NFL 5th-Year Option: Najee Harris, Kyle Pitts, Justin Fields Among 6 Most Interesting Decisions

With the NFL 5th-year option deadline behind us, let's take a look at some of the more interesting decisions made around the league.

The NFL fifth-year option deadline came and went Thursday. When the dust settled, 18 of the 32 first-round picks in 2021 had their options exercised, and virtually all of the moves were expected. However, some decisions were more interesting than others.

What Is the NFL 5th-Year Option?

You can click here to view our full breakdown, including how the fifth-year option has changed in recent years. But we’ll give you the CliffsNotes version here.

After a first-round pick’s third NFL season, their team must decide whether to exercise their fifth-year option. Doing so guarantees the base salary for the player’s fourth season and, more notably, puts them under contract for a fifth season at a rate determined by multiple factors.

If a player earns at least two original-ballot (non-replacement) Pro Bowl selections during their first three seasons, then their fifth-year salary is the average of the top five salaries at their position. If a player earns just one Pro Bowl selection, their fifth-year salary is the average of the top 10 salaries at their position.

For players without Pro Bowl selections, their fifth-year salaries are determined by play-time criteria.

6 Most Interesting NFL 5th-Year Option Decisions

Justin Fields, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

$25.664 million | Declined

This was a no-brainer, as Justin Fields did nothing during his three seasons with the Chicago Bears to warrant a salary of $25.6 million, and it’s clear that most of the league believes he’s a backup quarterback. But this move remains interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, Fields at times has looked like a player with franchise QB potential, combining electrifying athleticism with above-average arm talent. Of course, playing quarterback in the NFL requires much more than speed and arm strength. The fact Fields didn’t develop into a QB worthy of a fifth-year option underscores the risks of over-prioritizing traits in the draft.

Second, in declining Fields’ fifth-year option, the Steelers ensured they’d enter the 2024 season without a starting QB under contract for 2025. Fields and Russell Wilson both are set to enter free agency, and Kenny Pickett was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Perhaps Fields or Wilson change the narrative over the next year. But, for now, Pittsburgh is in no man’s land at quarterback.

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

$6.79 million | Declined

Najee Harris is difficult to evaluate. On one hand, he eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in each of his first three seasons and caught 74 balls as a rookie. He’s a good player and often has run behind an iffy offensive line.

On the other hand, Harris hasn’t established himself as a true franchise running back, with efficiency being his primary issue. In 2023, his career-best 4.0 yards per attempt ranked 32nd in the league. Harris’ playing time also declined each of the last two seasons as Jaylen Warren saw an increased role.

Would Harris be worth $6.79 million in 2025? Maybe, but it’s hard to make that case when Harris arguably is the second-best running back on his own team.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

$10.878 million | Exercised

The Falcons were expected to exercise Kyle Pitts’ fifth-year option, so this move wasn’t surprising. It’s a bit of a gamble, though.

Pitts’ salary got bumped up by his Pro Bowl selection in 2021 when he racked up 68 catches and 1,026 yards as a rookie. The fourth overall pick in 2021, Pitts looked like an emerging superstar tight end.

However, in the next two seasons, Pitts combined for just 81 catches, 1,023 yards, and five touchdowns. He also missed seven games in 2022.

Those would be great numbers for most tight ends, but Pitts isn’t supposed to be just any tight end. He’s supposed to be elite at his position. Was his disappointing production a byproduct of playing in a bad offense or a sign that Pitts’ rookie campaign was a fluke?

The Falcons clearly are going with the former. We’ll see if they’re right.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, New York Jets

$15.313 million | Exercised

Alijah Vera-Tucker is another difficult player to evaluate. The 14th overall pick in 2021, Vera-Tucker is a versatile and undeniably talented player — when healthy.

But health has been an issue, as has figuring out where to play Vera-Tucker.

The USC product started 16 games at left guard as a rookie. In 2022, he split time at right guard and right tackle before missing the final 10 games due to an injury. The script was nearly the same in 2023, with Vera-tucker missing the final 12 games.

The Jets are set at both tackle spots, meaning Vera-Tucker will likely stay at right guard moving forward. The $15.3 million he’ll make in 2025 would rank as the fourth-highest right guard contract in 2024.

Vera-Tucker will be worth it if he stays on the field. But that’s a big “if”.

Odafe Oweh, DE, Baltimore Ravens

$13.251 million | Exercised

There’s some risk in this move for the Ravens, but it could pay off.

Quarterback pressures haven’t been an issue for Odafe Oweh, who was the 31st overall pick in 2021. But the pressures haven’t translated into many sacks, as Oweh registered just 13 over his first three seasons, including five in 2023.

In fact, Oweh’s 13 sacks through three seasons are the second-fewest among the 13 edge rushers whose fifth-year options have been exercised since 2019.

So, you could make a case that Oweh isn’t worth $13.25 million. However, sacks aren’t the only measure of pass-rushing prowess. Oweh has been undeniably successful at rushing the quarterback, and he looked like an ascending talent last season. The Ravens obviously believe the best is yet to come.

If they’re right, Oweh’s contract would be viewed as a bargain in 2025.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

$24.664 million | Exercised

Take it easy, Jaguars fans. We’re not saying Jacksonville shouldn’t have exercised Lawrence’s fifth-year option.

But we are saying it’s not a slam dunk that Lawrence will be worth nearly $25 million in 2025.

Lawrence’s franchise QB potential is evident. He’s athletic, can make all the throws, and is a strong leader. But Lawrence hasn’t quite established himself as the generational talent he was billed as. His play has ranged from breathtaking to erratic, with Jaguars fans unsure what version of Lawrence they’ll get each week. It’s usually the good version, but still.

The point is Lawrence has a lot to prove in 2024. Let’s see how he responds.

Beyond that, it’s noteworthy that Lawrence is the only quarterback from the now-infamous 2021 class to have his fifth-year option exercised. Fields, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, and Trey Lance all saw their options declined.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles