While the 2016 NFL draft made headlines last weekend, Monday, many teams had to decide whether to exercise the 5th-year option on first-round draft picks from 2013. The Green Bay Packers had to make their decision about Datone Jones and the Packers, wisely, declined the option.
If you are unfamiliar with the 5th-year option, it’s essentially a team option to add a year to the original rookie contract and it’s guaranteed for injury. Meaning if the player is unable to play in 2017 due to injury, his contract for that season would be fully guaranteed.
If the player isn’t injured, the deal becomes guaranteed at the start of the 2017 league year, which is generally around the beginning of March.
Datone Jones isn’t a bad player, but the Packers were correct to decline his option. For starters, in his three seasons, he simply hasn’t been that productive. Since being picked in the first round by the Packers in 2013, Jones has in 44 of 48 possible games and has a total of eight sacks.
The chance that his contract could be fully guaranteed for $8 million next season if he were hurt, is just too great a risk for the Packers to bear. Jones hasn’t necessarily been a bust, but his long-term future on the team is far from secure.
For all intents and purposes, the move means that Jones will be a free agent after the season. It makes 2016, a prove it year for Jones and maybe that will be a good thing for the Packers.
It’s possible that Jones was miscast as a 3-4 defensive end coming out of college. Green Bay has shifted him into the elephant role, which means playing more as a stand up outside linebacker. The move could be a good one. Jones is a good pass rusher and it allows him to showcase what he’s best at.
And just because the option is declined, doesn’t mean his days are numbered. The Packers did the same thing to Nick Perry last offseason. In 2015, Perry finished the season strong, with 3.5 sacks in two playoff games and Green Bay gave him a one-year deal worth $5 million to give him another year to prove he’s worth a big-money contract.
Jones will have that same opportunity. In fact, it’s possible he and Perry are competing for the same contract. It seems unlikely that Green Bay would give both players big deals. It’s possible, but more likely that one would be kept over the other, even if they both have good seasons.
Regardless, the Packers were smart to decline Jones option, but it doesn’t mean they are giving up on him. He will be given every chance to prove his value this season and it will be up to him to take advantage of it.