What Is a Fifth-Year Option? Breaking Down One of the NFL’s Most Vital Tools for Roster Construction

The fifth-year option has become a vital tool for roster construction in the NFL. Why is the option such an advantage for teams in the league?

As teams continue to explore different ways to build a roster in the NFL, the fifth-year option continues to be a major advantage in the league today.

The fifth-year option allows teams to potentially have one additional season of control on a first-round pick’s rookie contract, which is incredibly important for roster building, given the inflated salaries at several important positions.

Explaining the NFL’s Fifth-Year Option

When a player is selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, they sign a four-year contract worth a total value based on where they were selected overall. There is also a club option included in the contract for an additional year of team control, entitled the fifth-year option.

Teams must make a decision on the fifth-year option of a player’s rookie contract before the start of that player’s fourth season in the NFL. While many teams will opt to exercise a player’s fifth-year option, it is far from a guarantee in today’s NFL.

For example, if a player has played poorly or struggled with injuries to start their NFL career, a team likely won’t want to exercise that player’s fifth-year option. Yet the chance to retain a potentially elite player on a cost-effective salary is incredibly enticing.

This is why you will often see teams trade back into the second half of the NFL Draft. If a team is enamored with a player’s potential, they could look to select them in the first round and secure that fifth-year option on the player’s rookie contract.

Given the inflated salaries of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and pass rushers, the fifth-year option is a vital tool for roster building as it allows teams to potentially delay when they will have to sign younger players to massive contract extensions.

While the fifth-year option is an important tool for teams, it often frustrates the players who receive it since players would rather have the long-term security of a contract extension instead of one year of inflated salary that is only fully guaranteed for injury.

How Does the Fifth-Year Option Salary Work?

The salary that a player will earn on the fifth-year option depends on two important factors: The player’s designated position and the success they have had during their first three seasons in the NFL.

In total, there are four different salary tiers for the fifth-year option, according to Over the Cap:

  • Basic
  • Playtime
  • One Pro Bowl
  • Multiple Pro Bowls

If a player was named to multiple Pro Bowls (not as an alternate) during their first three seasons in the NFL, they are eligible for a base salary equal to the franchise tag at their position on the fifth-year option.

If a player was named to one Pro Bowl (not as an alternate) during their first three seasons in the NFL, they are eligible for a base salary equal to the transition tag at their position on the fifth-year option.

If a player played 50% or more snaps in each of their first three seasons, an average of 75% or more snaps over all three seasons, or 75% or more snaps in two of their first three seasons, they will be eligible for a base salary equal to the average of the third- to 20th-highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons.

If a player doesn’t meet any of the above requirements, they will be eligible for a base salary equal to the average of the third- to 25th-highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons.

When Is 2024’s Fifth-Year Option Deadline?

The deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year option for players selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is Tuesday, May 2.

While several teams have already made their decisions, a few teams have yet to announce what they will do.

Looking back on the 2021 NFL Draft, the first round was loaded with quarterbacks that many were very high on. Fast forward to this offseason, and only one of those players will likely have the fifth-year option on their contract exercised.

KEEP READING: How Does the NFL Salary Cap Work?

The Jacksonville Jaguars have officially announced that they are exercising the fifth-year option on quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s rookie contract. Yet, the same can’t be said for the four other quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

According to multiple reports, the fifth-year option won’t be exercised for Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones, which is further proof that drafting quarterbacks is no sure thing and the usage of the fifth-year option is equally as unpredictable.

Despite this, the fifth-year option will continue to be a vital tool for roster construction. That extra year of team control, at a likely below-market value, is incredibly important for both the short-term and long-term of building a roster in the NFL today.

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