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Sylvester Williams and the 5th year option

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since the CBA of 2011, all drafted rookie NFL players receive 4 year contracts, but players selected in the 1st round of the draft are subject to a 5th year option at a predetermined set price if their teams choose to exercise that option.  That choice must be made after the end of each player's 3rd regular NFL season, and before May 3rd of each player's 4th season.  That deadline is rapidly approaching for the 2013 first round picks including Denver Broncos' DT Sylvester Williams.

There is a 2 tiered system for determining the price of the 5th year option.  For players selected in the top 10, the price is equal to the price of the transition tag for players at the same position for each potential "optionee's" 4th year.  For players selected between #11 and #32 inclusive, the CBA describes the price as being the average of the 3rd through the 25th highest "salaries" (meaning cap hits) for that position in the player's 4th year,  In reality, it appears that the NFL averages those 23 salaries over a 5 year period as a percentage of the salary cap for each of those 5 years, and then multiplies that average by the current cap.  I'm not sure where I'd find all those numbers, and I'm not currently feeling all that mathematically inclined, but through the modern marvel called the internet and with credit given to cbssports, I don't have to in order to share some information.  If the information I found is correct, the cost of the 5th year option for Sylvester Williams for 2017 will be $6.757M if the Broncos choose to exercise that option.  If they do, the money will be guaranteed for injury, but not for skill or cap considerations until the first day of the 2017 NFL League season, on or about March 8, 2017 when it would become fully guaranteed.

Now that the background information has been presented, it's time to consider the pros and conts of using the 5th year option on Sly.  For purposes of determining the price of the 5th year option, transition tags, and franchise tags, the manner in which the NFL currently classifies player positions doesn't account for differences in roles, schemes, and teams.  A DT is a DT, regardless of whether he's an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 D, a 2 gap space occupying mountain of a NT in a 3-4 D, or something in between.  But I think we all have a clue that outside of the constraints imposed by franchise tags, transition tags, and 5th year options, different roles tend to get paid very different amounts of money.

I'm going to use some numbers from overthecap to illustrate the point I'm trying to make.  They show the more or less current top 5 average salaries for 3-4 DTS ranging from $3.75M (Letroy Guion) to $5M (Jaye Howard).  The top 5 average salaries they show for 4-3 DTs range from $10M (Kyle Williams) to $19.06M  (Ndamukong Suh).

I originally thought that using the 5th year option for Sly was a no brainer, After all, he's a relatively young player in his prime years, and while I wouldn't describe him as a superstar, he's solid at what he does, and just had the best year of his career with Wade and Kollar coaching him.  I also naively thought that the 5th year option was generally going to be a bargain for any decent 1st round player selected outside of the top 10.  Looking at numbers has changed my tune.  If the current highest average per year dollars for a 3-4 DT is $5M, $6.757M doesn't look like a bargain deal for Sly to me.

Maybe the Broncos would be better off to let him play out his current contract, and then consider trying to re-sign him to a competitive long term deal, or else replace him with a draft pick or a cheaper free agent, and hope for a future comp. pick.