With the 2020 NFL regular season in the books, it is now time to take a look to the 2021 season. When fans typically think of the upcoming season, there are specific aspects of the league calendar which grab their attention. The official start of the new league year, the free agent courting process, NFL Free Agency and, of course, the 2021 NFL Draft.
But there is another aspect of the new league year which often gets overlooked, and that is the decision teams have to make with their first round draft picks. The class of 2018 will be facing the final year of their rookie contract, and first round picks have a 5th year option organizations can exercise, or decline.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will have two decisions to make with two separate players this season. No, the Steelers didn’t make two picks in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but after they traded their 2020 first round pick to the Miami Dolphins for former 2018 first round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, they had two first round picks on their roster.
Two players, two decisions to make.
But before we get into whether the Steelers should, or shouldn’t, pick up these options, it is important to note some changes to the process. This per Pro Football Focus (PFF):
There was a huge change to the option in one respect that could significantly alter team decision-making. Under the prior CBA, the amount was immediately guaranteed for injury only upon exercising the fifth-year option. This meant that a team could exercise the option after the third season, and as long as they released the (healthy) player before the first day of the league year in the player’s fifth season, they were on the hook for nothing ... However, for 2021, the amount is now fully guaranteed when teams exercise these options. Teams now have to make potentially $20 million-plus (if the player is a QB) decisions after just three seasons.
But there are more changes than the ones listed above.
Another new wrinkle that was introduced is how the option amounts are determined for each player. Previously, there were just two set amounts — one for Picks 1-10 and another for Picks 11-32. Now, the first-rounders can increase their option amount by playing a significant percentage of snaps in their first three seasons or, most notably, by getting selected to one or multiple original ballots for the NFL’s Pro Bowl ... A player selected to at least one Pro Bowl original ballot in their first three seasons will earn the full transition tag/tender amount calculated at their position in 2021 as their fifth-year option in 2022. A player selected to multiple Pro Bowl original ballots will have their 2022 fifth-year option amount elevated to the 2021 franchise tag for their respective position.
With the decision to exercise, or decline, the 5th year option being based on Pro Bowl votes, and franchise/transition tag designations, it is important to take a look at what those prices would be by position. You can see those below:
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the Steelers’ two players they will be making a decision on soon. This would be none other than Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. Fitzpatrick has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the Steelers, and Edmunds has been an iron man, as it pertains to snaps played, since his rookie season in 2018.
Will the team pick up their 5th year options? Or will they only pick up one? PFF gave their predictions for both, see what they said below:
PICK NO. 11: MINKAH FITZPATRICK, MIAMI DOLPHINS
PFF grades, 2018-20: 82.0 overall grade (16/144); 83.3 coverage grade (24/144)
Miami’s decision to tank in 2019 is already looking like pure genius, but one move they’d maybe like to have back was trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers. Fitzpatrick didn’t appreciate how he was being deployed within the Dolphins’ defense, but that is clearly no longer an issue in Pittsburgh. This should be a pretty easy decision for the Steelers to make for one of the NFL’s best young safeties.
This is a no-brainer. The only reason the Steelers should even entertain not picking up Fitzpatrick’s option would be if they want to give him a new contract to avoid paying that amount for the 5th year.
Edmunds, on the other hand, is a different question altogether. See what PFF had to say about retaining Edmunds:
PICK NO. 28: TERRELL EDMUNDS, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
PFF grades, 2018-20: 65.3 overall grade (78/144); 64.0 coverage grade (83/144)
Another decision at safety for the Steelers, Edmunds has been a solid complement to Minkah Fitzpatrick. Edmunds excels down near the line of scrimmage and in covering tight ends, which enables Fitzpatrick to be a ballhawk and create turnovers while roaming free on the back end.
This is the point where many Steelers fans will bemoan the thought of picking up Edmunds’ option. Edmunds hasn’t been the ball-hawking safety they all wanted, but with Fitzpatrick in the back end Edmunds is able to be the safety the team has wanted since Ryan Clark departed the Steel City. Edmunds might not be flashy, but he is reliable and has become a very consistent member of the defense.
Keeping both Edmunds and Fitzpatrick is paramount for the Steelers’ defense. It wasn’t that long ago when the Steelers were relying on Will Allen and Ryan Mundy at safety. No one wants to go back to those days, but the real debate isn’t Fitzpatrick, but Edmunds.
Fifth-year contracts were implemented with the signing of the 2011 CBA as a way to keep a player’s rights for a fifth season. It should be noted since the 5th year option was created, the Steelers have only declined the option twice. Those two players were Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns.
The Steelers typically want to keep those who they draft around, and it makes PFF’s predictions seem more realistic.
What do you think? Should the Steelers pick up both options? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.