One month from today, teams with 2014 first-round picks still playing under their rookie deals have a decision to make: Extend the contract for a fifth year, or let the player enter a contract year.
Several no-brainers dot the landscape, from Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack to Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans to Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Two quarterbacks will dominate the speculation and reporting in advance of the deadline: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Both teams have said they’ll make a decision closer to the deadline, a position that some have interpreted as an indication that the decision to not pick up the option already has been made.
For Bortles, a top-10 pick, his fifth-year salary will match the 2017 transition tender for quarterbacks. That’s $19.05 million, guaranteed for injury. Which means that, if Bortles emerges from the season with an injury that prevents him from passing a physical before the amount becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the new league year, the Jaguars will owe him that amount for 2018.
Conversely, the Jags could opt not to exercise the option, resolving to use the franchise tag if Bortles finally breaks out in 2017. The downside is that it would cost roughly $3 million or $4 million more to keep him under the franchise tag. The upside is that they would save the $19.05 million if Bortles: (1) doesn’t improve; and (2) tears an ACL along the way.
For the Vikings, the potential investment would be much lower, given that Bridgewater was picked outside of the top 10, where the salary becomes the average of the third- and 25th-highest-paid players at the position. But the bigger question for now is whether he’ll ever play again. With Sam Bradford performing well and entering a contract year of his own, the Vikings may decide to not pick up the option and to take their chances with Bridgewater, who may not draw significant offers on the open market if he isn’t able to return to action in 2017.
As to the other quarterback taken in the first round three years ago, the decision became moot more than a year ago, when the Browns cut the man who instantly flashed the money sign — and never really earned all that much of it.