Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert fielded an awful lot of questions from reporters yesterday. Colbert also took some questions from fans via a conversation with Steelers Nation Unite. One question that they were not asked, however, and which was not addressed, was whether or not they intend to pick up the fifth-year option for fourth-year safety Terrell Edmunds.
A first-round pick by the team in 2018, Edmunds has been a three-year starter now at strong safety, and has improved with each passing season. Teams are now eligible to begin picking up the fifth-year options of their 2018 first-round picks, but it’s not clear where they’re leaning with Edmunds.
It goes without saying that they will pick up Minkah Fitzpatrick’s fifth-year option, which will cost more than Edmunds’ because of his post-season decorations. The Steelers acquired the former via trade in 2019, and he has made the All-Pro first team twice since then.
With the new manner in which the fifth-year option pay scale is structured, Edmunds’s option will cost less, even though the two players play the same position. Last month, its value was determined to be set at $6.753 million.
The fifth-year option has been in place for the past 10 draft classes now, beginning in 2011. The Steelers have had seven decisions to make on the fifth-year options, and they have picked up all but two, doing so for Cameron Heyward (2011), David DeCastro (2012), Ryan Shazier (2014), Bud Dupree (2015), and T.J. Watt (2017). They declined on Jarvis Jones (2013) and Artie Burns (2016).
It’s important to note, however, that the 2018 draft class is the first in which the exercising of the fifth-year option fully guarantees the fifth-year salary immediately, with the new terms in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. Previously, the fifth-year salary would only be guaranteed for injury prior to the start of the new league year of the fifth year.
That adds another dimension to the discussion for teams as to whether or not they will pick up players’ options that was previously not there. Prior to the most recent CBA, you could release a player prior to the start of the new league year of the fifth year, provided that that player was not significantly injured, and relieve yourself of that salary obligation.
One can argue that the Steelers took something of a gamble in 2018 when they picked up Dupree’s fifth-year option, having not yet proven himself, but Heyward, DeCastro, Shazier, and Watt were all already sure things, some having already established themselves as Pro Bowlers.
It was equally clear for Jones and Burns, however, both of whom had already previously been demoted from the starting lineup, even benched, multiple times by the end of their third seasons. Edmunds is in something of a grey area, where he has been a consistent presence in the starting lineup, but with generally unremarkable performance. Is that worth nearly $7 million? Or would they rather gamble on retaining him for cheaper?