pressures and 24.9% pressure rate on pass-rush snaps since 2020 are both the top marks among off-ball linebackers by a good margin. He’ll have some more time to learn alongside the great Lavonte David, and perhaps he'll round out his game before a multi-year extension.


PICK NO. 6: NEW YORK GIANTS: QB Daniel Jones

PFF grade, 2019-21: 75.3 (24/61)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: 4.377 (19th)

Fifth-year option amount: $22,384,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Historically, if a first-round quarterback shows even a glimmer of hope that he could become a franchise leader, this would be a very easy decision for clubs. If the quarterback subsequently bombed in his fourth season, the team could get out of their obligation barring a severe injury. Now, teams must tread very carefully. 

If we were writing this article under the old rules, it would have been a fairly easy “exercise” answer here. The Giants' front office and ownership have publicly expressed a lot of belief in Jones becoming a franchise quarterback, but we’ll know how they really feel in a month. Jones’ 73.1 passing grade since 2019 ranks a respectable 23rd among quarterbacks, but a neck injury prematurely ended Jones’ 2021 season, and his 49 turnovers (interceptions plus fumbles) since 2019 are the fourth-most in the NFL over the span. 

The Giants own the Nos. 5 and 7 overall picks in this year’s draft, but if they aren’t fond of any of the top quarterback prospects, this decision remains one of the more challenging for any team.

PICK NO. 7: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: EDGE Josh Allen

PFF grade, 2019-21: 76.5 (30/147)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: .267 (35th)

Fifth-year option amount: $11,500,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

For the second consecutive offseason, a team will have a very easy decision to exercise the fifth-year option on a No. 7 overall pick named Josh Allen. This time around, it will be for the Jaguars edge defender who is coming off a career year that included a 78.5 overall grade and 50 quarterback pressures. 

Allen’s option comes in at the lowest value because he missed time due to injury in 2020, saving Jacksonville about $1 million, but there was never any question about this decision regardless.


PICK NO. 8: DETROIT LIONS: TE T.J. Hockenson

PFF grade, 2019-21: 71.0 (22/88)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: .651 (14th)

Fifth-year option amount: $9,392,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

With wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. signing with the New York Giants and the Jacksonville Jaguars last offseason, Hockenson was left as Detroit's top receiving weapon in 2021. Through Week 8, Hockenson had six games with at least eight targets, and his 62 total targets were second to only Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce

With an expanded role and a 75.1 receiving grade that ranked 12th among tight ends, Hockenson earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021, which boosted the value of his fifth-year option by over $3 million as a result. Even with the elevated number, this is still an easy decision on the former eighth overall pick.


PICK NO. 9: BUFFALO BILLS: DI Ed Oliver

PFF grade, 2019-21: 62.2 (T87/155)
PFF WAR, 2019-21:.191 (42nd)

Fifth-year option amount: $10,753,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Oliver has slowly but surely started to display the talent that had him garnering legitimate top-five pick buzz during his college career. He earned a career-best 70.9 grade in 2021 and saved his best performance for last with an impressive outing against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoff round. There, he generated six quarterback pressures on Patrick Mahomes against a stout interior offensive line. 

With the addition of more early-round draft picks along the defensive line in addition to the edge defender Von Miller and interior defender DaQuan Jones acquisitions, Oliver could take another step in 2022 toward becoming a dominant presence on the inside.


PICK NO. 10: PITTSBURGH STEELERS: LB Devin Bush Jr. 

PFF grade, 2019-21: 48.8 (84/122)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: -.032 (245th)

Fifth-year option amount: $10,892,000
PFF Prediction: Decline

The Steelers made a big and uncharacteristic trade up to 10th overall in 2019 to draft Bush. So far, the returns have not been what they expected. He tore his ACL in 2020 and was still working back to 100% health in 2021 when he earned a 34.4 overall grade. 

Pittsburgh hasn't given up on Bush yet by any means, and hiring Brian Flores to be their linebackers coach could mean great things are ahead for Bush, but it may be tough to justify almost $11 million fully guaranteed for 2023 at this juncture.


PICK NO. 11: CINCINNATI BENGALS: T Jonah Williams

PFF grade, 2019-21: 76.3 (35/121)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: .082 (70th)

Fifth-year option amount: $12,604,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Williams’ NFL career got off to a shaky start when he missed the entirety of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. In the two seasons since, Williams has been very solid, earning a 72.7 pass-blocking grade and a 71.9 run-blocking grade. Tackles that have graded far worse have been paid a lot more as teams see the potential for their future. 

There is still room for improvement in Williams’ game at a position that often takes time for players to adjust to the next level. This is especially true now that the unit around him has undergone substantial upgrades this offseason.


PICK NO. 12: GREEN BAY PACKERS: EDGE Rashan Gary

PFF grade, 2019-21: 78.3 (28/147)
PFF WAR, 2019-21: .343 (29th)

Fifth-year option amount: $10,892,000
PFF Prediction: Exercise

Gary, arguably, was the 2019 draft's breakout player this past season, as he finally put all the pieces of his game together after converting from a defensive end that spent time on the interior at Michigan to a standup outside linebacker in Green Bay.

Gary earned an 88.9 pass-rush grade in 2021 (eighth among edge defenders), accumulated 81 total quarterback pressures (second), and finished with a 26.0% pass rush win rate (second). The Packers, once again, identified a great athletic talent and were patient with his development. Now, they have a budding star on their hands.


2022 NFL Draft position rankings:
Top 10 players at every position

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