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Why was Stephone Anthony’s fifth-year option declined?

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins declined to pick up the fifth-year option on linebacker Stephone Anthony’s rookie contract, effectively making the 2018 season the final year on his first deal. Why would the Dolphins trade for Anthony, sending the New Orleans Saints a fifth-year option in this past Draft, then appear to decline to keep him beyond this season? Why would they pick up the fifth-year option on fellow 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker only to decline Anthony’s?

The answer is pretty simple. Money.

Picking up Anthony’s option would have made his 2019 salary around $9.2 million. That amount would be guaranteed against injury as soon as Miami picked up the option. The team would still be able to rescind the option before the start of the next league year, but were the Dolphins ever going to consider Anthony a linebacker worthy of a $9.2 million salary, a salary that would put him among the top twelve of linebackers?

In comparison, the expected $9.4 million for Parker would place him around Pierre Garcon and Marqise Lee in terms of average salary, placing him around 21st in the position’s current average salary.

The value of similar numbers is completely different. The $9.2 million for a linebacker would put him among the elite. The $9.4 million for a wide receiver seems more like an average starter.

Miami has three starters at linebacker right now: Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso, and rookie Jerome Baker. McMillan, entering his second year after being injured for all of his rookie campaign, and Baker should be the foundation of Miami’s linebacker corps for the foreseeable future. Alonso, who is under contract through 2020 with Miami, could be released after this season leading to nearly $5 million in savings for Miami. That could be the position Anthony is trying to fill based on his performance this year. However, Alonso’s “giant” contract extension - as some would describe it - averaged $7.2 million per season for four years and only once exceeded a salary cap hit of $8.3 million in a season (2018 at $9.6 million).

Anthony will be looking to prove himself this year heading into free agency in 2019. He will be looking to prove he can capably replace Alonso as Miami’s third starter if the team wants to move on from the veteran. Even if he proves it, however, Miami will look to re-sign him to a contract lower than a $9.2 million cap hit.

After all, the Saints used the 31st overall pick in 2015 to select Anthony, but were willing to trade him for a fifth-round pick just a couple of years later.

Anthony has potential and has shown that he can be a solid member of the defense. He has not shown he can be a dominant linebacker capable of being a 16-week starter and someone worthy of a near-elite salary. The Dolphins were not going to put that kind of salary on a player that likely will not reach that level of play this season. Anthony’s days in Miami may not be over after this season, but he is not a fifth-year option player, either.