Before we get into the heart of this piece, maybe I should briefly explain just what it is I’m talking about. Well, under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, all first-round draft picks have to sign four-year deals, with a team option for a fifth year. This option has to be exercised by the March before their fourth year.
For players drafted in the top 10, the cost of the fifth year is the average of the top 10 salaries in the NFL at that player’s position in the fourth year of their contracts. For players drafted anywhere in the range of 11th to 32nd overall, it is the average of the third-highest paid player to the 25th-highest paid player at that player’s position in the fourth year of their contracts. Importantly, this money is fully guaranteed for injury only.
With that out of the way, it seems an opportune time to look at the fantasy relevant players who were taken in the first round back in 2016, and see whether their team is likely to exercise their option. Although as we will see in a couple of cases, this decision is moot. Let’s start with the very first player taken, namely quarterback Jared Goff.
Jared Goff – Los Angeles Rams
I don’t think there is any question that the Rams will exercise the option, with a look ahead to signing Goff to a long-term deal. Although if you’d asked me after his rookie season what his 2020 outlook was, I’d have suggested the likelihood of his enjoying the early days of a long career outside of football. The difference between the raw rookie who played seven games in the Jeff Fisher Rams and the player who has worked with Sean McVay these last two years is absolutely incredible.
Goff has the fifth most passing yards in the NFL over the last two seasons. His 60 passing scores are also the fifth most. While Goff was far from stellar in the Rams Super Bowl loss (okay, he was absolutely dreadful) he has helped the Rams to a 24-7 record in games he has played over the last two seasons. As long as McVay is around, Goff should continue to be a productive leader of the Rams offense.
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles
This is another no-brainer for me. Like Goff, Carson Wentz was instrumental in guiding his team to a Super Bowl appearance. Like Goff, Wentz was unable to help his team to victory on the day, although in Wentz’s defense, he wasn’t playing. Wentz was playing at an MVP level in 2017 prior to the devastating knee injury (against Goff and the Rams, coincidentally) that cut his second season short. Wentz watched Nick Foles lead the Eagles to victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. He then had to watch Foles once again guide his team into the playoffs following the 2018 season.
Wentz’s having to miss the end of the last two seasons, as well as the opening two weeks of the 2018 campaign, is something of a concern to the Eagles. But like Goff, Wentz has elevated his play after a shaky rookie season.
Wentz has also been able to establish a number of productive partnerships with a litany of pass catchers for the Eagles, despite his apparent struggles in 2018.
Wentz came in for some criticism following the end of last season, with a scathing article from the Philly Voice suggesting that he was creating tension in the locker room. A host of veteran players leaped to his defense, while Wentz himself took a degree of ownership, saying “I’m not going to sit here and say it was inaccurate and completely made up.” The Eagles have gone out of their way to let the free footballing world know that Wentz is their guy. This was further evinced by their letting Foles walk away, rather than attempting to tag and trade him.
While it is unlikely that he gets a new contract this year, given the Eagles somewhat precarious salary cap situation, picking up his option just offers the team that little bit longer to allow him to fully prove that he isn’t injury prone and that the 2017 Wentz wasn’t a mirage.
Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
We keep trying to tell people that running backs don’t matter, we really do. But some NFL teams just don’t want to hear that. The Rams are one such team, given the huge contract that they gave Todd Gurley prior to the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys are another, given their admitting that what Gurley got paid is probably where their negotiations with Ezekiel Elliott will start.
There is no arguing with how productive Elliott has been for the Cowboys, by the way. Far from it. He leads the NFL in rushing yards since 2016. He has 609 yards more than Gurley in the same span. Gurley has 3,441 yards in his 45 games, while Elliott has 4,050 in 40.
Elliott has led the NFL in rushing yards per game in all of his NFL seasons. 2018 also saw him emerge as a legitimate weapon in the passing game, with 77 receptions for 567 yards and three touchdowns. He had 58 catches for 632 yards in his first two seasons combined.
The Cowboys have a whole host of other stars who need or will soon need paying, from Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper on offense to Demarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones on the other side of the ball. Jerry Jones would have us believe that they can pay everyone, and everyone now. Someone may have to wait, and the fifth-year option will give them another year’s wiggle room with Elliott before they knowingly blow up the RB market. Either way, Elliot will be a Cowboy in 2020.
Sadly for Corey Coleman, there will be no fifth-year option in his future. Coleman lasted a meager 19 games with the Browns, prior to his being released during the 2018 training camp.1 He caught on with the Giants, with whom he caught five passes last season. He has been tendered by the Giants and will play for them or no one next season. But he is well off anyone’s fantasy radar.
Will Fuller – Houston Texans
Ask Deshaun Watson how valuable Will Fuller is to him and the Houston Texans offense. In fact, to save you the trouble,2 let me show you what having Fuller in the lineup does for Watson’s offensive production.
When Fuller has played over the last two seasons, Watson has been one of the most productive quarterbacks on the planet, in this era or any other. When Fuller has been missing, Watson has been good, but not a superstar. Don’t get it twisted, Watson has another WR in DeAndre Hopkins who is one of the best in the business. But Watson’s linkup with Fuller is by far his most productive partnership since he entered the NFL.
Given these numbers, it would seem an absolute certainty that the Texans would want to keep Fuller around for the long term. But remember what I said about the fifth-year salary being guaranteed for injury? Fuller hasn’t played a full 16 game season in any of his three years in the NFL.
His 2018 campaign was cut short after seven games when Fuller tore his ACL, an injury from which he is recovering well. But there must be a nagging doubt in the Texans front office about committing large sums to a player that won’t give them a full year. He may well be facing a fourth-year “prove it” season.
Josh Doctson – Washington
After missing all but two games of his rookie season, Josh Doctson has played in 31 of the 32 games Washington has played in the last two seasons. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice. It should be stressed though that he hasn’t done a whole lot during those games. Indeed, when looking for players who’ve produced at a similar level to Doctson over the last two seasons, it makes for pretty uninspiring reading.
Doctson hasn’t commanded above a 16 percent share of Washington’s targets in either season. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fact that he would leave a $2.5m dead cap charge I wouldn’t be stunned if the team cut bait on him before his fourth season. I’m not saying he’s a bust, but he certainly plays one on television.
Laquon Treadwell – Minnesota Vikings
If I’m going to be critical of Doctson, it is only fair that Laquon Treadwell not escape the same treatment. The Vikings have never shown any inclination towards making him a featured part of their offense. Right from the start, Treadwell commanded a mere three targets in nine games as a rookie. His numbers have gone up since, but he has 20 and 35 receptions in the last two seasons. Compare this to the production, not to mention opportunities, of his teammates Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. It’s almost as if Treadwell is playing a different sport.
Treadwell has four more receptions for the Vikings over the last two seasons than Jerick McKinnon . . . who last played for the team in 2017. In his defense, two distinctly different QBs have run the Vikings offense in the last two seasons. In the case against him, Treadwell was consistently awful regardless of whether it was Case Keenum or Kirk Cousins who was targeting him.
The Vikings are not flush with cap space. They are also in negotiations with Thielen over a new contract. Cutting Treadwell would cost the Vikings $2.5m in dead money, a fact that may inspire them to keep him around for another year despite the fact that he has given them nothing on the field in three seasons.
Like Coleman, Paxton Lynch is no longer with the team that originally drafted him. Lynch was twice unable to win the Broncos starting QB job over Trevor Siemian. He was restricted to four mostly awful starts for the Broncos in 2016 and 2017. In these games, he completed 61.7 percent of his passes. But he amassed 792 yards at a woeful 5.4 adjusted yards per attempt. He was also sacked on an astonishing 12.3 percent of his dropbacks.
The Broncos cut bait with Lynch prior to the 2018 season. He spent the season out of the league. He was signed to a reserve/futures contract by the Seahawks in January. This should ensure that he gets a chance to play himself out of the job of backing up Russell Wilson before he is released again.