NFL teams have started to exercise 5th year options for players selected in the 1st round from the 2012 NFL Draft. Three players have reportedly had their option picked up so far, Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram, Steelers OG David DeCastro, and Colts QB Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck is obviously the name that will be interesting to Redskins fans since he will forever be linked to Robert Griffin III due to their draft history. Griffin and Luck were both Heisman Trophy nominees following their last college season, with Robert Griffin III winning the award. Andrew Luck was taken with the first overall pick by Indianapolis, and Washington traded a fortune for the rights to draft Griffin. Griffin capped off an impressive rookie season where his team won their division and made the playoffs by winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award...over Andrew Luck.
The end of their rookie seasons is where the career paths of the top two QBs of the 2012 Draft went in drastically different directions. Griffin injured his knee as the result of a Haloti Ngata hit during the season, and then finally ended his season with a torn ACL during the playoff loss to the Seahawks. Griffin returned the following season, but his play, and the play of the entire team in general was not good enough, and led to 3 wins, a benching to "protect" him, and a fired head coach. Griffin then came back last year under new Head Coach Jay Gruden, but dislocated his ankle in Week 2, and missed several games. After his return, he was again benched, this time for backup Colt McCoy, only to return to the lineup following McCoy's neck injury. The season ended with the team only winning 4 games.
Luck has managed to stay healthy during his 3 seasons, and has led the Colts to a division title in both seasons following his rookie year. The Colts won their first playoff game with Luck in Year 2, and then advanced to the AFC Championship game last year, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. The 5th year option was an easy decision for the Colts with Luck, and it's very possible this is just a technicality before they sign him to a new, long-term deal.
The deadline to pick up the option year is May 3, which is the day after the conclusion of the 2015 NFL Draft. The fifth year is guaranteed for injury when the option is exercised. The injury guarantee would only kick in if a player was unable to play the following season after getting hurt. The option year becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year in the fifth contract year (approximately March 8, 2016 for the 2012 draft class).
The Redskins have until May 3rd to make their decision on Griffin's option, and most people will tell you the team won't pick it up because Griffin has too much to prove to invest $16.155 million in him for the 2016 season. But there are others who will point out that the option is only guaranteed for injury if Griffin isn't able to play the following year. The option maintains their rights to him for another season, and they still have the ability to release him if he doesn't show enough this year to be considered the team's franchise QB. It also gives the team time and leverage to work out a new deal during the season if Griffin plays well.
If they don't pick up the option and he has a good season, the team still has the option to use their franchise tag, but with the cap expected to jump again next year, it will be more expensive. The franchise tag for QBs this season was worth $18.51 million last season, up from $16.91 the previous season. If the cap continues to rise at the same rate due to the new CBA and television money, the cost would likely be ~$20 million, or almost $4 million more than the cost of the 5th year option.
This is all assuming that Griffin has a good-to-great season, and does not suffer a significant injury that would cause him to miss time next year, triggering the injury guarantee. That is the risk the Redskins have to consider here. Griffin did not miss any games due to injury in his sophomore season, but has in rookie season and last year. His style of play seems to make every hit he takes look devastating. The offensive line has had issues blocking for him, and while there are upgrades needed, Kirk Cousins was able to take less hits and sacks under center last season. Griffin has talked about changing his style of play, and living to see another day on plays, but he's still got to improve in this area to last long-term in the NFL.
CBS Sports Joel Corry looked at every 1st round pick from the 2012 draft, and analyzed whether their 5th year option should be exercised. It's not looking good for Griffin in his opinion, and he feels the Redskins will do the same thing the Titans did with Jake Locker, make him earn it.
Second Pick: Robert Griffin III (QB), Washington Redskins
Griffin didn't resemble the player who was named the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year during last season. He missed six games with a dislocated left ankle and first-year head coach Jay Gruden benched him for Colt McCoy because of his struggles in making the transition to more of a pocket passer. Gruden recently said Griffin is his starting quarterback "right now." He could lose his tenuous grip on the job if he doesn't have a good training camp or preseason. Washington taking 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota will be a possibility if he's still available for the Redskins, who have the fifth overall pick.
Expect the Redskins to take the same wait-and-see approach the Tennessee Titans used with Jake Locker, the eighth overall pick in 2011. The Titans declined a 2015 fifth-year option for $14.666 million even though Locker wasn't in jeopardy of losing his starting quarterback job. If Griffin has a bounce-back year, the Redskins could still use a franchise tag on him in 2016. The non-exclusive quarterback franchise tag for 2016 preliminary projects to approximately $19.8 million with a $154 million salary cap in 2016.