It was one of the reasons why the Vikings moved back into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater last year. At the draft press conference, general manager Rick Spielman specifically referenced that fact, saying that if Bridgewater pans out as hoped, having the fifth-year option was a valuable chip for the Vikings.
As part of the process of assigning the fifth-year option, it can only come prior to the start of the fourth season the player is entering. The window of opportunity to apply the fifth-year option opened this week and runs through May 3. Already three teams have exercised that option on 2012 first-rounders – Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck, Pittsburgh guard David DeCastro and San Diego linebacker Melvin Ingram.
The question the Vikings have facing them over the next three weeks leading up to and going through the draft is to whether or not they want to impose the option on either offensive tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith or both.
The first year of the fifth-year option exception was last year with the draft class of 2011, which missed out on all offseason activities because the NFL lockout wasn’t resolved until the eve of the opening of training camp. The Vikings had no plans to apply the fifth-year designation to Christian Ponder prior to the 2014 season because, after the draft, Ponder was realistically third on the depth chart.
This time around, it will be a little more difficult. One decision will be easy – give Smith the money or go one step further and sign him to an extension beyond 2016. As a safety, his fifth-year designation would be $5.3 million – a figure that Smith has more than earned in his first three seasons.
Kalil? That may be another story. Offensive tackles are due $11.1 million if the fifth-year option is imposed. Barring injury, the Vikings could simply release him before the start of the 2016 business year (approximately the first week of March or earlier) and owe him nothing, so there isn’t an inherent danger to applying the designation to him. But given the down season Kalil had last year, there is reason to wonder if he’ll get the designation.
The Vikings are new to the fifth-year option party, but starting this month they’re going to be facing it in a significant way over the next few years and beyond. Spielman’s penchant for trading back into the end of the first round has him facing the Kalil/Smith decisions this year, which will be followed by Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson facing the fifth-year option next year and, in 2017, Bridgewater and Anthony Barr would be facing the same thing.
The NFL has started the process in earnest, headlined by Luck being given $16 million in hopes of getting a long-term deal signed, sealed and delivered to assure that he will remain with the Colts for the foreseeable future.
The Vikings still have three weeks to make the business decision. One seems like a done deal, handing over a Haliburton full of cash to Smith. As for Kalil, the jury is still out.
We’re likely not done with the fifth-year options being handed out, since the first round of the 2012 draft includes Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin, but the Vikings will have two decisions to make.