The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to keep cornerback Vernon Hargreaves around for at least two more seasons.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers officially exercised the fifth-year option in Hargreaves' initial NFL contract, which would cover the 2020 season. He was the team's first-round pick in the 2016 draft, and since the new CBA was put in place in 2011 all first-round picks have received four-year deals with a team option for a fifth season. Each team must choose whether to pick up that option before the player's fourth season. The specific deadline to do so this year was May 3.
This is the third year in a row in which Tampa Bay has picked up that option on the relevant first-rounder, having done so with wide receiver Mike Evans in 2017 and quarterback Jameis Winston last year. Evans subsequently signed a new long-term deal with the Bucs last March, while Winston is heading into his option year this fall.
Those were relatively easy decisions for the franchise. The Hargreaves one might have taken a little more deliberation, simply because injuries have limited him to 10 games over the past two seasons. In a somewhat similar situation, the Buccaneers did not exercise the fifth-year option on their 2011 first-round pick, Adrian Clayborn, after Clayborn had spent almost half of his first four seasons on injured reserve.
However, new Head Coach Bruce Arians has indicated strong confidence in Hargreaves, expecting him to thrive as a press corner in the team's new defense. In addition, Hargreaves was performing well in training camp and at the beginning of the regular season last year before a shoulder injury in Game One pushed him to injured reserve.
The decision to pick up Hargreaves' option might have been made a bit easier for the Bucs by the minor trade they made during the first round of the 2016 draft. Tampa Bay went into that evening in possession of the ninth-overall pick but then traded with the Chicago Bears, moving down two spots to number 11 before selecting Hargreaves. A player selected among the top 10 picks get an option-year salary equal to the average of the top 10 salaries at his position the previous year. Players selected outside the first 10 picks of the first round get the average of the third through 25th-highest salaries at their position.
Hargreaves played and started all 16 games during his rookie season and showed promise as the season progressed, finishing with 76 tackles, one forced fumble, nine passes defensed and one interception. He was slowed by injuries and suffered from inconsistent play in 2017, eventually landing on injured reserve after nine games, in which he produced 42 tackles and five passes defensed. He had seen tackles, a forced fumble and a pass break-up in the opener in New Orleans last year before sustaining his season-ending shoulder injury late in the game.
Prior to the last three years, the Bucs had not picked up a fifth-year option under the new CBA rules. Clayborn, noted above, was their first opportunity. They had two first-round picks in 2012 in safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin, but Barron was traded to the Rams prior to the option decision and the team declined to pick up Martin's fifth year, though he was subsequently signed to a second contract. The Bucs traded their 2013 first-round pick to get veteran cornerback