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Agent’s Take: A guide to fifth-year options for 2021 first-round picks, including Micah Parsons, Justin Fields

The decisions on fifth-year options are somewhat obscured because of the timing. NFL teams typically don’t turn their attention to fifth-year options until the conclusion of the NFL Draft, which takes place April 25-27 this year, when the window to pick up options is coming to a close. The window with 2021 first-round picks began Jan. 8, a day after the 2023 regular season ended. The options must be exercised no later than May 2.

The decision to pick up options is more complicated because the 2020 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement changed how fifth-year options operate. Beginning with 2018 first-round picks, the fifth-year salary is fully guaranteed when the option is exercised. A player’s fourth-year base salary will also become fully guaranteed at the time the option year is picked up if it wasn’t already. 

Previously, the fifth year was guaranteed for injury upon exercise of the option. The option year becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year in the fifth contract year.

The option-year salaries are no longer strictly tied to where a player was drafted (i.e.; top 10 or outside of top 10). Originally, the fifth-year salary for the top-10 picks was the transition tender (average of the 10 highest salaries) at a player’s position when the option was exercised. With players selected outside of the top 10 (picks 11-32), the fifth-year salary was an average of the third through 25th highest salaries at a player’s position.

Performance now dictates the option-year salaries. With two or more Pro Bowl selections on the original ballot during the first three seasons of contracts, the fifth-year salary is the franchise tender, which is an average of the five highest salaries, for a player’s position in the fourth year of his contract. One Pro Bowl selection on the original ballot during the first three seasons of deals puts the fifth-year salary at the transition tender, which is an average of the 10 highest salaries, for a player’s position in the fourth year of his contract. 

Participating in 75% of offensive or defensive plays, whichever is applicable, in two of the first three seasons of deals or an average of at least 50% playtime in each of the first three seasons sets the fifth-year salary at an average of the third through 20th highest salaries at a player’s position. For first-round picks who don’t fall into any of these three categories, the fifth-year salary is the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at a player’s position.

Contracts for draft choices can’t be renegotiated until the conclusion of a player’s third regular season, which means players selected in the 2021 draft are eligible to sign new deals. 

Thirty-one of the 32 2021 first-round picks were eligible for the fifth-year option when the exercise period began. Offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, the 17th overall pick, wasn’t because the Chicago Bears released him last August.

Here’s a look at each eligible 2021 first-round pick’s situation regarding the option year.

No. 1 pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars

Fifth-year option: $25.664 million

Exercising Lawrence’s option is a foregone conclusion. Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke called Lawrence the team’s long-term quarterback and said that an extension would get done at the right time in January despite a disappointing 2023 season. The playoffs were missed with a 9-8 record while Lawrence was slowed by injury after an 8-3 start to the season. Lawrence revealed on Tuesday there have been preliminary discussions about a new deal. It’s hard to imagine something getting done that doesn’t put Lawrence in the $50 million-per-year quarterback club with Joe Burrow(Cincinnati Bengals), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) and Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles) who, respectively, signed for $55 million, $52.5 million, $52 million and $51 million per year in 2023.

No. 2 pick: Zach Wilson, QB, Jets

Fifth-year option: $22.408 million

Wilson’s days in New York have been numbered ever since Aaron Rodgers was acquired from the Green Bay Packers a couple of days before the 2023 NFL Draft. He didn’t capitalize on an opportunity to demonstrate he could be a starting quarterback once Rodgers was lost for the season on the Jets’ fourth offensive snap of 2023. Picking up Wilson’s fifth year isn’t a consideration. He is on the trading block. The Jets eating a significant portion of Wilson’s fully guaranteed $5,453,274 2024 salary will likely be a necessity to move him.

No. 3 pick: Trey Lance, QB, Cowboys

Fifth-year option: $22.408 million

The San Francisco 49ers felt comfortable trading Lance to the Cowboys last preseason for a 2024 fourth-round pick because of Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, emerging as a rookie after Lance was injured. There isn’t a realistic scenario where Lance’s option gets exercised. Lance was inactive for every Cowboys game last season. 

No. 4 pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons

Fifth-year option: $10.878 million

Pitts had 1,026 receiving yards in a Pro Bowl season as a rookie. He’s been an underutilized asset the last two seasons. In 27 games Pitts has played over the 2022 and 2023 seasons, he’s 3 receiving yards shy of the total from his 2021 rookie campaign. New Falcons head coach Raheem Morris expressed excitement about how Pitts will be used last month at the NFL annual owners meeting, which suggests that he will be getting a fifth year in Atlanta.

No. 5 pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals

Fifth-year option: $21.816 million

The fifth-year option is a no-brainer for 2021’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Whether this year or next year, it seems inevitable that Chase’s contract extension will make him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. Chase has already made it clear that he intends to wait for Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings), who is scheduled to play 2024 on a fully guaranteed $19.473 million fifth-year option, to reset the wide receiver market before signing a new deal. 

No. 6 pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins

Fifth-year option: $15.591 million

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier announced on Tuesday that Waddle’s fifth-year option will be exercised. Waddle has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his three NFL seasons. Recent developments in the wide receiver market suggest that $25 million per year will be Waddle’s salary floor for a new deal.

No. 7 pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Lions

Fifth-year option: $19.04 million

There isn’t a decision to make on Sewell’s fifth-year option given he is arguably the NFL’s best right tackle. If history is any indication, Sewell could get a contract extension before the regular season starts although new deals for quarterback Jared Goff and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown are higher Lions priorities. The Lions made Frank Ragnow the NFL’s highest-paid center after his third NFL season on a four-year extension, averaging $13.5 million per year, in 2021. The issue isn’t about Sewell becoming the league’s highest-paid right tackle but whether he’ll surpass the $25 million per year Laremy Tunsil received from the Houston Texans in a three-year extension last March to set the pay scale for offensive linemen.

No. 8 pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, Panthers

Fifth-year option: $12.472 million

Panthers general manager Dan Morgan spoke highly of Horn recently but stopped short of committing to Horn’s fifth year. Injuries have limited Horn to 22 of a possible 51 games during his first three NFL seasons. The $12.472 million should be worth the risk given that Horn could be a shutdown cornerback if he stays healthy. 

No. 9 pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos

Fifth-year option: $19.802 million

Surtain has been everything the Broncos hoped he would be when drafting him. He’s earned Pro Bowl honors the last two seasons and was an All-Pro in 2022. Surtain seems destined to become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback when he signs a new deal, which is currently Jaire Alexander (Packers) at $21 million per year. 

No. 10 pick: DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles

Fifth-year option: $15.591 million

Smith’s option year is a moot point. He just signed a three-year, $75 million per year extension, averaging $25 million per year.

No. 11 pick: Justin Fields, QB, Steelers

Fifth-year option: $25.664 million

The Chicago Bears securing the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which will be used to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams, thanks to the trade with the Panthers last year, made Fields expendable. The trade market for Fields was softer than the Bears were anticipating. Fields was dealt in the middle of March to the Steelers for a conditional sixth-round pick that converts to a fourth-round pick if he takes 51% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps during the 2024 season. The option will surely be declined since Russell Wilson has the inside track to open the season as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. 

No. 12 pick: Micah Parsons, DE, Cowboys

Fifth-year option: $21.324 million

The 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has gradually transitioned from an off-ball linebacker to more of a pass rusher over his three NFL seasons. Parsons’ position for fifth-year option purposes will be determined by where he took the most snaps in the prior season (2023), according to the NFL CBA. That’s a $2.683 million difference for Parsons because his 2025 option year salary is $21.324 million as a defensive end and $24.007 million as a linebacker. It probably won’t matter because Parsons should get new deal at some point before the 2025 regular season starts. Parsons will surely set his sights on eclipsing the five-year, $170 million extension edge rusher Nick Bosa received from the 49ers right before the start of the 2023 regular season to become the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback at $34 million per year. Bosa’s deal also has non-quarterback records of $122.5 million in overall guarantees and $88 million fully guaranteed at signing.

No. 13 pick: Rashawn Slater, OT, Chargers

Fifth-year option: $19.04 million

Slater earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie. He didn’t miss a beat in 2023 in his return from being sidelined the last 14 games of the 2022 season because of a ruptured left biceps tendon. Slater’s fifth year will be picked up as he is a cornerstone in new Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh’s efforts to build a championship contender.

No. 14 pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, Jets

Fifth-year option: $15.313 million

Ability isn’t the issue with Vera-Tucker. He’s capable of playing guard and tackle on either side of the offensive line. It’s availability. Vera-Tucker has only played 12 games over the last two seasons because of injuries. A torn Achilles sidelined Vera-Tucker five games into the 2023 season. Vera-Tucker’s talent and versatility may tip the scales in favor of his option being exercised despite the concerns about his durability.

No. 15 pick: Mac Jones, QB, Jaguars

Fifth-year option: $25.664 million

A promising rookie campaign in 2021 was derailed by legendary head coach Bill Belichick turning play-calling duties over to Matt Patricia, who is primarily a defensive coach, for the 2022 season after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become the Las Vegas Raiders‘ head coach. Jones’ regression continued with former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien leaving the University of Alabama to return to the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Jones was dealt to the Jaguars for a 2024 sixth-round pick when the 2024 league year started on March 13. It goes without saying that Jones’ option will be declined since he was brought in to back up Lawrence.

No. 16 pick: Zaven Collins, LB, Cardinals

Fifth-year option: $13.251 million

Collins had some growing pains in his move from inside linebacker to edge rusher in 2023 under rookie Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon. He may not have done enough last season to warrant his option being picked up.

No. 18 pick: Jaelan Phillips, LB, Dolphins

Fifth-year option: $13.251 million

The torn right Achilles Phillips suffered last season in a Week 12 game against the Jets isn’t deterring the Dolphins from picking up his fifth year. Phillips had 6.5 sacks in the eight games he played last season.

No. 19 pick: Jamin Davis, LB, Commanders

Fifth-year option: $14.483 million

The Commanders overhauling the linebacker position in free agency should speak volumes about Davis’ option-year prospects. Frankie Luvu and future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner were signed in the open market. 

No. 20 pick: Kadarius Toney, WR, Chiefs

Fifth-year option: $14.435 million

There had been speculation that Toney would be released after a disappointing 2023 campaign in which he was a healthy scratch for Super Bowl LVIII. This season will be Toney’s contract year. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gave Toney a vote of confidence on Tuesday. He called Toney one of the most talented players on the team.

No. 21 pick: Kwity Paye, DE, Colts

Fifth-year option: $13.387 million

Paye trending in the right direction could bode well for his fifth-year option. He had a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2023.

No. 22 pick: Caleb Farley, CB, Titans

Fifth-year option: $12.472 million

Farley needed to have a strong 2023 for there to be any chance of his option getting exercised after only playing 12 games in his first two seasons. The decision made itself with Farley missing the 2023 season because of back problems.

No. 23 pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Vikings

Fifth-year option: $16.037 million

Darrisaw has developed into one of the game’s best young left tackles. Since Pro Bowl-caliber left tackles aren’t readily available, don’t expect Darrisaw to leave Minnesota anytime soon.

No. 24 pick: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers

Fifth-year option: $6.79 million

Harris is a part of one of the league’s better running back tandems with Jaylen Warren. He has gained over 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his three NFL seasons. He is the only player to do so over the last three seasons (2021 through 2023). This feat should get Harris a fifth year in Pittsburgh.

No. 25 pick: Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars

Fifth-year option: $6.143 million

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson contemplating a reduction in Etienne’s workload isn’t ideal for his fifth-year option prospects. Etienne’s 325 touches (combined rushing attempts and receptions) were the NFL’s third most last season. A depressed running back market rebounding in free agency this year could favor Etienne.

No. 26 pick: Greg Newsome II, CB, Browns

Fifth-year option: $13.377 million

Newsome has been the subject of trade rumors. The Browns are deep at cornerback with Pro Bowler Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson. The depth may make Newsome’s fifth-year option more of a luxury than a necessity.

No. 27 pick: Rashod Bateman, WR, Ravens

Fifth-year option: $14.435 million

Zay Flowers, the Ravens’ 2023 first-round pick, instantly became the top wide receiver option in Baltimore’s passing game last season. Bateman’s 32 catches for 367 yards and one touchdown in 2023 isn’t the type of production that typically gets a fifth-year option exercised.

No. 28 pick: Payton Turner, DE, Saints

Fifth-year option: $13.387 million

Having three sacks in 15 games (no starts) over three years is not a recipe for getting a fifth-year option picked up.

No. 29 pick: Eric Stokes, CB, Packers

Fifth-year option: $12.472 million

Stokes looked like a keeper as a rookie in 2021. His play declined some in 2022. Foot and hamstring injuries limited him to three games last season. The potential Stokes flashed as a rookie may not be enough to get him the benefit of the doubt on the fifth year.

No. 30 pick: Greg Rousseau, DE, Bills

Fifth-year option: $13.387 million

Bills general manager Brandon Beane seemed to indicate earlier this month that Rousseau’s option year would get picked up.

No. 31 pick: Odafe Oweh, LB, Ravens

Fifth-year option: $13.251 million

Oweh has shown improvement but hasn’t had a breakout season. If the Ravens err on the side of caution, Oweh will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024 because his option was declined.

No. 32 pick: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, LB, Buccaneers

Fifth-year option: $13.251 million

Getting outperformed by 2023 third-round pick Yaya Diaby and eventually getting benched in favor of him isn’t the type of closing statement to make when a fifth-year option is on the line.

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