The fifth year option clause was instituted in the aftermath of the 2011 lockout, as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It provides each club with the opportunity to exercise the option to have their first round pick under contract for a fifth season, at pre-determined salaries.
For top 10 picks, it is the average of the top 10 at the position. For all other first round picks, it is the average of the 3rd to 25th highest paid at the position. This is why the 11th pick is a bad place to be, especially if you are a star like J.J. Watt.
The option must be exercised by May 3rd, before the fourth season, so teams have to have some confidence that the player is not to big a risk to add a year, more than 12 months in advance. If a team does not exercise the option now, the player is still under contract for next year (assuming that he is otherwise still with the team) and then all other normal ways of retaining the player are still available (re-signing to a new contract, franchise tag, etc).
CBS has a tracker of all the options exercised with 24 hours remaining. Here is a breakdown of some categories of the 2011 first round class, and who has and has not been picked up.
QUARTERBACKS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE IF THEY ARE NOT GOOD
Cam Newton will have his option exercised. He is the one quarterback (out of four) in the first round class who will. Blaine Gabbert has been traded to San Francisco and is now a backup. Christian Ponder is likely a backup in Minnesota. Jake Locker should still be starting in Tennessee this year, but with his injuries and lack of proven production, it’s not surprising that Tennessee opted not to pay the heavy price tag.
REMEMBER THESE GUYS?
A handful of first round picks (besides Gabbert, listed above) are no longer with their drafting teams and are part of the group who will not be getting a fifth year under the rookie contract. Offensive linemen are safer picks? Well, Gabe Carimi and Danny Watkins would be further counter evidence of that. Jonathan Baldwin was also traded from Kansas City to San Francisco.
TALENTED, BUT OFF THE FIELD TROUBLE, MAY SCARE SOME TEAMS
Von Miller had the lengthy drug suspension last year, before a season-ending injury, but Denver went ahead and took the risk of extending the talented linebacker. San Francisco has not, at this point, done the same with Aldon Smith after his most recent bomb threat incident added to his off the field issues. [Update: San Francisco exercised their option late Friday, before the deadline]
Nick Fairley has multiple offenses, both DUI and weed related, and Detroit has not exercised the option as of yet.
Mike Pouncey was a prominent figure in the Jonathan Martin matter, but that did not seem to scare Miami away from locking him up two years from now.
PRO BOWLERS WHO WERE NO BRAINERS
The following guys have already been selected to a pro bowl, and are still coming in at a discount: J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Tyron Smith, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, and Cameron Jordan.
These players came at a discount, and the teams will continue to get stars at a lower price for an extra year.
ROLE PLAYERS WHO HAVE NOT PROVEN ENOUGH
The New Orleans Saints gave up a lot to move back into the first round to take Mark Ingram. He has not lived up to that price, and as a platoon back is not worth the cost. Derek Sherrod has not been able to move into the Green Bay lineup on a consistent basis. James Carpenter started 10 games for the first time for last year’s Super Bowl winners, but overpaying a guard two years out when several other stars will be coming up for raises was not to be.
GOOD PLAYERS, TOUGH DECISIONS
Muhammad Wilkerson is emerging as a star on the defensive line and should be recognized as a pro bowler soon.
Cameron Heyward emerged last year for Pittsburgh on the defensive line, and for a team that is getting long in the tooth, will be a key member of the team for the next few years.
Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo are both three year starters and protect the blind side for franchise quarterbacks in New England and Indianapolis. They were locks to be picked up.
Corey Liuget joins Wilkerson and Heyward as 3-4 Defensive Ends that have been good contributors and play valuable roles, and had his option exercised.
Jimmy Smith and Prince Amukamara haven’t emerged as stars yet, but at a position of need like cornerback, they come at a reasonable enough price to extend for another year.
Adrian Clayborn, meanwhile, has started 35 games for Tampa Bay, but has not stood out enough for the new regime with Lovie Smith to want to add another year.
Phil Taylor is in limbo. As of now he has not had it exercised. If I were to guess one more to be added, it would be Taylor, who has battled some injuries but has the upside to be a star on the interior. [Cleveland exercised the option on Phil Taylor Friday afternoon after this post originally published].