Leonard Floyd and the magic of the fifth-year option

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 24: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants runs with the ball while being chased by Leonard Floyd #94 of the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Soldier Field on November 24, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 24: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants runs with the ball while being chased by Leonard Floyd #94 of the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Soldier Field on November 24, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

If Leonard Floyd plays his 2020 season on the fifth-year option, there are recent examples of players breaking out in this scenario

Money incentivizes people. Whether you are working in the mailroom, a restaurant, or the NFL, knowing that there is a little something extra on the line is always going to bring out the best in someone. So, while many fans look at the $13 million price tag for Leonard Floyd and see an overpriced player, the Chicago Bears see a player incentivized.

Floyd is getting just a taste of what that type of salary would be like. However, he still enters the 2020 season as a potential free agent at the end of the year.

His salary is nice now, but the reality is that Floyd is playing for a lot more than just $13 million this year.

As we have highlighted in the past, the market for edge rushers is high. They are one of the most important positions behind quarterback, and it is hard to find elite ones. So, the good ones get paid more than premium players at other positions.

With that in mind, a big 2020 season for Floyd could result in him seeing life-changing money, and $13 million is just the tip of the iceberg. If you do not believe me, take a look at recent examples of players who entered their fifth-year on the team’s option, but set to enter free agency.

Fifth-year options

The 2011 brief lockout and new CBA introduced us to the fifth-year option. It gave teams a chance to keep their first-round pick under team control for an extra year, but they would have to pay that player like a veteran.

Since then, 25 pass rushers have been drafted in the first round.

Extended before year five

Of those 25, the teams that drafted Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Ziggy Ansah, and Von Miller were extended to a long-term deal at top-level money before they reached their fifth-year option season. These four produced much more than Floyd through four years.


Khalil Mack and Chandler Jones are in an exclusive tier of players who had production similar to the list above. However, they were traded by the team that drafted them before getting extended to top of the market money.


No, this list does not include Leonard Floyd. These are players who did not even make it to year five with the team that drafted them. Heck, most of these players did not make it to year four.

Barkevious Mingo, Datone Jones, Shea McClellin, Bjoern Werner, Jarvis Jones, and Marcus Smith all saw less than eight sacks in their first four NFL seasons. These five were much bigger busts than Floyd, who has 18.5 sacks right now.

Shane Ray had 14 career sacks but was let go, mainly due to off of the field questions including injuries. Ray did not make an NFL roster in year five. Dion Jordan was let go by the Dolphins after a season-long suspension. Aldon Smith had elite production but off of the field issues ended his career early.

Lastly is Quenton Coples, who had 16.5 sacks before injuries saw his stint with the New York Jets end after three years.

So, we have six picks who were clear hits, and these players saw top of the market money. We have ten players who were complete busts, and none of them stayed in the NFL beyond five years.

Floyd is clearly in the middle of these players, so who are the other nine picks?

Fifth-Year Option denied, arguably regretted

For those who want to cut Floyd, these three names are worth keeping in mind.

Adrian Clayborn had 13 sacks in four years, but injuries were his issue. In two of his first four years, he recorded zero sacks, playing in just four games combined. The Bucs had to decline his fifth-year option. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Clayborn went on to have 21 sacks in the following four years, all coming with the division-rival Falcons.

The Seahawks declined Bruce Irvin‘s fifth-year option as well despite having 22 sacks, a bit more than Floyd. However, Irvin played a versatile role and was not considered a great scheme fit. Over the next four years, Irvin had 21.5 sacks, about the same production as he had in his first four. However, in year nine, he had 8.5 sacks.

Whitney Mercilus had 18 sacks in three years, a better rate than Floyd. However, the Texans declined his fifth-year option. Entering free agency, Mercilus had a breakout 12 sack year, a mark that is still his career-high. He forced the Texans to give him a long-term extension in year five rather than let him play on the option.

So, history tells us that if a player has had any success whatsoever in his first four years, the odds are that he is going to have a big year in his next four and that when pressed against free agency, a career-year is on the table.

Best comparisons

Finally, we have the players who entered their fifth season in the NFL on the fifth-year option, without an extension on the table. We saw Mercilus set a career-high in his contract year, how did these pass rushers do in year five?

Melvin Ingram

Ingram had six sacks through three years. However, the Chargers picked up his option and were rewarded with a 10.5 sack year. So, through four years, Ingram had 16.5, two less than Floyd through this point.

On his fifth-year option, he recorded eight sacks. This led to an extension and the next three years resulting in 24.5 sacks. Through four years Ingram had 16.5 sacks, in years 5-8, he had 32.5 sacks. Worth the wait.

Nick Perry

Perry is a tale of caution. After 12.5 sacks, the Packers actually rescinded his option, and brought him back at a cheaper number. The desperation pushed Perry, and he had 11 sacks in his fifth-year, nearly doubling his first four seasons.

The Packers gave Perry an extension, but he had just 8.5 sacks from that point forward. Still, from 12.5 through four years to an 11 sack fifth-year tells you about the desperation of reaching free agency without production.

Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney had 20 sacks through four years, just 1.5 more than Floyd. On the fifth-year option, Clowney put up 9 sacks. The Texans franchise-tagged Clowney and traded him after his fifth season.

Vic Beasley

Beasley had a whopping 29.5 sacks through four years, though most came from an outlier 15.5 sack season. Three years of 14.5 sacks led the Falcons to enter the 2019 season with Beasley on his fifth-year option. Beasley put up eight sacks, but the Falcons do not plan to re-sign him.

Bud Dupree

Bud Dupree dealt with injuries, moving sides, and playing in coverage through four years, something that Chicago Bears fans are familiar with. That resulted in 19.5 sacks through four years, one more than Floyd.

The Steelers bet on Dupree in year five, and Dupree put up 11.5 sacks with his back against the wall, nearly doubling his career-high. The Steelers plan to franchise Dupree.

Dee Ford

Ford had 17.5 sacks through four years, one less than Floyd. He also was carried by a 10 sack year. The Chiefs bet on him in year five and were rewarded. Ford put up 13 sacks and earned the Chiefs a second-round pick after the team franchised and traded him.


Overall, three players have reached career-high numbers playing on the fifth-year option. A fourth is included if you count Mercilus, who played his fourth season on the brink of free agency.

Of players who were on the fifth-year option entering their free-agent year, they averaged 10.5 sacks in that year. All had totals within just a couple of sacks leading up to that year as well.

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The long term results are a mixed bag, as Ingram paid off and Perry did not. Ford and Clowney fetched trade value while the Falcons will let Beasley walk and the Steelers will cling to Dupree. Still, the fact is that all six produced at a higher than average level in their fifth NFL season. When the money was on the line for guys like Clayborn, Irvin, and Mercilus, they stepped up as well.

Will Floyd continue this very clear trend?