Ever since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, drafted NFL players have received four-year contracts. The contracts for first-round picks, however, include team options for a fifth year. The team has to exercise that contract option by May 3 of the contract's fourth year, which is why you saw a bunch of headlines on Monday about players who were drafted in 2018.
If you follow the NFL closely, you're used to this. This is, after all, the eighth draft class to which this has applied. But since not everyone does follow that closely, and because the new CBA the players and teams agreed to in March 2020 made a couple of key changes to the fifth-year option process, we thought we'd hit you with a short explainer on what this is all about.
Are these fully guaranteed salaries?
Yes, starting this year with the 2018 class. In previous years, the fifth-year option was guaranteed only against injury at the time it was exercised, then it converted to a full guarantee once the following league year began. So you could pick up a player's fifth-year option in May but still cut him the following March as long as he was healthy. The Titans did exactly that with 2017 first-round pick Adoree' Jackson, who had his fifth-year option picked up last May only to get released just before free agency opened this March. (Weep not for Adoree', by the way. Days later, he had a three-year, $39 million contract with $24.5 million guaranteed from the Giants.)