Teams must exercise players’ fifth-year options, who were first-round picks, a week from today — May 3rd. We’ve already seen teams like the Browns exercise options on Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward, two obvious choices to keep for an extra season. With the Falcons, their situation is a bit different. I don’t think they will, or should, announce their fifth-year option decisions until after the draft; by doing that, they could risk tipping their hand and forecasting their plans with the fourth overall pick.
With Kyle Pitts likely to be on the board, I think he’s the right pick for the Falcons, and it shouldn’t affect their decision regarding Hurst. However, patience is a virtue, and there’s no rush to make an announcement. Keep in mind; these options don’t affect the salary table for 2021; the cap hits are for 2022, as Hurst and Ridley were drafted in the 2018 first-round.
Let me go ahead and save my breath here; Terry Fontenot will undoubtedly exercise Calvin Ridley’s fifth-year option unless an extension is in place. He’s expressed his interest in signing an extension on Twitter before, and you have to imagine even with a new regime, that interest is mutual. Typically there is a schedule used for early predictions, but Calvin Ridley’s number falls under the “playtime” chart via OverTheCap:
Playtime: These players will be eligible for a fifth year base salary calculated from the average of the 3rd to 20th highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons, provided that their snap counts over their first three seasons meet one of the following three criteria:
- 75% or greater in two of their first three seasons
- an average of 75% or greater over all three seasons
- 50% or greater over all three seasons
If Calvin Ridley had made a Pro Bowl, his fifth-year option would cost the Falcons $14,340,000 in 2022. Being snubbed from the Pro Bowl, however, his cap hit will cost Atlanta $11,116,000 in 2022 — if he plays on a fifth-year option. That’s fairly reasonable for Ridley, but I doubt he will be extended right now with a new regime in place. As a fan, I’d like to get it done as quickly as possible.
This is where things get tricky. As I mentioned, even with Kyle Pitts possibly in the fold, I think the Falcons should absolutely exercise Hurst’s fifth-year option. Arthur Smith loves to use a ton of tight ends, and right now, Lee Smith, Jaeden Graham, and Ryan Becker are the only options outside of Hurst on the roster. Jaeden Graham could develop as a vertical threat; Lee Smith is mostly going to serve as a blocker, and I imagine Becker will do the same if he makes the team. The position lacks a long-term answer.
According to Warren Sharp, since the NFLPA and NFL introduced the fifth-year option in 2011, no tight end has ever had their fifth-year option declined. It’s worth noting that only a handful have been selected since then, but Hurst could potentially break that streak. I don’t see it happening. Since he served largely as a reserve in Baltimore, Hurst doesn’t get the same “playtime” destination that Ridley would get.
Basic: Players who do not meet any of the requirements below will be eligible for a fifth year base salary calculated from the average of the 3rd to 25th highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons.
If Hurst had met that requirement, his fifth-year option would only cost $6,021,000. With Hurst only getting the basic destination, his cap hit for 2022 would be $5,428,000 if the option is picked up. Even though Hurst is not a very good blocker, I think his upside is certainly worth that cost, especially when you consider the Falcons gave up a second-round pick for him and Arthur Smith has a great track record with getting the most out of his tight ends.
I could see the Falcons not guaranteeing his fifth year, but I think for the price with the salary cap expected to rise — it’s an easy decision to bring him back for 2022 on a cheap deal. He could really make some waves in 2021 under Arthur Smith and earn himself an extension, even if Kyle Pitts is a Falcon on Thursday.
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