The 2020 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement changed how fifth-year options operate. The modifications first started applying to 2018 first-round picks.
Fifth-year options are fully guaranteed upon exercise instead of being guaranteed for injury only if picked up as when implemented in the 2011 CBA. The options became fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year of the option year, giving a team an out as long as the player stayed healthy.
Situations like cornerback Adoree Jackson's no longer occur. The Titans picked up Jackson's $10.244 million fifth-year option in 2020 and the 2017 18th overall pick was released a day before the 2021 league year started to prevent the option year from becoming completely secure.
Fifth-year salaries are no longer strictly tied to where a player was drafted (i.e.; top 10 or outside of top 10). 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 the 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 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 the average of the third through 20th highest salaries at a player's position. For first-round picks that 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.
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 the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at a player's position.
The most consequential change may have been to the timing of when the guarantees vest. The original rules may have produced different option decisions with Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and 49ers edge rusher Chase Young. Below is a look at each of their situations.
The 2022 season was a prove-it year for Jones because the new regime of head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen declined to pick up his fully guaranteed, $22.384 million, fifth-year option for 2023. The sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft made the Giants pay for the decision.
As an impending free agent and prime franchise tag candidate, Jones was able to leverage his improved play last season and the Giants' surprising postseason appearance, which included a wild card game victory over the Vikings, into a four-year, $160 million contract worth up to $195 million thanks to incentives and salary escalators. The $40 million-per-year deal has $104 million in guarantees, of which $81 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Getting Jones under contract allowed the Giants to place their franchise tag on running back Saquon Barkley.
But 2023 has been a disaster for both Jones and the Giants. Jones missed three games with a neck injury before tearing the ACL in his right knee during a Week 9 loss to the Raiders. Behind a shaky offensive line, Jones had already thrown six interceptions in six games this season after having just five passes picked off in 2022.
The Giants are currently out of the playoff picture. With a 2-8 record, there's a much better chance of the Giants securing the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which has a strong quarterback class, than making a return trip to the postseason.
Picking up Jones' 2023 option year with an ability to cut bait depending on how he played last season could have put the Giants in a position to start fresh in 2024. Jones' option year salary would have been $27.186 million instead of $22.384 million because he was a top-10 pick. There wouldn't have been an urgency to get Jones signed to preserve the franchise tag for Barkley had the old option-year rules remained in place.
The Giants could have made Jones demonstrate continued consistency this season before making a long-term financial commitment next offseason. Given the unfortunate knee injury, the Giants could have walked away from Jones after the season because he would have had an expiring contract. The Giants would have been positioned to draft the quarterback of the future, have him on a cost controlled rookie contract at least through the 2026 season with a clean slate financially at quarterback.
The reality of the situation is Jones will be on the Giants next season because of his contract regardless of whether a quarterback is taken in 2024's first round with what is expected to be a high pick. Jones' $35.5 million 2024 base salary was fully guaranteed when he signed his deal. His 2024 salary cap number is $47.105 million.
The earliest the Giants can realistically get out of Jones' contract is in 2025. It would be done before the fifth day of the 2025 league year when $12 million of Jones' $30 million 2025 base salary is fully guaranteed. At signing, $23 million of this $30 million was guaranteed for injury.
The Giants will have $33.315 million of dead money -- a salary cap charge for a player no longer on a team's roster -- by parting ways with Jones in 2025. This would be an $8.29 million cap savings because Jones' 2025 cap number is $41.605 million. Jones will have made $82 million for the two years he played with the Giants under his contract should this happen in 2025.
Jacobs did everything he was supposed to do in a contract year to get a big payday after the Raiders declined his fifth-year option in 2023 for a fully guaranteed $8.034 million. He led the NFL in both rushing and yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) with 1,653 and 2,053 yards, respectively, last season to earn first team All-Pro honors.
Jacobs' performance didn't result in a long-term deal because he is a running back. He was given a $10.091 million franchise tag to keep him from hitting the open market.
A disgruntled Jacobs skipped a substantial portion of training camp. It took the Raiders doing something unprecedented to get him back into the fold. Jacobs is the first franchise player in NFL history to get a one-year deal with a base value more than his tender. During the latter part of August, the Raiders signed Jacobs to a one-year, $11.791 million contract, which is $1.7 million above his franchise tag.
The acrimony between Jacobs and the Raiders likely would have been avoided with a revocable $5.196 million fifth-year option instead. Jacobs earning a 2020 Pro Bowl berth wouldn't have factored into his option-year salary under the original rules. Since Jacobs was 2019's 24th overall pick, his fifth-year option would have been based on the average of the third through 25th highest running back salaries.
This season would be Jacobs' contract year. He probably wouldn't be happy playing out his rookie contract after such a stellar 2022 season.
Missing training camp could have been a costly endeavor. Jacobs would have been subject to a $40,000 fine for each day he was absent. There would have been an additional penalty of 1/18th of his base salary for each preseason game missed because of being in the option year of his rookie contract. An extra $288,667 would have been at risk for skipping an exhibition contest. The Raiders would have had the ability to waive or reduce any fines with Jacobs still being on his rookie deal.
The financial calculus was much different for Jacobs as a franchise tag recipient. As an unsigned franchise player, Jacobs couldn't be fined for each day of training camp missed. Attendance wasn't required because of the absence of a signed contract. Jacobs wasn't withholding services he was contractually obligated to perform.
Jacobs admitted he was knocking the rust off early in the season after his extended preseason absence. He is just starting to round into form with his first 100-rushing-yard game of the season coming Sunday night in Week 10's win over the Jets. It might have come sooner with the fines effectively deterring a training camp holdout.
The Commanders were reportedly on the fence about picking up Young's option before declining his fully guaranteed $17.452 million 2024 salary. Concerns about Young's right knee were the overriding consideration. The decision about the $17.452 million may have gone in the other direction if getting out of the financial commitment were still a possibility like it used to be.
Young's career was derailed after being named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and earning Pro Bowl honors in 2020. Young wasn't nearly as effective in his second year before tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in his right knee nine games into the season. He only had 1.5 sacks in 2021 when he got hurt. The second overall pick in the 2020 draft missed 22 games before returning to action in Week 16 of the 2022 season.
Young had started regaining the form from his award-winning rookie season when he was dealt to the 49ers for a compensatory 2024 third-round pick at the Oct. 31 trade deadline. He has 5.5 sacks in eight games this season. Young's 42 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hits and quarterbacks hurries) this season, according to Pro Football Focus, are two more than he had as a rookie when he only missed one game.
There wouldn't have been the urgency to move Young with the old conditions more conducive to exercising the fifth-year option. The Commanders still could have traded Young in the offseason at some point before the 2024 draft started next April 25 and gotten closer to the reported initial asking price of a second- and fifth-round pick with him continuing to stay healthy and play well this season.