- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the NFL news lately, you've no doubt seen a lot about fifth-year options for players drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. This is a new phenomenon, because it's part of the CBA that went into effect in 2011 and governs players drafted that year. The rule in question states that every player selected in the first round of the NFL draft, starting in 2011, has an automatic fifth-year option added to his contract. The team has to decide by May 3 of the fourth year whether to exercise the option. At the time it's exercised, the option becomes guaranteed only against injury until the first day of the option-year season, at which point it becomes fully guaranteed.
So the reason you're seeing news about guys like J.J. Watt and Tyron Smith getting their options picked up (and about whether the 49ers will do the same for Aldon Smith) is because May 3 of this year (a little over two weeks from now) is the deadline for the decision on guys picked in the first round of that 2011 draft. The Texans picked up Watt's option for 2015. They can still work on a long-term deal with him in the meantime, but they at least know they have him under their control for a fifth year if they want him, which they surely do.
The New York Giants player to whom this applies is cornerback Prince Amukamara, who was selected with the No. 19 pick in that 2011 draft. To this point, the Giants have not made a decision about Amukamara's option, and it's not a slam-dunk decision.
For players drafted after the top 10, the option-year salary is the average of the third through the 25th highest-paid players at that player's position from the prior year. Working off of 2014 salary numbers, I estimate that figure to be about $7.13 million for cornerbacks. So if the Giants wanted to, by May 3 of this year, they could exercise an approximately $7.13 million option on Amukamara for 2015.
Tough call. That number is slightly higher than the average annual salary on the contract of fellow Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whom Tom Coughlin described last month in no uncertain terms as the team's new No. 1 cornerback. Amukamara is a good player, but if he were on the market this offseason it's hard to imagine he'd have been paid according to that option number. So the Giants have to make a decision about a player they like at a price that's likely too high for him.
What helps them is the nature of the option-year guarantee at this point. It's guaranteed only against injury. So if they pick up the option and Amukamara has a healthy but otherwise not-so-great season, they could still cut him prior to 2015 and not be on the hook for the money. They also could continue to talk to him about a long-term deal in the meantime, especially if they get into the 2014 season and like what they see.
The Giants like Amukamara. He plays hard, is a sound technician, keeps himself in shape and pays attention to detail. But they also brought in a bunch of new cornerbacks this year. Walter Thurmond, for instance, is in on a one-year deal, but it's not out of the question that they could get to the end of 2014 believing Thurmond is a better choice than Amukamara is going forward.
Players such as Watt and Tyron Smith are easy calls -- Pro Bowl caliber guys who are delivering big returns on their teams' first-round investments. Players such as Christian Ponder and Danny Watkins are easy calls the other way -- no chance those options get picked up. But Amukamara falls into a gray area as a player who's played well but hasn't necessarily cemented himself as a must-keep, franchise-cornerstone player. My guess is they pick up the option and hope he does that this year, while all along keeping open discussions about an extension at a more reasonable rate.