December 31, 2018 brings a close to a dismal year in Jets history. The day also begins the decision making process for the New York Jets 2016 draft class.
Beginning today and ending May 3, 2019, the Jets can exercise the fifth year option on Darron Lee’s contract. Lee was the 20th selection in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft. All first round selections in the NFL get four year contracts, with a team option to extend the contract a fifth year. First round selections outside of the top 10 picks have a fifth year option salary equal to the average salary of the third through 25th highest paid players at their position. The class of 2015 fifth year option salary for inside linebackers, payable in 2019, was approximately $9.3 million, so we can expect the class of 2016 fifth year option salary for Darron Lee to be somewhere around $10 million or so. The Jets will need to determine whether Lee is worth that salary by May 3, 2019, or forfeit the fifth year option. Fifth-year options are guaranteed for injury only between May 3, 2019 and the start of the 2020 league year in mid March. As such, as long as the player remains healthy, a team could exercise his fifth-year option, then cut him before his option year gets underway without being on the hook for his salary. When the 2020 league year begins in mid March, however, the player’s fifth-year salary becomes fully guaranteed. If the fifth year option is not exercised Lee will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019 league year in mid March, 2020, unless the Jets work out an extension with him prior to that date.
Today is also the first day teams can extend the contracts of 2016 draft picks. The Jets other 2016 draft picks still with the team include Jordan Jenkins, Brandon Shell, Lac Edwards and Charone Peake. It has been general manager Mike Maccagnan’s practice not to extend players on rookie deals until the last moment. However, given the amount of cap space the Jets have in 2019, it is unlikely they will be able to wisely spend it all in free agency. As such, if the new coaching staff likes any of the 2016 draft picks and believes they have a long term future with the team, this would be a good year to break with prior practice and sign such players, if any, to long term deals.
Finally, today is the first day teams can sign undrafted free agents from the 2017 draft class to extensions. The only notable name here is offensive lineman Ben Braden, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster this year.