With NFL teams commencing the process of exercising fifth-year options on 2011 first-round picks, the real question becomes which players won’t have the option exercised.
So here’s a look at the candidates for getting the Spalding Smails treatment.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller: With a six-game suspension last year and a late-season torn ACL, the Broncos possibly would at least consider the possibility of not picking up the option for the second overall pick in 2011. It nevertheless would be a major surprise if they don’t trigger the option.
49ers linebacker Aldon Smith: The 49ers reportedly are “very unlikely” to exercise the option on the seventh overall pick, due to multiple off-field issues. There’s still no downside to using it, since it doesn’t become fully guaranteed until March 2015. If they’re thinking about trading him, Smith could fetch more in return if his new team controls his rights for two years.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker: How’s this for an inconsistency? Locker, the eighth overall pick in 2011, remains on track to be the starter in 2014. But the Titans aren’t expected to pick up the option. For the oft-injured Locker, it makes plenty of sense. Why give an injury-only guarantee to a guy who seemingly has been only injured since he entered the league? The option for a quarterback taken in the top 10 would by $13 million; that’s more than Locker will make in his first four years, combined.
49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert: The right to exercise the option was traded to San Francisco along with Gabbert’s rookie deal as the 10th overall pick. While they could use a little leverage in their looming negotiations with Colin Kaepernick, the notion of paying Gabbert $13 million in 2015 isn’t leverage. It’s lunacy.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder: While much cheaper than Locker or Gabbert since Ponder wasn’t taken in the top 10, he’s still on the team only because his salary is low, as veteran quarterbacks go.
Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley: The Lions already have said that the option won’t be exercised on Fairley, in order to give him incentive to play hard in 2014. And if Fairley needs the promise of a long-term contract to play hard, why would the Lions want to give him the security of a long-term contract?
Danny Watkins: The 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft was waived by the Eagles last year, and his contract went unclaimed. With that, the ability to exercise the fifth-year option died. He currently is a free agent.
49ers receiver Jonathan Baldwin: Amazingly, the 49ers have three players with fifth-year options, and they’ll quite possibly exercise none of them. Baldwin arrived via trade last year in exchange for 2012 first-round bust A.J. Jenkins. Baldwin did nothing last year to merit consideration for a fifth year on his rookie deal.
Falcons offensive lineman Gabe Carimi: His option evaporated after Carimi’s contract went unclaimed via waivers. He’d been cut by the Buccaneers after being traded to Tampa by Chicago. The Falcons signed Carimi as a free agent.
Packers tackle Derek Sherrod: The last pick in round one from 2011 has appeared in 12 games over three seasons, with zero starts.