The deadline for exercising the optional fifth-year contract extension for first-round picks from the 2013 NFL Draft is today. As the Los Angeles Rams selected two players in that year's first round, WR Tavon Austin and OLB Alec Ogletree, they have decisions to make on both. Per the Los Angeles Daily News' Vinny Bonsignore, it sounds like one is more likely than the other:
#Rams making 5th year option decisions on Alec Ogletree and Tavon Austin today. Ogletree seems a given, Austin a probable.— Vincent Bonsignore (@DailyNewsVinny) May 2, 2016
The fifth-year salary for the top 10 picks is the transition tender (average of the 10 highest salaries) for a player's position in the fourth year of his contract. With players selected outside of the top 10 (picks 11-32), the fifth-year salary is the average of the third- through 25th-highest salaries at a player's position.
Here's how things look for the Rams' duo:
WR Tavon Austin (8th overall pick)
This is the tougher decision. Optioning Austin would pay him more than $12m for 2017 (an average of the top 10 salaries at the position), a steep price to pay for a WR who hit career marks in 2015 of 52 receptions (t-61st in the NFL) and 473 receiving yards (t-99th).
Two factors complicate things with Austin.
One, his rushing output increased significantly in 2015. In his first two years, Austin combined for 375 yards on 45 carries. In Year 3, he put up 434 yards on 52 carries. That rate made him the team's third most-used back after Todd Gurley and Tre Mason; in fact, Austin ran for 227 more yards than Mason in 23 less carries.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is the overall change in offense the Rams have undergone in 12 months. Out are former offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr., and starting QB Nick Foles. In was starting QB Case Keenum. In will be QB Jared Goff. Rob Boras now has OC duties. And the Rams are bringing, along with Goff and the sea change they're expecting him to bring to the quality of the offense, a host of new wideouts including draft picks Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas.
Austin's role has never been less predictable. And yet the Rams have to make a decision today.
OLB Alec Ogletree (30th overall pick)
Ogletree, on the other hand, is in a bit of a weirder dichotomy. He's got he added question of injury issues after missing 12 games last year after a week 4 ankle injury. Making contractual decisions difficult is that with the departure of MLB James Laurinaitis, Ogletree is the starting MLB if Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead are to be believed...which is always a risky proposition.
Ogletree's fifth-year cost would be just under $8.4m thanks to the pass-rushing linebackers inflating the positional market value.
We know the Rams are committed to Ogletree's long-term participation, perhaps moreso than Austin.
The question is how to evaluate both's long-term market value properly and avoid overpaying a long-term component of the roster while also not risking having key starters leave in free agency.