The Brandt Report

Projecting fifth-year options for 2017 NFL Draft's first-round picks

It might seem like the members of the 2017 NFL Draft class were only just initiated into the league, but a key milestone is coming up for those picked in the first round: Beginning December 30, teams can start exercising the fifth-year options on these rookie contracts, with May 30, 2020, the deadline to make their decision.

I've gone through every player selected in the first round below, marking players according to four separate designations:

1) WORK ON EXTENSION. These players have already proven that they are worthy of receiving a new contract extension, which can't be negotiated until after their third NFL seasons (this year) is over. These players teams should work to extend them, making the question of the fifth-year option something of a moot point.

2) PICK UP THE OPTION. These players have proven they should be locked up for a fifth year but haven't yet demonstrated that they should be extended as soon as possible.

3) ON THE FENCE. These players are tough to pin down and could truly go either way.

4) DECLINE THE OPTION. These players have not played well enough to merit the fifth-year option.

Currently on indefinite suspension, Garrett has paid a heavy price for swinging Steelers QB Mason Rudolph's helmet at Rudolph in Week 11. Before that, Garrett emerged as one of the NFL's top defensive linemen, with the second-most pressures in the league (49) through the first 11 weeks of the 2019 season. He was also responsible for 32.2 percent of Cleveland's total team pressures, the highest share of any player in the NFL through that point in the year. As long as the Browns feel Garrett has learned his lesson, I'd have no problem making a mega investment to keep him around for the long haul. It's not as if his price tag will go down upon what I expect will be his eventual reinstatement.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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After a disastrous first half of the season, Trubisky has shown enough promise lately to remain Chicago's starting quarterback entering the 2020 season. For that reason, it's worth locking him in for 2021. But given the prices quarterbacks demand, I'd wait to take the plunge on a commitment that lasts any longer until Trubisky can show more consistency.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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The second defensive lineman drafted in this class was demoted to a backup role in 2019 after two ho-hum seasons, with his failure to emerge playing a major part in San Francisco's offseason decisions to trade for Dee Ford and draft Nick Bosa. After participating in 65.2 percent of defensive snaps in 2017 and '18, Thomas has been on the field for just 41.5 percent in 2019.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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At this time last year, it was fair to wonder if Fournette was going to be playing for the Jaguars in 2019 following a season marred by injuries and on-field fisticuffs. Fournette went to Wyoming to train and has since turned things around both on and off the field, proving to be one of the few bright spots for this team in 2019. Fournette has a career-high 1,152 rushing yards in 15 games and is the only Jaguars player in the last eight seasons to post at least 1,500 scrimmage yards in a single season. This decision is dependent on potential turnover among Jacksonville's leadership, but Fournette has shown himself to be a solid building block.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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This pick was considered a reach back when it was made, and Davis (46 catches, 608 yards and two touchdowns per season) has nothing to dispel that perception since. His production in 2019 is OK, but it hasn't been good enough for the Titans to extend an option that will cost them a projected $15.8 million.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Made famously furious by reports that the Jets were shopping him at the trade deadline, Adams has taken his game to an even higher level in the past few weeks, thanks to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' increasing usage of Adams as a pass rusher. Despite missing two games with a foot injury, Adams has 6.5 sacks in 2019, the most tallied in a season by an NFL defensive back since Roman Harper posted 7.5 with Carolina in 2011.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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Williams has emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats, averaging a whopping 20.5 yards per catch this season, which should be Williams' first with 1,000 receiving yards. Still, I'd like to see a bit more production before extending him.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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No NFL running back features as much in his team's offense as McCaffrey, who's reached rarefied air as a running back; averaging 161 scrimmage yards over the past three games, McCaffrey has 2,294 on the season, most in the NFL and 11th-most in NFL history. He and Larry Centers are also the only running backs ever to post multiple seasons with 90-plus catches. The two biggest concerns about McCaffrey entering the draft were about his durability and his ability to execute between the tackles, but both were dispelled a long time ago. Considering the typical short shelf life of running backs, his agents are likely to push for a long-term extension while the iron is hot.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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Ross can run fast and is tough, but injuries prevented him from making a consistent impact on the Bengals for a third straight season.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told me on SiriusXM Radio last summer that Kansas City began budgeting for a long-term extension for Mahomes shortly after he was drafted. Such planning is prudent, with the 2018 MVP heading toward a contract that will surely make him the highest paid player in NFL history.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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The Saints need a player of Lattimore's caliber in the NFC South, home to high-powered passing offenses that feature the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Tampa, Julio Jones in Atlanta and D.J. Moore in Carolina. Lattimore has just three picks over the last two years (including one this season) after logging five en route to winning 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year -- but he did earn his second career Pro Bowl nod.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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The man who will soon be known as De$haun Watson and Steve Young are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 25 touchdown passes and five rushing TDs in multiple seasons. In Week 16, Watson helped Houston clinch the AFC South title; the next step will be posting his first playoff win.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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The Cardinals tried Reddick in a variety of spots, playing him in three different systems in his NFL seasons. And yet, he hasn't excelled enough at any of them to warrant the option being picked up.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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His heroics in Super Bowl LII, recovering the Tom Brady fumble that helped Philly win the Lombardi Trophy, were considered a sign of things to come, but Barnett has yet to display the kind of growth many expected, with injuries forcing him to miss 10 games in his second season. How much upside the Eagles believe he possesses will determine whether his roughly $10 million option is picked up. There is no one outstanding trait that stands out about Barnett, but he's a great, play-hard-every-down competitor.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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Hooker's tackle totals aren't overly impressive (117 in three seasons, including 51 in 2019), but he's among the best coverage safeties in the league when healthy.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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The secondary is Baltimore's defensive strength, and Humphrey (62 tackles, 14 passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles in 2019) plays a huge part in that.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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This team leader has five sacks in 2019 and is now two tackles away from breaking his single-season career high of 61.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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Jackson, who's been dealing with a foot injury, has yet to break into the ranks of top-tier cornerbacks like the Titans hoped he would following a strong rookie season. After playing 94.1 percent of defensive snaps in 2017, Jackson has dipped to 74.9 in 2019, posting 45 tackles and six passes defensed (zero picks) in 10 games thus far. Even so, it's hard to picture Tennessee cutting bait on a 24-year-old who looked like a future staple of the secondary.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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The Bucs resisted the temptation to move Howard at the trade deadline this year, but that doesn't guarantee his long-term future in Tampa, especially with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich using Howard more as a blocker than a pass-catcher (after averaging 50 targets in 2017-18, Howard has just 39 targets this year). That role likely isn't what general manager Jason Licht envisioned when making Howard such a high pick in 2017, when Dirk Koetter was still the Bucs' head coach. Still, the modest projected cost of keeping Howard (around $6 million) makes it plausible for Tampa to pick up his option.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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Even the offseason addition of renowned offensive line coach Mike Munchak hasn't helped Bolles become the blind-side protector Denver hoped he'd be when drafting him.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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The most disappointing season of Davis' NFL career ended with him going on injured reserve, though his role in the defense diminished before he was hurt. He can't play in space and hasn't shown himself to be the kind of difference-maker he'd need to be to warrant an investment in his future.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Harris has just 3.5 career sacks and was a healthy scratch on one of the NFL's worst defenses over the past two weeks, which should tell you everything you need to know about his future in South Florida.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Injuries have limited him to eight games in 2019, but this matchup nightmare is among the NFL's best pass-catching tight ends when healthy.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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Traded to Houston in 2019.

Conley is a stop-gap option for the Texans, who traded for him before the deadline this year. He'll have a chance to stick in Houston, but likely not on the fifth-round option, which is projected to come with a roughly $10 million salary in 2021.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Traded to New York Giants in March 2019.

Acquired as part of the offseason trade that sent Odell Beckham to the Browns, Peppers displayed improvement this season before landing on IR. It's hard to picture the Giants declining his option if general manager Dave Gettleman is retained for 2020.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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Because they are so hard to find, pass rushers usually receive a long leash, even if their sack totals aren't as high as the drafting team hoped. This is likely to be the case with McKinley (16.5 career sacks), although the possibility of changes at head coach and general manager introduces an element of uncertainty here.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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One of the AFC's top defensive backs has proven to be a better selection than two of the corners picked before him ( Adoree' Jackson and Gareon Conley). A key player in Buffalo's third-ranked pass defense, White is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (six) and ranks third in passes defensed (17).

 **Verdict: OPTION AND EXTENSION.** 
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Waived by Cowboys; signed by Dolphins in September 2019.

Charlton has posted a career-high five sacks this season with the Dolphins since being claimed off waivers, but that's not enough to have his option picked up.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Being declared a healthy scratch by Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens the past two weeks doesn't help Njoku's cause. Neither did the wrist injury that sidelined him for much of 2019. Even so, Njoku possesses the potential for stardom, and that could entice the Browns to take the plunge on the $6 million option.

 **Verdict: ON THE FENCE.** 
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It might be hard for the Steelers to keep Bud Dupree from leaving while also extending Watt, but there is no question Watt is on the trajectory toward a monster deal at some point sooner rather than later. Pittsburgh's sacks leader (14.0) is also the most disruptive player on the Steelers' defense.

 **Verdict: WORK ON EXTENSION.** 
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Waived by 49ers; signed by Washington Redskins in November 2018.

Foster, who spent his third NFL season on injured reserve in Washington after his first two were marred by off-field problems, isn't even guaranteed a roster spot in 2020, let alone a candidate to have his fifth-year option exercised.

 **Verdict: DECLINE THE OPTION.** 
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Considering Ramczyk's superlative level of play since his rookie season, the Saints should be more thrilled than ever that he ditched his initial plans to become a welder rather than resuming his college football career.

 **Verdict: PICK UP THE OPTION.** 
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Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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