The Cleveland Browns are among the many teams in recent years to have used a first-round draft pick on an offensive tackle, doing so with Jedrick Wills in 2020. He played his first full season in 2020, logging 1,154 snaps in 17 starts, after missing four games a year earlier and one as a rookie.
But they have a decision to make soon, shortly after the 2023 NFL Draft. May 1 is the deadline for teams to pick up the fifth-year option for the 2020 NFL Draft class, which includes Wills as the 10th-overall pick of that year. Is he worth it?
“I think in the moment, in the season, you felt (good about Wills) because he was healthy and was playing well”, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said about his left tackle last month during the annual league meetings, via Zac Jackson of The Athletic. “But as you go back and watch a lot of the tape over and over, he’s doing a nice job in the run game and the pass game.
“He’s winning his one-on-one matchups. Never perfect because it’s hard to be perfect as a left tackle in this game. But he played well. I really think, if he stays healthy, the trajectory continues to ascend”.
But is that enough to pull the trigger? As Jackson points out, Wills’ fifth-year option would be worth $14.175 million. With the recent rule changes, that salary would become fully guaranteed, rather than just guaranteed for injury as it used to be, as soon as the option is picked up.
The Cincinnati Bengals decided a year ago to pick up 2019 first-round tackle Jonah Williams’ fifth-year option. A year later, they signed Orlando Brown Jr. to four-year, $64 million deal. Now Williams wants to be traded.
Williams has started every game in which he has played over the past three seasons (having spent his rookie year on the Reserve/Injured List), including all 16 games the Bengals played a year ago, amassing 1,101 snaps.
No matter what happens, the Bengals are on the hook for $12,604,000, the amount they agreed to pay Williams for his fifth-year option when they picked it up a year ago. The only way they can rid themselves of that hit would be if they find a team willing to take it on.
It’s because of situations like these that it’s likely we will be seeing fewer and fewer fifth-year options picked up, a trend that has already begun. And I’m not sure how much it helps any of the players. The great players will still have their options picked up, extending their delay to free agency for another year. The good to very good players may not. While it might allow them to hit the market sooner, it might be a year too early, without the chance of making that pay day that might be slightly above their market value.