Within the next few months, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must choose whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on the contract of Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans. It likely will not be a difficult decision.
The new collective bargaining agreement to which the league and players agreed in 2011 included a codified setup for draft-pick contracts. All first-round picks now receive a four-year contract with a mandatory team option for a fifth year. That option must be exercised between the player's third and fourth NFL seasons. If it is not, the player will be due to become an unrestricted free agent after his fourth season.
Specifically in the case of Evans, the window for making that decision opened on January 2, the day after the end of the regular season. The Buccaneers have until May 3 to pick up the option, and while there isn't necessarily any hurry, it seems fairly obvious the Buccaneers will do so. Evans is one of only six players in NFL history to open his career with three straight 1,000-yard seasons and he is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. This past season, he was Tampa Bay's most consistent offensive weapon, catching 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ranked in the top six in the NFL in all three categories.
A look back at Mike Evans' 12 touchdowns during the 2016 season.
The Buccaneers have also been free to discuss a contract extension with Evans since January 2. That effort is not mutually exclusive with picking up the fifth-year option; the team could continue to work on an extension even after making that decision.
Evans will likely be the first Tampa Bay draft pick to have his fifth-year option exercised. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the 20th overall selection in 2011, missed most of his second season due to injury and, after his option was not picked up in 2013, suffered a season-ending injury in the 2014 season opener. He signed with Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
The Buccaneers had two first-round picks in 2012 but picked up neither option, as safety Mark Barron (#7 overall) was traded to the Rams in the middle of his third season and running back Doug Martin (#31) was limited by injuries to 17 games over his second and third years combined. Martin later re-signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2016. The team did not have a first-round pick in 2013 after trading it for cornerback Darrelle Revis; Evans was picked seventh overall in 2014.
The most recent class to have a shot at a fifth option year was that of 2013; as noted above, the Buccaneers did not have a pick in the first round that spring. Of the 32 players drafted, 17 had their options exercised, 12 were declined and three were ineligible for the decision for other reasons, such as being previously cut or getting an earlier extension. Twenty players got the fifth-year option from the 2012 draft; the count was 21 from the 2013 draft.