Fifth-year option pay should be tied to draft slot, not position

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As the NFL and the NFL Players Association try to hammer out a new labor deal, the fifth-year option needs to be ironed out.

All draft picks sign four-year contracts. For first-round picks, a fifth-year option is available. The formula is tied to position, with players in the top 10 getting a more favorable calculation.

But why should it be tied to the position a player plays? The base four-year contract is tied to draft slot not position. Basing the fifth-year option on the position the player plays will, for some positions, result in the player making less.

Especially players who play running back. Especially Ezekiel Elliott.

Consider this: The fifth-year option for Elliott, taken fourth in the 2016 draft, is nearly $5.3 million lower than the fifth-year option given to 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner, who was taken three spots after Elliott. Elliott gets less in year five than even the 11th pick in the draft, Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

As it stands, Elliott will make $3.853 million this year and $9.099 million in 2020. If that number were closer to $20 million, currently guaranteed for injury, would he be holding out? Maybe not.

Either way, it makes little sense to tie the option to position played. It benefits quarterbacks, and it hurts running backs. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why there’s an effort to peel running backs away from the NFL Players Association and to create their own bargaining unit.

17 responses to “Fifth-year option pay should be tied to draft slot, not position

  1. Blah blah blah whine whine whine. If RBs got paid more than they already do with the fifth year option, then THEY WOULDN’T GET DRAFTED AS HIGH because that extra cost would be factored in. Time to wake up and realize that RBs are valued less because they are riskier and have a reduced impact (still good, but no longer great) in today’s game. THE VALUE IS CORRECT, and it’s the RBs who are trying to force teams to overpay the position who are in the wrong. This is what happens when guys like Elliott get to enjoy huge holes thanks to great blocking, and yet the RBs get all the credit for “their” stats even though it’s a team effort – the RBs get big heads and think they single-handedly create a rushing attack.

  2. The 5th year option and franchise tag shouldn’t be an option for a team to use on a player.The players sign a contract and they should honor it and a team needs either A let him Go or B extended his contract. The issue is players want an extension on there last year of there contract not a 5th year option or a franchise tag and that’s were it gets tricky.My opinion to resolve this either A let the player sit out the last year of his contract and let him walk B Trade him or C extended his contract No more 5th year option or Franchise tag

  3. Players shouldn’t have 5th year options in football. Just look at average careers of NFL players, most careers are over before that. All players should have free agency after 4 years. It’s fair to the players’ careers to allow them free agency after 4 years since most will not make it that long anyway. If this is done, free agency will liven up more with players leaving or continuing with their teams. In addition, teams will have more options that will also have longer careers, even if it is just for one year.

  4. Well said…

    Make all rookie contracts 3 years…no extra option year!!!

    Either eliminate the franchise tag…or make the compensation for losing a franchise tagged player a 2nd round pick…not the 2 first round picks…if a player is just too good to lose, that the team has to franchise tag them…then force the team to pay the player…or if the player isn’t franchise worthy…quit holding them hostage from free agency and let some other team pay them…

  5. Hopefully they shorten rookie contracts in the next CBA. Careers are short in the NFL especially for running backs, these teams get most or all of a guy’s prime years before he gets a second contract.

  6. Why not allow both options to be in play and the player gets the higher, or an average, of the two? The team solely gets to make the decision on keeping the player based on the money they will earn so it leaves the player with no leverage. Ultimately, if the player is good then the team will keep him because the price will be reasonable.

  7. The fact of the matter is, running back has become the most replaceable position in any of the major sports in the country. It’s not fair, zand these guys are incredible athletes who work as hard as anyone in the league. But just look at the list of running backs who were performing at a high level last year in december and january. Sony Michel, CJ Anderson, Damien Williams, Marlon Mack, Brian Hill, Kalen Ballage, Jaylen Samuels, Gus Edwards. Not exactly murderers’ row. When the year winds down, it usually comes down to a good offensive line, and a guy with fresh legs

  8. If it’s a big deal for the players it will be ironed out in collective bargaining, I’m thinking it’s not & won’t.

  9. Agreed. The agreement to tie pay to position works for franchise tags, but that’s only to discourage teams from using them, because it’s so expensive that a team is not going to tag anyone but the best pending FAs. The logic of certain positions being more valuable than others breaks down when drafting because the value of each player is already affecting how high they’re drafted in the first place-meaning, essentially, that CBs or HBs or even QBs aren’t inherantly any more or less valuable than one another. The individual player is valuable, not the position. That’s why Sayquon Barkely was drafted at no. 2 overall, despite being a HB, and Mason Rudolph was taken in the third round, despite being a QB. The point of this is that if the value of the prospect, non the position, determines the draft order to begin with, then the value of the prospect should logically be reflected in the value of the fifth year option.

    I get why they’d try to tie to positions, because there’s precedent for that in the franchise tag and other salary-calculating situations, but the draft does not value players by position. It does it by individual potential, because college has less parity than the NFL. Levels of competition are more unbalanced, coaching is more variable, and it’s easier for individual players to dominate with natural talent or developed habits. In the draft, the individual player is more important than his position.

  10. Zeke has done this to himself. If he would stay out of trouble and quit getting suspended he would already of gotten the contract. How can you pay a guy top 5 money that has missed around 20% of his games because of suspension and not injuries?

  11. It shouldn’t be tied to position played. Not at all. There is a reason Elliot and Barkley got drafted where they did. The teams valued them higher than the players playing positions with the higher franchise tag numbers.
    I admit, I never knew this. I always thought the 5th year options were tied to the rookie wage scale.

  12. I bet Buckner’s contract extension is going to be worth a lot more than Zeke’s too. Draft placement has nothing to do with that. The 5th year option should be based on the value of the position and not where they were drafted 4 years ago.

  13. Tying the fifth year option rate to draft position is repugnant and stupid.

    Imagine how Tom Brady would have fared if he had signed under this system – a low rent draft pick who does significantly better than most first round draft choices. He is penalized for his draft position – something he had no control over being.

    Tying fifth year options to position ensures that players are not overpaid relative to their positional colleagues. Longevity and ability to play a position has to factor into the cost of those services and few running backs exceed five or six years. For every Emitt Smith there are 100 running backs who don’t last.

    Each team should assess whether a player is worth retaining or not – and the fact that the Cowboys are so reluctant to go all in on the Bearded Woman Beater may have nothing to do with his actual position. This clown brings tremendous baggage and has demonstrated the inability to stay out of trouble. His value should go down because he’s a violent clown who has not improved one bit in his maturity.

    Of course the author of this post would engage on the level of a three year old on logic, but there is no reason a draft order should dictate worth – draft order can be influenced by stupid decisions like Washington drafting up and spending four picks on the Great Gimmick in 2012. Why should his value be high when his demonstrated positional skills were worse than average?

  14. The player’s association really screwed this one up. In exchange for significantly lower salaries for rookies, under the reasoning that no one really knows if they’ll develop, all contracts should have been for 3 years only. Then the teams have a good idea of what the player is and the players can be paid according to talent.

    Tying up a great player for 4 or 5 or 6 years (depending on option year and franchise tag) isn’t fair to these men who have short, often brutal, careers.

  15. If you’re going to have a fifth-year option, why wouldn’t you tie it to position? Quarterbacks are more valuable than running backs. Defensive ends are more valuable than safeties. This is the real world and you should be paid what you’re worth.

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