NFL teams have started to exercise their fifth-year options on 2012 first-round picks. The headliner is Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick that year and now the franchise quarterback for the Colts.
The Vikings will soon have to make decisions on a pair of players in Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil.
Picking up the option on Smith, who was a Pro Bowl-caliber safety in 2014, is a no-brainer. The Vikings will have a tougher call on Kalil, who has regressed since making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
In case you need a refresher on these fifth-year options, they are only available for teams to use on first-round draft picks. In the case of Kalil and Smith, the Vikings have the ability to keep them around through the 2016 season. Their fifth-year salaries — $11.1 million for Kalil and $5.3 million for Smith — would only be guaranteed in the event of injury. So if a healthy Kalil struggles, they can simply cut him before the 2016 league year and won’t have to pay him a dime of that $11.1 million.
The deadline for teams to exercise the option is May 3, the day after the draft wraps up.
I recently chatted with Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes for CBS Sports, for another story I’m working on. While I had him on the phone, I asked him about the fifth-year options for Kalil and Smith. He agrees that Smith is a lock, but he’s curious to see how things play out with Kalil.
“Which Matt Kalil are you exercising the option for: the rookie year Matt Kalil or the one we saw the first part of last year? I guess that’s why it’s a decision,” Corry said. “It would be kind of hard not to since it’s not guaranteed unless there is an injury.
“So maybe you exercise it and take a wait-and-see approach,” he continued. “And if he isn’t what you thought he was — a cornerstone guy who is going to anchor the offensive line — then you don’t keep him after the 2015 season or you try to work out something for a lower salary in 2016 instead. You have more flexibility by exercising it. Because what if he puts it all together and lives up to his potential? Then you’re looking at the franchise tag, which would be more than the option.”
Last year, the first year that the fifth-year options came into play, the Vikings declined to use theirs on quarterback Christian Ponder, another young player who wasn’t living up to his draft status.
The expectation is that things will be different with Kalil and that they’ll exercise his option.