In 2011, when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was signed between the players (NFLPA) and owners (NFL), there was a new stipulation added to contracts of players who were selected in the first round. It was called the 5th year option.
At that time, this gave NFL teams an opportunity to have a 5th year of contractual control over their top picks in the NFL Draft. It was up to the team to pick up the option, or decline it and let the player’s contract expire after four years.
At its inception, the 5th year option was based solely on draft position. The higher you were drafted, the more money your option would cost the organization. However, after the most recent ratification of the CBA, the 5th year option is now based on other metrics. Not just position, but snaps played and honors like Pro Bowl and All-Pro.
In other words, the more you played, and the better you were, the more money you would make if the team picked up the option. Here is a breakdown of those numbers for the upcoming group of eligible first round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, via Albert Breer of Sports Illustrate:
Fifth-year option totals for 2020 first-round picks have been distributed to teams. Here are the numbers for the four different categories—deadline to pick up the options is the week after the draft. pic.twitter.com/T0r91eEUvl— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 7, 2023
Considering the Steelers traded their first round pick in the 2020 draft to the Miami Dolphins in 2019 for Minkah Fitzpatrick, this will be the first year since the 5th year option was instituted that the team won’t have a decision to make this offseason.
Here is a look at the first round picks the Steelers have had since 2011, and who had their option picked up.
2011: Cam Heyward
2012: David DeCastro
2013: Jarvis Jones *
2014: Ryan Shazier
2015: Bud Dupree
2016: Artie Burns *
2017: T.J. Watt
2018: Terrell Edmunds * / Minkah Fitzpatrick
2019: Devin Bush Jr. *
2021: Najee Harris
2022: Kenny Pickett
* - 5th year option not exercised
Obviously, when it comes to Najee Harris and Kenny Pickett the team will have to deal with those decisions in the coming seasons. Not this one. However, it is also worth noting how Terrell Edmunds’ option was not picked up was largely based on the fact the team had two first round picks on their roster after the Fitzpatrick trade. To pick up both options would have been a poor financial decision based on the salary cap.
Without having to make a decision on a 5th year option this year, the Steelers can now look at their upcoming free agents and start the process of creating space to make some moves when the new league year starts on March 13th with the first day of legal tampering. In the meantime, try not to look at the list of players who didn’t have their option picked up after their first four years with the organization — it’s depressing.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the rest of the NFL offseason.
For more on this story, check out the latest episode of the new Steelers Update podcast (only 5-7 minutes) in the player below: