The Washington Redskins have announced that they have utilized their fifth-year option on quarterback Robert Griffin III, keeping him under contract with the team through the 2016 season. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, first-round draft picks sign a four-year contract with their teams that include a team option for a fifth year. The option works in a manner similar to the franchise tag, paying the player a high salary for a single year - though it is not as high as the actual franchise tag.
For players selected in the first ten picks, the option will pay them the same as the transition tender for their position. Outside of the top ten, the players will be paid the average salary of the third through 25th highest salaries paid at their position. The money is guaranteed against injury (meaning a team could, theoretically, use the option on a player, then cut him without taking too much of a salary cap hit).
The move will pay Griffin, the second overall pick that season, $16.155 million for the 2016 season. First overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, has previously seen his option utilized, also giving him the $16.155 million salary.
This all becomes pertinent for the Miami Dolphins because the next quarterback selected in the 2012 Draft was Ryan Tannehill, who Miami selected with the eighth pick. If the team elects to use the option on him, he would also reach that $16.155 million number for the 2016 season. Thus far, of the picks before Tannehill, only Luck and Griffin have seen the option used, while Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, selected with the ninth pick, joins as the only other player in the top ten to have had the option used on him thus far.
Running back Trent Richardson (trade), wide receiver Justin Blackmon (suspension), amd safety Mark Barron (trade) were all top ten picks, but are not eligible for the fifth-year option.
It has been reported several times this offseason that the Dolphins have been looking to sign Tannehill to a long-term contract, rather than utilize the option, but that has not reached fruition as of yet. Asked about any decision to use the fifth-year option on Tannehill, Dolphins Vice President of Football Operations, Mike Tannenbaum, told reporters this week "Ryan is here, we’re excited he is here, we haven’t made any decisions yet. We know when the deadline is and we’ll make those decisions when we get there. Obviously one of the other axioms you’d like to use this time of year is the tape sets the floor and the character sets the ceiling, and for all of the resources Mr. Ross gives us to put into a player, you want to make sure that player is taking all of those resources and Ryan is just a great example of that."
The Dolphins, and all NFL teams, have until May 3 to make their decision on using the option.
Using the option on Tannehill seems to make the most sense for the Dolphins. They believe Tannehill is the franchise quarterback they have been trying to find since Dan Marino retired, and they are trying to build the team around him. Signing him to a long-term deal is the obvious goal, but placing the option on him does nothing but give them more time to work out that contract. If, somehow, Tannehill falls apart this year, the Dolphins have the flexibility to cut him without any repercussions from the option (assuming it is not an injury based issue).
Yes, $16.155 million is expensive, especially in the same year that Ndamukong Suh will account for $28.6 million against the cap, Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey will both be over $10 million, and Cameron Wake, Jordan Cameron, and Brent Grimes are all $9.5 million or more. That is where the long-term deal comes in, however. Place the option on Tannehill, then workout a new contract over the summer or next offseason, which will lower his cap number for the 2016 season, but give him more money over the life of the contract. (And, ideally, do the same for several of the other contracts mentioned.)
Placing the option on Tannehill makes the most sense for the Dolphins and will likely happen sometime this week. The Dolphins do not want Tannehill going anywhere, and this will make sure that does not happen.