Lost in the aftermath of the NFL Draft was an important deadline for clubs across the league. On Tuesday, teams needed to decide whether or not they were going to pick up the fifth-year option on their first-round picks from 2020, either locking them in through the 2024 season at a guaranteed salary for that year or allowing them to hit unrestricted free agency next offseason.
Ideally, all of these first-round picks are success stories and each of these teams is thrilled with their selections a few years after the fact. You and I both know, however, that there are often more busts the breakouts. Of the 27 first-rounders eligible for the fifth-year option, less than half (12) saw theirs picked up. Below, we'll dive into some of the bigger storylines that have emerged following these critical decisions from some NFL teams.
There were a few no-brainer decisions in this class. Of course, Joe Burrow -- the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 -- was an easy call for Cincinnati to make and is now slated to pay him $29.5 million fully guaranteed for 2024. Ditto with Justin Herbert and Los Angeles. That said, opting for the fifth-year option was just the first in what is going to be a significant financial investment for both the Bengals and Chargers. Burrow and Herbert are both eligible for extensions and, given their success thus far in the NFL, could continue to reshape the market at the quarterback position.
Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was another easy decision to make with the fifth-year option. The former LSU product has developed into arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL and is coming off an Offensive Player of the Year-winning season where he led the league in receptions and receiving yards. Similar to Burrow and Herbert, Jefferson is another player who could reset the market with his next contract.
Chase Young entering final year
Maybe the trickiest decision of this year's crop was with Washington and what the organization was going to do with pass rusher Chase Young, who was the second overall pick in 2020. Ultimately, the Commanders decided against picking up his option, meaning Young could hit the open market next offseason. When healthy, we've seen Young live up to his high draft billing, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 and tallying 7.5 sacks while helping his team to the postseason in Year 1.
However, Young has struggled to stay healthy in the years following that breakout rookie season. He tore his ACL in Week 10 of the 2021 season and that injury bled into the 2022 campaign where he was limited to just three games. In all, Young has played in only 12 games since 2021. Given the uncertainty around his recovery, it's difficult for Washington to commit $17.4 million guaranteed to Young in 2024 with that fifth-year option, so this seemed like the logical -- albeit less than ideal -- move. If Young can return to form in 2023 and look more like the player from his rookie campaign, it will be fascinating to see how Washington approaches his pending free-agent status.
Jordan Love, Packers opt for extension
The Packers were in a precarious situation with Jordan Love. After dealing away Aaron Rodgers, the former first-rounder is set to ascend to the starting job this season. With Love only seeing limited work over his first three seasons, however, guaranteeing him $20.2 million on the fifth-year option seemed to be a little too rich for Green Bay's blood. So, the two sides were able to Love's new deal includes $13.5 million in guaranteed money for 2024 and can be worth up to $22.5 million if he hits his incentives. This seems to be a solid compromise for all parties involved. The Packers commit to fewer guaranteed dollars in 2024 to limit their risk with a largely unknown commodity, while Love gives himself a higher ceiling to earn even more money than the fifth-year option if everything hits right.
Dolphins commit to Tua
After what Tua Tagovailoa was able to show on the field in 2022, he would have been in the "no-brainer" category here. That said, the quarterback's concussion history is what made the possibility of the Dolphins handing him the fifth-year option a little bit less of a sure thing. He was limited to 13 games last season after suffering multiple concussions, which even led to Tagovailoa mulling retirement at a point this offseason. However, he has decided to continue playing and the Dolphins have committed to him by picking up this option. What will be interesting is how Miami proceeds forward. GM Chris Grier did acknowledge that Tagovailoa's health , but did say that "it's not something that is going to make us afraid to do something long term with him."
Possible trade candidates
Now that the dust has settled on where teams stand with players and their fifth-year options, there is the possibility that some could be on the move in a trade. Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who did have his option picked up, has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason even as Sean Payton and others in Denver have stated publicly that they are not looking to deal him. However, the Broncos did further fueling speculation that there could be an odd man out in what is a crowded room at the position.
49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who had also his option picked up, may not be an immediate trade candidate considering that San Francisco is firmly in Super Bowl contention. However, GM John Lynch didn't seem too confident his the team's ability to retain him for the foreseeable future saying that they "can't keep everyone." Aiyuk is slated to make $14.1 million fully guaranteed in 2024, so it's possible he could be a trade candidate next offseason before the team has to pay others on the roster and that salary kicks in. And if San Fran's season goes sideways for whatever reason, he'll be a fascinating player to monitor at this year's trade deadline.
On the defensive side of things, Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen is another player to follow as a possible trade candidate and someone who did not see their option picked up. The former LSU Tiger hasn't lived up to his first-round billing thus far and Baltimore has already seemed to replace him by trading for Roquan Smith in the middle of last season and handing him a lucrative extension. With no substantial future in Baltimore, it wouldn't be surprising to see Queen, who scrubbed all things Ravens off his social media, find a new home somewhere.