Weighing fifth-year options for 2019 NFL Draft's first-round picks: To exercise or not to exercise?

Players chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft just finished their third regular season, and that means one thing for the first-round picks from that class: It’s decision time on the fifth-year option.

The window opened Monday for NFL teams to pick up the option, with the final deadline set for May 2. So, which players deserve an extension on the rookie contract through the 2023 campaign?

Let’s take a look at all 32 selections from Round 1 back in 2019, and I’ll provide my opinion on whether or not each player merits the fifth-year option.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Murray has gained more confidence and improved in each of his first three seasons in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. We have watched the young quarterback play at an MVP level when healthy, and his playmaking ability and leadership have the Cardinals back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. He could be in line to be the next highest-paid quarterback.

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Exercise the option? Yes.

Despite missing nearly the entire 2020 season with a knee injury, the healthy Bosa has been everything evaluators thought he would be as an absolute game-wrecker. There’s not only proof in his production — he compiled 24.5 sacks (15.5 in 2021), 37 tackles for loss and 57 QB hits over the course of his two fully healthy seasons in 2019 and 2021 — but in the accolades. Bosa took home the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year and has two Pro Bowl selections.

Exercise the option? No.

Williams has been solid and has flashed at times with 15.5 sacks over his first three seasons. The reality is, however, he hasn’t provided the impact nor lived up to billing of a player taken No. 3 overall, and Williams knows it. If he was taken later on, I’d feel a little bit better about what he’s provided and maybe would pick up his option.

Exercise the option? No.

Ferrell did not made a single start in 2021 and compiled just 7.5 sacks over three seasons. Maxx Crosby was taken in the fourth round of the same draft, and he’s been a much bigger contributor with 23 career sacks, including a double-digit rookie campaign. When Ferrell was selected, he was arguably the most controversial first-round pick and will go down as one of the bigger busts in the last few seasons.

Exercise the option? Yes.

White has been everything the Bucs wanted as an explosive, productive, do-it-all linebacker. He’s become one of the top linebackers in the game after taking his game to the next level during the Bucs’ Super Bowl run, when he had two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, 38 tackles and three for a loss in three playoff games. For everything he’s done up to this point and everything he will do for this organization, it’s a no-brainer to pick up his extension and take care of him with an extension.

Exercise the option? No.

I think there is a small group of people still holding out hope that Jones can be the guy in New York. But we’ve seen the lack of winning, production, decision-making and injuries over the course of his 38 career games. Not to mention, turnovers have been a HUGE issue for Jones — 49 in 37 starts. He has played behind a poor offensive line but hasn’t shown he’s worthy of leading the franchise to greener pastures with a 12-25 record as the starter. The question we’re closer to answering with Jones is whether he’s even a legitimate starter in the NFL at this point.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Pick up the option and get working on an extension. Allen has continued to show he is one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers highlighted by his historic game vs. Bills quarterback Josh Allen. The Jaguars’ third-year pro had a breakout rookie season, setting a franchise rookie sack record (10.5) and becoming the first Jags rookie to earn a Pro Bowl nod. He was slowed by injuries in 2020 but he’s back to showing his pass-rushing explosiveness with 7.5 sacks and his first career interception (vs. Allen in Week 9). Allen is the defensive pillar for the Jags to build around.

Exercise the option? Yes.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2020, Hockenson has been an all-around tight end — with ability in the upper echelon of the position — and safety blanket for every Lions quarterback. He’s a key player for the offense to build around moving forward.

Exercise the option? No.

Similar to Williams in New York, Oliver’s situation might be different had he been taken later in the first round, but he hasn’t provided a consistent impact. He’s a liability in the run game — Sean McDermott often takes him out on such plays — and if this is your reality as a defensive tackle, you must provide in the pass game. He hasn’t done that with 12 total sacks over three seasons.

Exercise the option? No.

Bush was a highly touted linebacker in this class alongside Devin White, but we haven’t seen him live up to that potential. He had a solid rookie campaign (109 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two INTs, a forced fumble, four fumble recoveries, one sack) but was out for most of 2020 with a knee injury and has really struggled with his game in Year 3. With just two sacks, 70 tackles, two for loss and a forced fumble this season, Bush hasn’t been able to consistently impact the defense like others in the unit have. As a top-10 pick, he’s expected to do just that.

Exercise the option? Yes.

After missing the entire 2019 with a shoulder injury, Williams has quietly been a solid player at left tackle for the Bengals. He gets lost in the team’s stellar young nucleus as a good (not yet great) player who has improved year over year. Williams, who’s played 100 percent of the Bengals offensive snaps this season, is reliable, dependable and a cornerstone to build the offensive line around.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Gary was raw coming out of Michigan, but learning and developing behind Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith has paid dividends as we’ve seen Gary take off in Year 3. In his 16 starts this season, he posted a career-high and team-leading 9.5 sacks and added two forced fumbles as a bright spot of Green Bay’s defense. He also led the team in pressures with 87, 17 more than the next closest player Kenny Clark, according to Pro Football Focus.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Wilkins has played well and much better than the two defensive tackles drafted before him. He has impacted the Dolphins’ defense in a big way, especially this season with career-highs 89 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 13 QB hits and 4.5 sacks, and should continue to be a mainstay up front.

Exercise the option? No.

The Falcons thought they had solidified their offensive line with two first-rounders in this draft, but that’s been far from the case. Lindstrom has struggled across three seasons in my view. He has excelled in the run game as PFF’s fourth-ranked run-blocking guard in 2021, but he struggles in pass pro — which is a big concern with an immobile, aging quarterback.

Exercise the option? N/A

Original draft team: Washington Football Team

Haskins was released by Washington just a year and a half into his rookie contract after a series of events created a wedge between the player and team. Shortly thereafter, the quarterback signed a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Steelers, and is now set to become a restricted free agent in March.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Burns is one of the best up-and-coming edge rushers, evidence by his play-making ability and his 25.5 sacks over three seasons. Getting a Pro Bowl nod in 2021, Burns continues to get better while transitioning into a foundational piece for the Panthers’ defense.

Exercise the option? No.

This was the second surprising pick for the Giants in this draft. Lawrence came in as a massive two-down run-stopper and he’s been just OK at that. He hasn’t been an impact player nor provided enough pressure in the pass game. I don’t expect the Giants to double down on him.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Bradbury has been a solid foundational piece along the Vikings’ offensive line. He’s missed just four games in three seasons and played well enough for the Vikings to exercise the fifth-year option. An extension is nothing they need to rush into, but they should eventually consider it with Bradbury being good enough to rank in the top half of NFL centers.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Similar to Wilkins in Miami, Simmons has provided an explosive impact for the Titans inside in both the pass and run games. There is no question that he’s the young star of Mike Vrabel’s defensive line after a breakout 2021 performance that’s seen Simmons reach a career-high 8.5 sacks. He’s improved with each passing season and looks to make a splash in the postseason.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Fant came off the board as the second tight end in this draft with T.J. Hockenson being the more consistent player and Fant the flashier. To me, Fant has made enough plays as one piece of the Broncos’ talented offense to be worth the option, but because of his inconsistencies and struggles as a blocker, I don’t think the Broncos should rush into a long-term deal.

Exercise the option? No.

Savage created a lot of buzz in his second season through a number of big plays and interceptions (four) — a lot of which he fell into — but he’s come back down to earth in 2021. He has looked lost in coverage at times and the run support isn’t there. I wouldn’t exercise the option right now because I think the Packers can draft another player with better value.

Exercise the option? No.

Dillard has been a major disappointment for the Eagles. They thought Dillard would be a foundational left tackle to build around but he’s been anything but. They have tried to find a home for him but he’s more of a valuable reserve when all players along the line are healthy. The Eagles just paid Jordan Mailata, a 2018 seventh-rounder with no previous football experience, to a four-year deal, so Dillard will likely get a fresh start somewhere else soon.

Exercise the option? No.

I was surprised when Houston drafted Howard here because of his limitations, and unfortunately, for the Texans, Howard hasn’t lived up to his draft standing. They have attempted to move him around the offensive line but it hasn’t helped. Howard’s highest overall PFF grade for a season was 62.1 in 2020. That’s pretty telling.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Jacobs is no doubt a good player, so I’d expect the Raiders to pick up his fifth-year option. However, they shouldn’t rush to do a long-term deal because of the nature of the running back position. He is still young with plenty left in the tank, and he’s lived up to being a first-round pick with 1,000-plus rushing yards in each of his first two years before adding another 1,200 scrimmage yards in 2021, but I wouldn’t invest too much going forward.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Brown hasn’t been exactly what the Ravens hoped he’d be. Sure, he’s made enough big-time plays but there have also been some inconsistencies with drops (16 in three seasons) and injuries. It’s worth exercising his option but I would hold off on an extension.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Washington should pick up the option knowing Sweat, who’s flashed at times with 21 sacks over three seasons, has a lot left to give. The team just paid Jonathan Allen but has a lot of decisions looming in the next few years with Daron Payne and Chase Young. I do think Sweat has shown enough but want to see more on a consistent basis.

Exercise the option? No.

Abram was enjoying his best season as part of Gus Bradley’s defense until a shoulder injury requiring surgery cut his 2021 campaign short. A shoulder injury also kept him off the field for all but one game of his rookie season as well. When available, Abram is limited and a liability in coverage. Bottom line: Having a box safety with shoulder injuries is a scary prospect to pay.

Exercise the option? Yes.

Tillery is in the same boat as Montez Sweat. He has been an impactful playmaker for the Chargers when used the right way but he’s not consistent enough. By making splash plays consistently in the near future, there’s a chance L.A. decides to extend him depending on where the market goes.

Exercise the option? No.

After starting all 16 games in 2020, Collier didn’t have a single start this season and have played him sparingly in a backup role. He was a surprise pick here for the Seahawks and has been a major disappointment after compiling a mere three career sacks.

Exercise the option? N/A

Original draft team: New York Giants

Baker was released by the Giants following a 2020 arrest, in which all charges were eventually dropped. He has been with the Chiefs in some capacity (practice squad/active roster) since November 2020. 

Exercise the option? No.

Matt Ryan has been sacked 48, 41 and 40 times over the past three seasons, with McGary giving up 27 of those. He gets beat far too much and is a backup talent in my view.

Exercise the option? No.

Harry’s trials over his first three seasons are well known, as he’s suffered injuries, been a healthy scratch and has performed far under the expectations of a first-round receiver. His best campaign with the Patriots came in 2020, when he had 33 catches, 309 yards and two TDs in 14 games (nine starts).

Follow Marc Ross on Twitter.

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