This series is called Salary Cap Nuggets because ‘nuggets’ is such an interesting word in English. It calls to mind chicken nuggets - tasty, bite sized and easy to eat. But it also calls to mind gold nuggets - small, but valuable.
The salary cap is a product of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is a 301-page contract between the NFL Owners and the NFL Players Association. In these articles, I try to explore just one or two small parts of the NFL salary cap defined in the massive CBA. Hence, Salary Cap Nuggets - small, bite-sized, easy to digest, yet valuable information for NFL fans.
The goal is to, one bite at a time, get a clear understanding of the salary cap.
Rookie contracts were discussed in full in Nugget 8. This nugget deals with the fifth year option available to teams for players drafted in the first round of any draft.
The book Crunching Numbers deals with the 5th year option in Chapter 8:
FIRST ROUND DRAFT SELECTION
A player selected in the first-round of the draft will have a fixed and unalterable contract length of four years, with the opportunity to earn a fifth-year (team) option attached to their contract.
Fifth year option exercised by May
This fifth-year option must be exercised by the first week in May, in the year following that player’s third contract season.
2016 drafted players saw options exercised this month
So for a first-round selection from 2016 draft, the option must be exercised by the first week of May 2019.
Top-ten draft picks
For a first-round top ten draft selection, the value of the fifth year will be equal to the appropriate transition tag tender (by position) in place during the fourth year of the player’s contract.
Other first-round draft picks
For the remainder of the first-round, selections eleven through thirty-two, the option value is calculated using the third through twenty-fifth highest-salaried players rather than the top ten used in the transition calculation.
Once exercised, the fifth-year salary is guaranteed for injury only, and becomes fully guaranteed (skill, injury, and cap) on the first day of that league year.
Free agency if option not exercised
If a team fails to exercise the option, the player will become a free agent after his fourth season in the NFL.
2019 Fifth-year option amounts (applicable to options exercised a year ago for players whose 5th year would be 2019)
Status of 2020 fifth year options (which had to be exercised earlier this month)
- Jared Goff, QB, $22.783MM (Rams): Exercised
- Carson Wentz, QB, $22.783MM (Eagles): Exercised
- Joey Bosa, DE, $14.360MM (Chargers): Exercised
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB, $9.099MM (Cowboys): Exercised
- Jalen Ramsey, CB, $13.703MM (Jaguars): Exercised
- Ronnie Stanley, T, $12.866MM (Ravens): Exercised
- DeForest Buckner, DT, $12.378MM (49ers): Exercised
- Jack Conklin, T, $12.866MM (Titans): Declined
- Leonard Floyd, LB, $13.222MM (Bears): Exercised
- Eli Apple, CB, $13.703MM (Saints): Declined
- Vernon Hargreaves, CB, $9.954MM (Buccaneers): Exercised
- Sheldon Rankins, DT, $7.690MM (Saints): Exercised
- Laremy Tunsil, T, $10.350MM (Dolphins): Exercised
- Karl Joseph, S, $6.466MM (Raiders): Declined
- Corey Coleman, WR, $10.162MM (Giants): Not applicable due to release
- Taylor Decker, T, $10.350MM (Lions): Exercised
- Keanu Neal, S, $6.466MM (Falcons): Exercised
- Ryan Kelly, C, $10.350MM (Colts): Exercised
- Shaq Lawson, DE, $9.451MM (Bills): Declined
- Darron Lee, LB, $9.501MM (Jets): Declined
- Will Fuller, WR, $10.162MM (Texans): Exercised
- Josh Doctson, WR, $10.162MM (Redskins): Declined
- Laquon Treadwell, WR, $10.162MM (Vikings): Declined
- William Jackson, CB, $9.954MM (Bengals): Exercised
- Artie Burns, CB, $9.954MM (Steelers): Declined
- Paxton Lynch, QB, $15.693MM (Seahawks): Not applicable due to release
- Kenny Clark, DT, $7.690MM (Packers): Exercised
- Joshua Garnett, G, $10.350MM (49ers): Declined
- Patriots forfeited pick as result of Deflategate scandal
- Robert Nkemdiche, DT, $7.690MM (Cardinals): Declined
- Vernon Butler, DT, $7.690MM (Panthers): Declined
- Germain Ifedi, T, $10.350MM (Seahawks): Declined
In all, 17 out of 31 picks (Patriots forfeited pick #29) options were exercised, including the top-7 draft picks, and 8 of the top-ten.
The Redskins decision not to exercise the Doctson option was not unusual. Only 5 options were exercised among the players drafted from #17 to the end of the round.