Fifth-year options expected to be exercised for 2011 draft class

USA TODAY Sports

Players drafted during the 2011 NFL draft are entering their fifth-year. And if they were selected in the first-round, they were screwed with a fifth-year team options, agents say.

The Cincinnati Bengals will have a decision to make soon.

As we've pointed out before, the deadline for the Bengals to trigger A.J. Green's fifth-year option will be May 3. The rule, adopted with the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, requires all draft picks to sign four-year contracts with first-rounders having a fifth-year team option built-in.

Players selected in the top-ten will get a number similar to a transition tag (average of the top-ten salaries at that player's respective position). Players selected No. 11 through No. 32 would get a fifth-year number that would average the top-25 salaries at that player's respective position.

If Cincinnati picks it up, they'll have to pay Green a contract similar to a transaction tag -- plus it's fully guaranteed with injury. Last year, the transition tag for wide receivers is $8.8 million. Just don't expect anyone to exercise the fifth-year option until the deadline, because any injury that's suffered from now (offseason workouts) until May 3 is guaranteed if the option is triggered.

According to a handful of NFL General Managers and or salary cap specialists, writes Jason Cole with the National Football Post:

...all of them said they expect almost every player from the first round in 2011 to be tendered for a fifth year in their contract rather than sign a long-term extension this year. Simply put, a system that was advertised as a way to reward players who perform has instead turned into leverage against the players.

The irony is that Cincinnati could use the franchise tag in year No. 6 if an extension can't be reached.

Agents, who are directly affected by compensation levels due to the prevention of having long-term deals, hate the new system.

"The (NFL Players Association) sold the best players in the draft down the river," one agent said via the National Football Post. "And the worst part is they don’t understand the ripple effect. If star players like Newton, Peterson and Watt don’t get paid, how is anybody else supposed to get paid? You base the value of contracts on what the stars make and work your way down."

To me, there is something to that perspective. However, as it stands today, we expect the Bengals to trigger the fifth-year option at the last minute prior to the May 3 deadline, avoiding the fully guaranteed language in the fifth-year deal if there's an offseason injury (that just makes sense).

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