I’ve written quite a bit about the decision that the Pittsburgh Steelers have ahead of them this offseason as it relates to them picking up the fifth-year option on linebacker Jarvis Jones and after giving it some careful consideration, here is how I would handle it.
First, while Jones’ $8 million-plus fifth-year option won’t be fully guaranteed until the start of the 2017 league year, you have to keep in mind that once it is picked up, the only way to get out from underneath it is by releasing the player outright. Taking that route, however, would mean there would be no compensation for Jones as it relates to a compensatory draft pick.
In case you forgot, the New York Jets picked up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Quinton Coples last April only to waive him this past November. That process resulted in zero compensation for the Jets and the Miami Dolphins quickly claimed Couples off waivers and in doing so, they now must decide over the course of the next four weeks if he is worth $7.751 million in 2016.
Second, after careful thought, it is my opinion that a team should never pick up a fifth-year option with the hopes that a player will finally show he’s worth it in his fourth season. Either he’s worth the commitment now, or he’s not, and as we sit here right now with Jones, he’s not worth $8 million-plus a season and I doubt he’ll be worth that after his fourth year in the league.
So, what if the Steelers decide not to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option and he has another pedestrian 2016 season? In that case, the Steelers should wish him well and hope that he gets a big contract in free agency and subsequently plays extremely well with his new team in 2017 so that he qualifies for a 2018 third-round compensatory draft pick.
However, what if Jones’ fifth-year option isn’t picked up and explodes in 2016 and records double-digit sacks? In that scenario, the Steelers would then have to decide whether or not they want to keep Jones by placing either the franchise or transition tag on him. Being as the franchise tag amount for linebackers in 2016 is expected to be a little more than $14.1 million, it’s easy to speculate that the number will be more than $15 million in 2017, or roughly $7 million more than what a fifth-year option would have been.
Now, I know that several of you will suggest that the Steelers should just work out a cheaper long-term extension with Jones this offseason prior to the May 3 deadline. I’m here to tell that’s not going to happen and Jones would be wise not to go that route just the same. Additionally, if the Steelers were to pick up his fifth-year option, from that point forward Jones and his agent would expect a yearly average of $8 million or more if the two sides were to try to work out a long-term deal prior to the start of the 2016 regular season.
You can see the gamble here, right? Pick up the fifth-year option and risk Jones not living up to it and thus you lose a former first-round draft pick and get nothing in return. Don’t pick up the fifth-year option and risk him becoming Von Miller in 2016 and subsequently running off to the highest bidder after the season is over if not tagged. In my opinion, the second option wouldn’t be so bad as that would mean Jones had one hell of a season.
Here’s one other thing for you to ponder. The Steelers can wait until after the 2016 NFL Draft takes place before deciding whether or not to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option. It should be noted, however, that the Steelers picked up the fifth-year options on both defensive end Cameron Heyward and guard David DeCastro prior to the draft taking place. In other words, I would expect the Steelers to decide on Jones’ future just prior to this year’s draft taking place.
So, in summation, I wouldn’t pick up Jones’ fifth-year option this offseason and instead would just cross my fingers that he finally lives up to his first-round selection.