As free agency settles down, NFL teams will have other decisions to make as to the future of certain players on their teams, one of those being whether or not to pick up the fifth-year options on 2013 first-round draft choices.
I’ve grouped the 2013 draft choices into categories based on what I would do regarding those players. I’ll get the obvious ones on either side of the spectrum out of the way, then go to those which I tend to lean one way but could see the argument for doing the opposite.
No Longer Applicable
Dion Jordan, DE, Miami: After a season-long suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policies, Jordan would have to apply for reinstatement. My understanding is, because of that year-long suspension, he loses out on an accrued season toward free agency. If that is the case and he’s reinstated, the Dolphins can either keep him through 2017 or just waive him. Given the circumstances, I’m considering him a player in which the fifth-year option won’t apply.
Lane Johnson, OT, Philadelphia: The Eagles have already extended their 2013 first-round draft choice. The contract commits the Eagles to him for two seasons. I’m iffy on whether or not the Eagles should have done this so quickly, but they at least have him locked up for 2017.
Bjorn Werner, DE, Indianapolis: The Colts waived him prior to the start of the 2016 NFL offseason. He is now a free agent and his rookie deal no longer applies.
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, Detroit: Ansah finished with 14.5 sacks last season and is emerging as Detroit’s top pass rusher. I think he’s the best player taken in the top 10 in 2013. Picking up the fifth-year option is an easy decision.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, New York Jets: Another easy decision to make. Richardson has become a key member of the Jets’ defensive line and he hasn’t even reached his ceiling yet.
Justin Pugh, OT/G, New York Giants: Pugh was good as a rookie right tackle but struggled in his second year. The Giants moved him to guard last season and he looked more comfortable. His ability to play tackle when necessary adds to his value. I think there’s enough to say that the Giants should exercise the fifth-year option.
Kyle Long, OG, Chicago: Long fared well at offensive guard in his first two seasons. While he wasn’t as good last year, a lot of that had to do with him being moved to tackle, which isn’t where he is best suited to play. The Bears are expected to move him back to guard, and given how well he has played there, the Bears should exercise the option.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati: Eifert broke out in 2015 and this should not be a difficult decision to make. And after his option year is picked up, I would expect the Bengals do whatever they can to extend him once he enters that option, allowing them to keep him at a lower salary and cap number than he would if he were to hit the open market.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta: Trufant has steadily improved with each season and, while he might not be considered an elite cornerback, he is very much worth retaining on the fifth-year option.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota: Like Truant, Rhodes has improved with each season and looks very much like a shutdown corner. This makes it an easy decision for the Vikings to pick up that option.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston: Hopkins was the Texans’ best offensive player last year and there’s no question the team will exercise the fifth-year option.
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas: Frederick has proven worthy of the first-round pick the Cowboys used on him and it’s easy to see that the fifth-year option will be exercised.
Barkevious Mingo, DE, Cleveland: Mingo is one of those players who was drafted to fit a particular system, but that coaching and front office regime lasted just one year. Mingo has never fit in since that time and it’s clear he won’t be with Cleveland after 2016.
Dee Milliner, CB, New York Jets: Injuries and inconsistent play make this one an easy decision. The Jets are better off saving their 2017 cap space for other players.
D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland: Hayden has been a frustrating player for the Raiders. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career and, when he has taken the field, he hasn’t been particularly impressive. I think this will be an easy decision for the Raiders.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo: Keeping Manuel around on his rookie deal for four years is fine because he’s being paid like a top backup. But the fifth-year option is definitely not justified. It will be easy for the Bills to decline it.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Pittsburgh: Jones is nothing more than a rotational player and he does not warrant the fifth-year option. I could see the Steelers consider an extension that is more in line with his value, though.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota: Patterson seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, so there isn’t a reason to exercise the option.
Matt Elam, S, Baltimore: Given the recent contract given to Eric Weddle and that Elam seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaches, I don’t see the Ravens exercising the option.
Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City: Fisher hasn’t lived up to expectations since the Chiefs made him the No. 1 overall pick. But considering that left tackles come at a premium and this year’s draft isn’t particularly strong in terms of offensive tackles who could start quickly on the left side, the Chiefs probably should exercise the option. If he continues to struggle, the Chiefs could always cut him before the money becomes fully guaranteed.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina: Although Lotulelei hasn’t emerged as a top player at his position, he has been effective enough that I think it warrants the Panthers exercising the option. He could, though, be one of those players whose option is declined but he is signed to an extension that falls more in line with what he is actually worth.
Kenny Vacarro, S, New Orleans: If you looked at his 2014 season, you wouldn’t want to keep him around. But he bounced back in 2015 and looks like somebody who could help the Saints long term. I think he warrants the fifth-year option, but the Saints could cut him before the start of the 2017 NFL offseason if he regresses again.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota: Floyd was very good in 2014 but his production dropped a bit in 2015, thanks in part to injuries. But I don’t think that should dissuade the Vikings from picking up the fifth-year option. They could always cut him before the start of the 2017 league year if he doesn’t bounce back.
Datone Jones, DE, Green Bay: Jones has been a good but not great player since the Packers drafted him in 2013. The only thing that keeps me from calling him an “obvious yes” is that he hasn’t been dominant at his position. But I could see the Packers picking up the option and re-evaluating after the 2016 season.
Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver: Williams is an interesting case. He has improved with each season, but hasn’t emerged as one of the dominant players in the Broncos defense. I’ve debated on whether or not the Broncos should exercise the option, but lean yes as it would at least address the position. A lot depends on whether or not John Elway would prefer to keep him at a lower cap charge in 2017 than the rookie option would be. If he does exercise the option, he’s likely riding it out unless Williams has a disappointing 2016 season.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Los Angeles: Ogletree was very good in his first two seasons in the NFL, but missed the bulk of 2015 with a broken fibula. He’s being moved to inside linebacker following the release of James Laurinitis. I imagine the Rams will want to exercise the option and could always decline it if Ogletree doesn’t make the transition as expected.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Jacksonville: Joeckel has never really settled in since he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. He started his career on the right side, wasn’t effective and an ankle injury ended his season prematurely. Since moving to the left side, he has not fared well. The Jaguars have signed Kelvin Beachum and, while contract numbers haven’t been revealed, it’s possible Beachum will start on the left side, making Joeckel too expensive to keep on the fifth-year option. If Joeckel starts on the right side and plays well, then the Jaguars can consider an extension more in line with his talent level.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, New England: Since Cooper was traded to the Patriots, they now get to decide whether or not they will keep him beyond 2016. I tend to believe they will decline the option, but they could consider exercising it and then cutting him if he doesn’t work out.
Tavon Austin, WR, Los Angeles: While Austin’s skill set has been utilized well by the Rams, I don’t think he’s produced at a level that justifies picking up the fifth-year option. He may be a good example of a player whose option should be declined but you could sign him to a deal more in line with his talents.
Chance Warmack, OG, Tennessee: Warmack was a highly-touted offensive lineman entering the 2013 draft. However, he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. I don’t think it’s worth picking up the option given his level of play. He is somebody to consider extending after the season if he does improve, though.
D.J. Fluker, OT/G, San Diego: Fluker has regressed since his rookie season and it’s better for the Chargers to decline the option, but keep the door open for an extension if he can get back on track.
Eric Reid, S, San Francisco: It’s hard to judge many of the players for the Niners last season, given how dysfunctional the team was. Reid had a quality rookie season but hasn’t improved since. While coaching issues may have come into play last season, I think it’s best for the Niners to decline the option, but leave the door open for an extension if he improves.