Weighing Whether Or Not to Exercise Fifth-Year Options on Davis, Jackson

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – Jon Robinson has more than just the 2020 NFL Draft to consider in the coming weeks.

The Tennessee Titans general manager also has to think about the 2017 NFL Draft. Specifically, he must decide whether to exercise his option to give first-round draft picks Corey Davis and Adoreé Jackson a fifth year on their rookie contracts. Their respective 2021 salaries under that condition are determined by where they were drafted and established salaries for the position they play. Without a doubt, they will provide a significant increase in pay, if given.

For teams like Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), Houston (Deshaun Watson) or Carolina (Christian McCaffrey), the decision looks like a no-brainer. That is not the case for the Titans.

“We’re still working through those [options],” Robinson said recently. “We’re still kind of plotting and planning. When you’re dealing with the cap, you’ve got this year’s cap and then you’ve got to try to look at next year’s cap. We’ve got to plan at least two, maybe three – it gets a little hard when you get beyond three, but [we are] just looking at how all of those decisions will impact us.”

The deadline for teams to decide whether to exercise their fifth-year options on 2017 first-round picks is May 4.

A look at what the Titans might consider, and what they might decide with Davis and Jackson:

COREY DAVIS, WR (fifth overall)

Projected fifth-year salary: $15.8 million

Pros: There is no question about Davis’ athleticism or the fact that he is a good teammate. Coaches talked often last fall about key blocks he made in the running game. But his primary job is to be a significant factor in the passing game. Following an injury-plagued rookie season, he led the Titans with 65 receptions for 891 yards in 2018. Over the past decade, only three players (Delanie Walker, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington) have had more receptions in a season and only five (Walker, Wright, Washington, A.J. Brown and Rishard Mathews) have had more receiving yards. In other words, he has shown he can be productive.

Cons: Brown surpassed Davis as the Titans’ No. 1 receiver in 2019 and there is no reason to think that will change anytime in the next two years. The best Davis can hope is to close the gap, become a more of consistent option and reduce the number of games in which he has two or fewer receptions (six last season, including three straight at one point). He not been enough of a factor when it comes to scoring points. He has just six touchdowns for his career and has scored in consecutive games just once.

Conclusion: No fifth-year option. Robinson set an important precedent last year when he opted against the fifth year for Conklin. It is not that he didn’t want Conklin back in 2020, it was that the price tag was too high given that he already had given massive contracts to left tackle Taylor Lewan and left guard Rodger Saffold and a big one to center Ben Jones. Overall, Davis is a guy worth keeping, but not at that price (the only position with a higher fifth-year option is quarterback), especially if the Titans get a quality wide receiver in the draft – and by all accounts every team is going to get a quality wide receiver in this draft.

ADOREE JACKSON, CB (18 overall)

Projected fifth-year salary: $10.0 million

Pros: His transition to the NFL went much smoother than Davis’. He started all 16 games as a rookie and 23 of the 27 he has played since. His 39 career starts are fifth-most among cornerbacks drafted in 2017 and he leads that group with 167 solo tackles, which is an important number at a position where players often end up one-on-one in the open field with the offensive player who has the ball. He is also fifth among his draft class with 33 passes defensed.

Cons: The idea when Jackson was drafted was that he would be a difference-maker on special teams as well as on defense. His flawed decision-making and execution cost him the job as a punt returner early last season and there is no reason to think he ever will return to that role. Also, the best-case scenario would have been for him to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback by now. Instead, he lost playing time on defense last year, and the last time he intercepted a pass was Oct. 7, 2018. He is not exactly a guy whose mere presence discourages quarterbacks from throwing in his direction.

Conclusion: Jackson gets the fifth-year option. He is not yet a cornerstone of the defense, but Logan Ryan remains a free agent and is unlikely to return, Malcolm Butler is 30 and coming off an injury and the Titans haven’t drafted a cornerback since Jackson. They’re likely to select one this year, but that won’t be enough to make anyone think they can do without Jackson. Plus, $10 million for a fifth-year guy at that position is exactly what the Titans paid Ryan each of the last three years, the first of which was his fifth in the NFL. In 2021, therefore, that won’t feel like a hefty price.