NFL teams have had to make decisions about their 2020 first-round draft picks in the days following the 2023 NFL Draft. Specifically, they had to decide whether or not to pick up players’ fifth-year options, which, beginning with the 2018 class, become fully guaranteed once exercised, rather than at the start of the new league year of their fifth season.
That has undoubtedly played a role in our seeing a trend of more teams opting not to pick up those options, even if they still end up signing that player to a new contract, or even to an extension in the same year that they declined the option. The Baltimore Ravens yesterday reportedly elected not to pick up the option of inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
While the Cincinnati Bengals exercising quarterback Joe Burrow’s option was the most obvious, there were legitimate doubts about the Cleveland Browns’ plans. Their 2020 first-round pick, the 10th-overall selection in tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., did finally have his option picked up.
Teams don’t have to wait until the last minute to make anything official, even if many do. Since the Browns did, one wonders if they were not waiting first to see how the 2023 NFL Draft would play out before making that decision. The fact that they didn’t have any first- or second-round draft picks this year does make that more of a stretch, however.
Either way, what’s done is now done, as first reported by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, who also notes that Wills is now locked into a fully guaranteed $14.175 million for the 2024 season. Meanwhile, the Bengals are on the hook for $12,604,000 this season for Williams because they picked up his option last year, even after signing a player to a $64 million contract to take his starting spot at left tackle, after which he requested a trade.
The Browns are not especially deep at the tackle position, however—indeed, one of their top reserves is a name you might recall, Joe Haeg—so it’s not as though there is anybody breathing down Wills’ neck to take over at left tackle.
Since being drafted in 2020, he has started all 45 games in which he has played, logging 2,877 offensive snaps in doing so, including a career-high 1,154 in 2022 after starting all 17 games, the first time in his young career he has not missed at least one game.
But while he has performed ably for the most part, he has never particularly distinguished himself. He has been a pretty average starter through the length of his career, frankly, though he is still young—soon to turn 24 years old—with more room to continue to grow. And now he has some security for at least another year.