Here’s something to think about: in an alternative universe, which operates under alternative facts, the Pittsburgh Steelers right now are working on a long-term contract extension for 2013 first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones.
This would be both a good and a bad thing. Of course, it would be good because it would mean that Jones will actually have played to a level that justified being given a long-term deal with the team that drafted him.
It also most likely means that he would have had his fifth-year option picked up last season. Jones’ was the first fifth-year option that the Steelers have failed to pick up since it was incorporated into the renegotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement that has been in place since 2011, though they have only drafted four such players that have been eligible to have their options picked up.
The first was their first-round draft pick in 2011, defensive end Cameron Heyward. He became a full-time starter during his third season, and the following year, the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option. The following offseason, after his fourth year, in lieu of playing under the fifth-year option, the team and Heyward agreed to terms on a long-term extension.
The year after Heyward, they used their first-round draft pick on guard David DeCastro. He was going to be a day-one starter before he tore his MCL in the preseason. But he did start late in his rookie year when healthy, and has done so since. He showed obvious growth in his third season.
The Steelers picked up his fifth-year option the following year, and, like Heyward, after he completed his fourth season, during which DeCastro earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro, he was given a long-term extension.
In 2014, the Steelers drafted inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who started right away, but injuries forced him out of the lineup during his rookie season. He has played very well, for the most part, when healthy. He played at his highest level in 2016, during his third season, and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. The team has picked up his fifth-year option, and he will be due for an extension next summer.
Jones is the missing link in the chain. And, quite frankly, he is the reason that the Steelers have well over $10 million in salary cap space right now. Had he actually played to the level that he was supposed to, he would be signed to a contract that would have easily reached eight digits, based on the current market value for premium edge rushers.
Even if he had amounted to the level of a Jabaal Sheard, he would be getting a contract that is within shouting distance of eight figures per season. And needless to say, the Steelers’ salary cap would look much different—specifically, much tighter—than it currently does. So, I suppose, if you’re looking for a silver lining over a failed first-round pick, there it is.