The end of each NFL season brings a new wave of critical decisions for franchises across the league, one of them being whether or not to exercise the fifth-year options on the team’s previous first-round draft selections. With the current collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams must make this decision after a player’s third season in the NFL. At that point, there is enough of a sample size in many cases to feel confident about that decision. But with the new standards for tiered fifth-year options based on availability and performance on the field, there is certainly more strategy to making that executive decision than there has been in years past.
But not all fifth-year option choices are a decision at all. Some are slam dunk opportunities to lock in the young stars of today with the promise of an accomplished career in one uniform.
But others are, simply put, ready for a fresh start. Other first-round picks, such as two from the 2019 first-round are doomed to not even have the choice made for their fifth-year option. In that year’s class, quarterback Dwayne Haskins and cornerback Deandre Baker have seen their contracts terminated.
But which members of the 2019 NFL Draft are destined to join them and not see a fifth-year option picked up? No matter how the 2021 NFL season goes, these three talents feel like they’ll see their respective teams pass on their option.
OT Andre Dillard (No. 22 overall)
Through Dillard’s first two seasons in the NFL, he’s only allowed four total sacks and logged one penalty. Not bad… until you realize he’s only taken snaps on 183 passing plays in his NFL career. Not great!
Dillard missed the entire 2020 NFL season and his rookie year in 2019 was a disaster. He allowed four sacks and 25 pressures during those 183 snaps in the passing game and of offensive lineman to account for 20% of pass attempts or more taken on the season, Dillard was credited by Pro Football Focus with the worst pass-blocking efficiency in the NFL.
Dillard is now penciled in as the starting left tackle for Philadelphia in 2021 and will need a herculean effort to convince the Eagles to exercise his fifth-year option. Some inspiration for the Eagles may come from the case of Denver’s Garett Bolles—a frustrating first few seasons led to the team declining his fifth-year option, only for Bolles to ball out in 2020 and earn himself a contract extension worth $68M over four seasons. Such a path feels like a safer course of action for the Eagles and Dillard no matter how he plays in 2021.
SAF Johnathan Abram (No. 27 overall)
Abram has struggled to live up to the expectations that come with being a first-round draft choice to this point in his career; his play pales in comparison to the resume of Green Bay’s Darnell Savage. But Abram has bigger worries ahead of him than matching the expectations of a fellow alumni from 2021—Abram’s own team drafted three separate safeties in the first four rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft! The Las Vegas Raiders landed TCU’s Trevon Moehrig in the second round, Virginia Tech’s Divine Deablo in the third round (a potential linebacker), and Missouri’s Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round.
Tell us what you really think of Abram while you’re at it, Jon Gruden.
Could Abram change the narrative around his play in 2021 and manage to convince the Raiders to give him a fifth-year extension? Possibly. Especially when considering the financials for a safety versus some of the other position groups across the league. But the Raiders’ message is quite clear: It is now or never for Abram and there’s been no indication to this point that the revival is coming.
WR N’Keal Harry (No. 32 overall)
The New England Patriots have been rumored to be shopping Harry for a while now and the fact that he’s still under contract with the Patriots seems to serve as quite the indictment of his market. If (and this is a big if) Harry is to see his fifth-year option exercised, it would unlikely be by the Patriots but rather by a team that goes on to acquire his services before that decision must be made.
The Patriots overhauled their entire pass-catching unit this offseason, adding two tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry while also adding wide receiver Nelson Agholor. But the biggest domino that assures Harry’s fate may yet to come: the presence of Julio Jones looms over New England along with several other NFL franchises.
Harry’s big breakout feels unlikely and adding Jones to the mix would further whittle away his target share in the Patriot’s offense—and so his odds of being extended feel fleeting at best.