The day New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones officially earned his four-year, $160 million extension in March, general manager Joe Schon seized on the hurdle that could become an annual staple of regret in the NFL.
“If I thought I was going to be here a year ago, I would have opted for the fifth year,” Schoen told reporters.
It was a funny line. But it is also true.
If the Giants had taken a gamble and picked up Jones' fifth-year option before the 2022 season, they would have gained another year of runway through the 2023 season to evaluate a long-term commitment to their starting quarterback. And it would have been accomplished at a rate of around $22.4 million, no less — which is far less expensive than the commitment made in March, which netted Jones a whopping $82 million in true guarantees.
L such is the risk teams are now weighing with the latest iteration of the fifth year of first-round draft picks. Since the previous collective bargaining agreement made substitutes fully guaranteed, rather than only guaranteed for injury, NFL teams have been forced to make important decisions that call for the start of the entire season. And when it turns out to be the wrong call — as it was with Jones — a franchise can be backed into an expensive corner. In the Giants' case, the options were unmatched: At Jones was released via free agency; secure him via a franchise tag that would cost (at least) $32.4 million a season; Or groping for a contract extension that would give more money, but also reduce some of the risk of 2023 being Jones' banner year and a significant increase in his price.
Yes, $22.4 million would have been a much more painless route. And it's almost certain we'll see a similar situation develop with the latest batch of fifth-year option declines, which set a league record for fewest exercised options (12 of 32).
With that in mind, here are four players positioned to repeat what Jones did – backing his team into a financial corner and flipping a rejected option into a lucrative…
It's not rocket science considering Young was the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and the player coming out of Ohio State almost couldn't afford to miss. He didn't exactly “miss” Washington as much as be completely derailed by injuries. The questions for the commanders are simple enough. Can Young recapture the explosiveness that earned him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in the 2020 season? And if he can, how much more salary cap can the Commanders put into their defensive line, which already has substantial expansions for Darron Payne and Jonathan Allen (defensive end Montez Sweat's contracts expiring after 2023) not to mention)? In a way, it could be a race of sorts for young and sweat. The Commanders can't apply a franchise tag to both, so it's very likely that if they both have banner seasons in 2023, one will head to free agency and the other will be tagged in an attempt to earn an extension. Due only to the realities of the salary cap, it seems unlikely that Washington would want to dedicate four mega-contracts to four defensive linemen. Barring another hollow season, Young would have lovers. When his option was declined, one AFC general manager was already talking about how tempting it would be to add him to their defensive line reboot. He is not alone and there will be a lot of eyes on Young this season.
Like Washington's Chaz Young, Becton had a banner rookie year, showcasing the skills many initially believed was the best offensive tackle drafted in 2020. That reality — along with concerns about his weight and conditioning from one season to the next — has created a tremendous amount of frustration inside the Jets franchise. So much so, that the organization has told Becton that if he believes he is a true lefty in the league, he needs to show it and earn it in 2023. Time will tell what happens, but Becton is reportedly down in the 350-pound range with his weight, which should have the organization thrilled, considering he was over 390 pounds at one point in early 2022. The franchise's brain trust had long wanted Becton to play consistently in the 350–360 range, believing he would maximize potential as a pass and run blocker. If he can do that in 2023, the Jets will very likely apply the franchise tag to him and look to play a fifth year while considering an extension. If that doesn't happen, Becton is going to get a lot of looks in the NFL, which is notoriously hungry for passes. Especially for a 24-year-old who showed so much potential as a rookie. Regardless of who pays for it, Becton will cash in if it can put it together again in 2023.
The situation for Brooks and Queen isn't perfect for a 1-for-1 comparison, which makes a huge difference in how each franchise approached the crossroads of fear. As for Brooks, his torn ACL in January put the Seahawks in a position where they had to weigh a $12.7 million price tag (which is pretty rich) for an off-ball linebacker. Recovering from his knee injury. As much as the Seahawks love Brooks' talent, they are playing a numbers game that suggests a less costly outcome down the line that could result in Brooks still remaining with the team.
Queen, on the other hand, is a player who seemed to flourish after the trade addition of Rockon Smith. That trade ended largely because the Ravens were growing frustrated with the way Queens was developing. But it also began a blossoming of sorts, as Queen became a bigger factor as a pass rusher once Smith went into the fold. For the Ravens, the math suggests that Queen proved better as a complementary piece that demonstrated itself after Smith arrived. And that's not usually the kind of thing that leads a franchise to opt for a fifth year, let alone sign a huge contract extension.
But this is where Brooks and Queen intersect. beauty and price are ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and both will have significant markets in 2023 except for the absolute bombshell of the season. For now, it looks like the Seattle Brooks are unlikely to go away, even if it means having to apply the franchise tag after next season. But Queen, even with a high-end season, may be a luxury the Ravens can afford now that they've agreed to an extension with Smith and a Lamar Jackson contract Which is going to start weighing on the team pretty quickly. Both would be interesting decisions. And both will be closely watched by the entire league.