The 2020 deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year options on 2017 draft picks has now come and gone, and as has almost always been the case, roughly half of those first-round picks have had their options picked up (meaning that roughly half did not).
The Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, were among the teams to pick up the options of 17 of the 32 first-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, theirs being for outside linebacker T.J. Watt, pick number 30 that year out of Wisconsin. A two-Time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro, he has emerged as one of the best young players at his position, perhaps even among all defenders.
Among the top five players in the class, only first-overall pick Myles Garrett had his option picked up, by the Cleveland Browns. In fact, three of the 17 players who had their options picked up (the others being David Njoku and Jabrill Peppers) were drafted by the Browns.
The other four of the top five (Mitchell Trubisky, Solomon Thomas, Leonard Fournette, and Corey Davis) all had their options declined. The Jacksonville Jaguars were trying to shop Fournette during the draft, so it’s not exactly a surprise there. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears brought in Nick Foles at quarterback.
The other first-round picks who had their options declined or had their rookie contracts previously nullified: eighth-overall wide receiver John Ross (Bengals); 13th-overall linebacker Haason Reddick (Cardinals); 15th-overall safety Malik Hooker (Colts); 20th-overall lineman Garett Bolles (Broncos); 21st-overall linebacker Jarrad Davis (Lions); 22nd-overall linebacker Charles Harris (Dolphins/Falcons); 24th-overall cornerback Gareon Conley (Raiders/Texans); 26th-overall edge defender Takk McKinley (Falcons); 28th-overall edge defender Taco Charlton, who was released (Cowboys); and 31st-overall linebacker Reuben Foster (49ers/Washington).
Technically, 18 players had their contracts extended beyond 2020. The Carolina Panthers signed running back Christian McCaffrey two a four-year extension running through the 2025 season in the middle of April before picking up his option.
To date, McCaffrey is the only first-round pick from 2017 who has gotten a new deal, though as previously reported, the Browns want to get an extension done with Garrett as well. It would not be surprising if others do so, but the Steelers will not be among them, due to salary cap restrictions if for nothing else.
What will be interesting is to see how fifth-year options are affected going forward. Under the new CBA, effective as of the 2018 class, all first-round picks’ fifth-year options are structured the same way, with escalators for making Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. Under the previous structure, the earlier picks received bigger salaries based on their draft position. in addition, fifth-year options when exercised immediately become fully guaranteed, rather than on the first day of the new league year of the fifth-year season. Previously, it had only been guaranteed for injury.