MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings exercised the fifth-year options for 2012 first-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith on Monday afternoon, making official a pair of moves that seemed likely for different reasons.
Smith, who was the only player in the NFL with three sacks and at least three interceptions last season, would collect $5,278,000 if the Vikings leave his option intact for 2016. However, it's possible the Vikings will have finalized a long-term contract extension with Smith well before next spring.
The 26-year-old safety, who tied for third in the NFL with five interceptions last season, is turning into a star, and while the Vikings were interested in signing New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty this spring, a league source said the team eventually backed out once the price reached $8 million per year, because it knew it needed to budget for a Smith extension. It's possible the Vikings would roll the fifth-year option amount into a new deal for Smith, but the 29th overall pick in the 2012 draft is clearly in the Vikings' plans.
If Kalil -- the fourth pick in 2012 -- plays on his fifth-year option, he'd earn $11,096,000. And while that's a hefty price for a left tackle coming off two disappointing seasons, picking up the option is a sensible move for the Vikings. The option is only guaranteed against injury before the start of the 2016 league year, and it gives the Vikings another year to decide whether Kalil is worthy of a lucrative long-term deal. Let's say the Vikings hadn't exercised the option, and Kalil had returned to the Pro Bowl form of his rookie season. He'd be preparing to hit the free-agent market at age 26, and the Vikings would either be scrambling to get a long-term deal done without the safety net of an option year, or trying to determine their plan for protecting Teddy Bridgewater's blind side. If the Vikings eventually determine Kalil isn't worthy of a long-term deal, they can simply release him before next season without penalty.
The fifth-year options are low-risk devices for teams to gain another year of control over their first-round picks, and unlike last year -- when the Vikings declined Christian Ponder's fifth-year option -- they have players worth keeping around, either for the foreseeable future or at least another look. Both moves were widely expected because they were so sensible, and now, they're official.