In the NFL, every first-round draft pick's rookie contract has a team option for the fifth year, allowing teams to hold on to their top young players a little longer without having to work out a long-term deal. May 3 is the deadline for teams' decisions on whether they'll pick up the options of their 2015 first-round picks. Some teams have already announced that they are picking up the options—such is the case with obvious candidates like Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans, and Brandon Scherff of the Washington Redskins. Others, like the Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley, will surely see their options picked up in due time. But some players are not such easy cases.
The third overall pick in 2015, Fowler missed his entire rookie season with an injury and has had off-field issues during his NFL tenure, including a bizarre incident in which he broke a man's glasses and threw his groceries into a lake. While it may seem like a no-brainer to decline Fowler's option based on that information, the 23-year-old also managed 8.0 sacks last season on just 464 snaps, and we all know that NFL teams place a premium on players who can get to the quarterback. Further complicating matters, however, is that Fowler struggled against the run last year. If Fowler can keep his head on straight and stay healthy, he clearly has the talent to be an impact player, but with a loaded defensive line, the Jaguars may opt to decline Fowler's option.
Drafted 12th overall by the Cleveland Browns, Shelton was traded to the Patriots last month for a third-round pick. Shelton had missed just two games through three NFL seasons and is a disruptive space-eater against the run at 343 pounds, but he doesn't offer much as a pass-rusher (1.5 career sacks) and played just 469 snaps last season as more of a rotational piece. The team also has another 2015 first-rounder in Malcom Brown who has played well on the defensive interior and is likely to have his fifth-year option picked up.
Armstead struggled through his rookie season after being drafted 17th overall, generating just 2.0 sacks in 16 games. He drew rave reviews in 2016 training camp but then hobbled his way through the next two seasons, missing 18 games due to injury. He drew solid, if not spectacular, grades from Pro Football Focus last season, making a solid impact as both a run-defender and pass-rusher. With his injury history, however, the 49ers may want to decline his option, as Armstead's fifth-year salary would be guaranteed in the event of an injury.
Considered by many to be a top-notch talent coming out of Missouri, Ray slid to No. 23 in the draft due to off-field concerns. The thought was that if he could keep his head on straight he'd be an impact player, but Ray hasn't quite lived up to expectations through three seasons. He did manage 8.0 sacks in 2016, but he has just 4.0 sacks in his other 22 games. He missed the first half of last season with a wrist injury and was dreadful upon his return, grading out as Denver's worst edge defender. There is still some talent there, but character concerns, injuries, and ineffectiveness could outweigh the potential for the 25-year-old (in May) to finally bloom.
Humphries came out of the University of Florida with exciting talent but some injury concerns, and the concerns have been well-warranted thus far in Humphries' NFL career. The 24-year-old has played just 18 of a possible 48 games since being drafted 24th overall, making it tough for the Cardinals to pick up an option on him that is guaranteed for injury. Humphries was decent in 2017, excelling against the run, but the Cardinals should be looking to upgrade on the blind side, especially with their quarterback, Sam Bradford, seeming better suited for a china shop than a football field. Humphries' injury history makes the fifth-year option seem like a bad idea, but the 24-year-old could be an impact player if his health cooperates, and the Cardinals need all the talent they can get at the offensive tackle positions.