NFL

Weighing fifth-year options for 2020 NFL Draft’s first-round selections

With players chosen in the 2020 NFL Draft having finished their third regular season, it’s decision time on fifth-year options for the class’ first-rounders.

All drafted rookies are given four-year contracts to begin their careers — and teams have the option to extend that contract for a fifth year with players selected in the first round. The fifth-year option window for the Class of 2020 opened Jan. 9, with the final deadline set for May 1. So, which players deserve to stick with their team through the 2024 campaign?

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Let’s take a look at the 28 eligible selections from Round 1 back in 2020. Three first-round players from that class — Henry Ruggs III (No. 12 overall), Damon Arnette (No. 19) and Isaiah Wilson (No. 29) — are no longer in the league and, therefore, are not eligible for a fifth-year option. Jeff Gladney, the No. 31 overall pick in 2020 who played for both Minnesota and Arizona, tragically passed away in a car accident last May.

Today, I’m providing my opinion on whether or not each of the 28 players merits the fifth-year option.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Is this even a question? Given what he’s done and how he’s done it, Burrow has cemented himself in a Big Three conversation with fellow QBs Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. An ACL injury ended his rookie season after 10 games, but over the past two seasons, Burrow has transformed the organization, compiling a 22-10 regular-season record and lifting the Bengals to the ranks of the perennial contenders in a loaded AFC. He took the team to its first Super Bowl in over three decades a year ago and knows he has the goods to deliver at least that result as long as he’s on the field. The quip he delivered when discussing Cincinnati’s competitive window — “The window’s my whole career” — is quite possibly one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard. Burrow should be a lock to receive a long-term extension.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Young is another no-brainer for me, even after an ACL injury cost him the second half of his 2021 season and almost all of 2022. He was phenomenal during his rookie season, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (one for a score). He’s a key piece of Ron Rivera’s defensive front and will be for a long time.

Exercise the option? No.

I think there’s a good chance general manager Brad Holmes exercises Okudah’s fifth-year option, but I’m not sure that’s the right decision, which is why I’m saying no. Okudah is coming off his best season to date, with one interception, seven passes defensed and 73 combined tackles in 15 games, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. He has yet to play an entire season, putting just 10 appearances to his name over his first two seasons, thanks largely to an Achilles injury that wiped out most of his second year in the NFL. Injuries and inconsistency on the field (he has two career INTs) have led him to perform far below what would be expected of a top-three draft pick, especially one once viewed as a potential shutdown corner.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Recently named a second-team All-Pro for 2022, Thomas has blossomed into one of the best offensive tackles league-wide after a rough rookie year. The reliable left tackle has cemented himself as a cornerstone of the Giants’ offense, helping pave the way for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley to have big seasons in their own contract years.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Dolphins GM Chris Grier told reporters Monday, “I would say with Tua, he is our starting quarterback. I mean, I don’t know how we can say it any more clearly.” That should answer any questions people still have. This season, he completed 64.8 percent of his passes, had a 25:8 TD-to-INT ratio and posted a 105.5 passer rating, the second-highest in franchise history, behind only Dan Marino (108.9 in 1984) among qualifying quarterbacks, per NFL Research. He was in the NFL’s concussion protocol twice, missing four regular-season games and Super Wild Card Weekend — a concern moving forward. I had my doubts about Tua’s ability and injury history when he was coming into the league, so the struggles we’ve seen of late and in his first two seasons are more indicative of the player I thought he would be. I’m sticking with “yes” here, but I’m not as all in on Tua as Dolphins brass appears to be.

Exercise the option? Yes.

This class’ Offensive Rookie of the Year has been exceptional over his three seasons, improving his play, leadership and record with each year. Getting his team to the playoffs in Year 3 was a huge step for Herbert and the organization, and he’s established himself as one of the better signal-callers in the AFC, regardless of the offensive collapse that precipitated the Chargers’ exit from the postseason. The team will likely sign Herbert to an extension this offseason — and the sooner the better. His price tag will only go up.

Exercise the option? Yes.

This could go ether way, but with the Panthers trending in the right direction defensively, I think they should exercise Brown’s option. He had two mediocre seasons to start his career but enjoyed something of a resurgence in 2022. Though the sack numbers don’t always show it, Brown was a force in the middle of the Panthers’ defensive front, logging a career-high 40 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus, while remaining stout against the run.

Exercise the option? No.

Coming into the draft, Simmons was touted as a Swiss Army knife-type playmaker, but he hasn’t been the kind of do-everything star one might have hoped for, logging a total of 7.5 sacks and 16 passes defensed over this three seasons. The Cardinals are installing a new regime, including recently hired GM Monti Ossenfort, and at this point, I wouldn’t invest in Simmons, who’s started 37 of 50 regular-season games, past 2023. 

Exercise the option? No.

Original drafting team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Henderson’s career has been marked by inconsistency, even after the change of scenery afforded by his trade to the Panthers in September of 2021. He appeared to turn a slight corner this season, setting career highs in interceptions (two) and passes defensed (six) while adding a forced fumble. I don’t think the Panthers should lock him into their 2024 plans at this juncture, but he has a chance to make a good impression in a potential contract year if he builds off his 2022 play.

Exercise the option? Yes.

The Browns’ offensive line has operated as a reliable, cohesive unit since Wills’ arrival in 2020. Wills is a player general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski should want to keep in tow as a steady, solid tackle who has played at least 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in each of the last three seasons.

Exercise the option? No.

To me, Becton is one of the bigger disappointments on this list. There were questions in the pre-draft process about his weight, and injuries have made it a struggle for him to stay on the field; he played in 15 games over his first two seasons before missing all of 2022 with a fractured kneecap. When he has been out there, he’s been inconsistent. Becton might be optimistic, but his place in the Jets’ long-term plans would seem to be up in the air. I wonder if he could use a fresh start elsewhere.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Wirfs battled through an ankle injury for much of the second half of the 2022 season, limiting his impact down the stretch, but the two-time Pro Bowler was a huge reason Tom Brady thrived so late into his career during his time with the Bucs. Arguably the best right tackle in the NFL, Wirfs is likely to earn an extension this offseason. He’s going to be a Buc for a long time.

Exercise the option? Yes.

The 49ers could go either way on this one. I don’t necessarily think Kinlaw — a raw prospect coming out of South Carolina — has been the productive player San Francisco envisioned him being under former coordinator Robert Saleh (2020) or current coordinator DeMeco Ryans (2021-22). He’s posted 1.5 sacks, 45 combined tackles, four passes defensed and one INT in 24 career games — including just six this season, thanks to a stint on injured reserve with a knee injury. But when healthy, he’s still a steady presence in the middle of the defensive front. On this one, I was truly on the fence, but ultimately, I’d exercise the option.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Amid a tumultuous Broncos season, Jeudy put up his best pro performance, logging 67 catches, 972 receiving yards and six receiving scores (all career highs). Quarterback Russell Wilson struggled for most of his first season in Denver but routinely linked up with Jeudy, especially down the stretch, establishing a rapport they can build on in 2023 and beyond. Jeudy’s numbers will continue to climb with consistent quarterback play.

Exercise the option? Yes.

As one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, Terrell might be the Falcons’ best defensive player. With shutdown corner abilities and four career INTs, Terrell has established himself as a foundational piece in Atlanta’s rebuild.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Lamb showed enough in his first two seasons that the Cowboys were able to trade away Amari Cooper last offseason. As the team’s WR1 in 2022, Lamb took another step forward in the form of career production across the board: 107 catches (tied for fifth in the NFL), 1,359 receiving yards (sixth) and nine receiving TDs (tied for sixth). Extending Lamb should be high on the list of offseason priorities.

Exercise the option? No.

There were questions as to whether Jackson could hold his own, strength-wise, against top edge rushers, and to me, he was majorly disappointing in his first two seasons, allowing 87 pressures in 20 games, per PFF. Add that to an injury-filled 2022 in which he missed all but two regular-season games (including Sunday’s wild-card loss), and this is a pretty easy decision.

Exercise the option? No.

The Jags expected Chaisson to create havoc when pairing up with Josh Allen off the edges, but he hasn’t done much of anything in three seasons. Touted as an athletic pass rusher in the pre-draft process, he hasn’t made a consistent impact, posting just three career sacks in 40 games (11 starts). With a meniscus injury keeping him out of several games this season, the outside linebacker played a career-low 18 percent of the Jaguars’ defensive snaps in the regular season, and he appeared in just 9 percent in Jacksonville’s wild-card win over the Chargers — an unfortunate last impression before this decision is made.

Exercise the option? No.

Original draft team: Philadelphia Eagles

GM Howie Roseman has made many great personnel decisions, but drafting Reagor ahead of All-Pro Justin Jefferson wasn’t one of them. Reagor had 64 catches, 695 yards and three TDs in two seasons with Philly before being traded to Minnesota in August for a 2023 seventh-round pick and 2024 conditional fourth-rounder. With eight catches for 104 yards and one TD in 17 games this season, Reagor has failed to establish himself as a WR1, WR2 or even WR3 at the pro level. 

Exercise the option? Yes.

Jefferson declared back in July that he’d be the NFL’s best receiver by the end of the regular season, and he came through with a league-leading 128 receptions and 1,809 receiving yards in 2022, breaking franchise and league records along the way. He’ll be a Minnesota Viking for a long time.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Murray has shown enough in three seasons to merit his option getting picked up. He played just 69 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 17 games, a noted departure from his last full season, when he logged 93 percent of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie. He also failed to crack the 100-tackle mark. Still, he finished third on the team in that category (76). He also led the Chargers in hustle stops (nine), per Next Gen Stats, and notched his first career interception and forced fumble.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Ruiz has been a steady anchor for the Saints’ offensive line, having played every offensive snap in each of the past two seasons. He’s not spectacular in either the run or pass games, but he’s a foundational piece the Saints can win with. The Lisfranc injury he suffered in Week 15 might complicate the picture somewhat, but I still feel like Ruiz is valuable enough to commit to.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Aiyuk has had a bigger role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in each of his three seasons, showcasing his playmaking ability as the perfect complement to other versatile weapons like Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. In 2022, Aiyuk put up career numbers and led the team with 78 catches, 1,015 receiving yards and eight TD receptions (second on team). This offense is perfect for his dynamic skill set.  

Exercise the option? Yes.

Last offseason was full of Aaron Rodgers-related drama for the Packers. A year later, it feels like we’re about to jump on the is-he-coming-back-or-not merry-go-round once more, based on the end-of-season press conferences from the veteran and GM Brian Gutekunst. That’s why the Packers must keep Love around. Once a developmental prospect, the “ready to play” passer (as Gutekunst called him) has played minimally over two three seasons, completing 50 of his 83 career pass attempts for 606 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions in 10 games (one start). He showed promise in Week 12 this season in relief of Rodgers, completing 6 of 9 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. We still don’t know if Love is Green Bay’s QB of the future, but he could get a chance to prove himself soon, and exercising the option would guarantee insurance at the quarterback position for at least two more seasons. 

Exercise the option? Yes.

Brooks has been a steady presence in Pete Carroll’s young defense. He came on strong in his second and third seasons, ranking second in the NFL with 183 tackles in 2021 and fourth with 161 in 2022. The ACL injury that ended his season in Week 16 might give some pause, but I would still exercise the option for a player who became one of the team’s defensive leaders following Bobby Wagner‘s exit last offseason. Presuming Brooks can return to form, he will be a cornerstone Seattle for a long time.

Exercise the option? Yes.

The addition of Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith in 2022 seemed to free up the reliable Queen to make more plays. After the acquisition of Smith at the trade deadline, Queen added 1.5 sacks and a pick to his total, giving him a career high in both categories (five and two, respectively). Having not missed a game in three seasons, Queen should be part of Baltimore’s great defensive core — alongside the newly extended Smith — moving forward.

Exercise the option? No.

A surprise first-rounder, Igbinoghene finally showed some flashes in his third season, including a game-icing interception in a prime-time win over Pittsburgh in Week 7. But he’s played in just 32 of 50 possible games, with only five starts in that span — that’s far less than what any team would expect from a first-round cornerback.

Exercise the option? No.

I loved this guy when he was coming out of LSU, and he’s shown flashes — but injuries have forced him to miss 17 regular-season games in his first three seasons. His production has also decreased in each year:

2020: 181 att., 803 rush yards, four rush TDs; 36 rec., 297 rec. yards, 1 rec. TD in 13 games (all starts)

2021: 119 att., 517 rush yards, four rush TDs; 19 rec., 129 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs in 10 games (all starts)

2022: 71 att., 302 rush yards, three rush TDs; 17 rec., 151 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs in 10 games (six starts)

With seventh-round rookie Isaiah Pacheco playing well in CEH’s place, there’s nothing forcing K.C. to lock the third-year back down for a fifth season. On top of that, soon-to-be free agent Jerick McKinnon has likely earned himself another year in Andy Reid’s plans due to his production down the stretch.  

Follow Marc Ross on Twitter.

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