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Jaire Alexander and where the NFL’s fifth-year options stand

Cornerback Jaire Alexander isn’t the only player looking for a new deal this summer.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport claimed that the Green Bay Packers are still interested in the veteran receiver market, which brings us back to the elephant in the room: cornerback Jaire Alexander’s upcoming contract. Generally, when teams use salary cap wizardry to move around cap hits and free up cap space without releasing players, it comes almost exclusively from converting a player’s salary into a signing bonus, which gets spread over multiple years. Alexander, who is playing on a fifth-year option, is the only player with a base salary of over $5 million this year for the Green Bay Packers, set to bring in $13.3 million, meaning he’s the last big card the team has to play if they’re looking to add significant salaries this offseason.

One would think, though, that the team would already have gotten a deal done considering the motivation to lock down the 25-year-old All-Pro, right? Just how concerning is it that Alexander doesn’t have an extension already? Are we headed for another Davante Adams situation where deadlines demand that the Packers make a decision, one way or another?

To answer these questions, and maybe ease your nerves, let’s take a look at where the other 2018 first-round selections are at in their extension processes.

First of all, 10 first-round picks from 2018 did not even have their fifth-year options picked up: QB Josh Rosen, LB Leighton Vander Esch, OL Billy Price, LB Rashaan Evans, TE Hayden Hurst, RB Rashaad Penny, SAF Terrell Edmunds, DL Taven Bryan, CB Mike Hughes and RB Sony Michel. Five others, CB Denzel Ward, QB Josh Allen, OL Kolton Miller, DL Vita Vea and WR D.J. Moore, have already signed long-term extensions with the teams that originally drafted them.

That leaves 16 other first-round picks from Alexander’s class in the same boat as him: slated to play on a fifth-year option without a long-term extension in hand. With that being said, each situation is a little different. It’s hard to compare Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley or Sam Darnold, the top three picks in their draft class, and their situations, with their teams seemingly having no motivation to extend them, to Alexander’s. The same can also be said of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who is currently suspended for the season for allegedly gambling on NFL games.

That leaves 12. If you’re a Packers fan, or Alexander’s agent, the names you’re going to want to highlight this summer are EDGE Bradley Chubb, OL Quenton Nelson, LB Roquan Smith, OL Mike McGlinchey, SAF Minkah Fitzpatrick, DL Da’Ron Payne, EDGE Marcus Davenport, SAF Derwin James, OL Frank Ragnow, OL Isaiah Wynn and QB Lamar Jackson. When those players start signing deals, that’s when you should start getting worried about Alexander actually having to play out his fifth-year option or the team having to get his contract off the books to get under the cap.

Davenport’s situation is particularly interesting, as the New Orleans Saints added four void years onto his fifth-year option, meaning that he’ll only have a cap hit of $3 million this season despite making $9.6 million in cash. New Orleans will then have to account for the remaining cap dollars in the future. The Saints are particularly aggressive when it comes to void years, they practically invented the mechanism, but it’s not something that general manager Brian Gutekunst has been shy about, either. At this point, all options should be on the table.

As far as Alexander’s compensation goes, the easiest comparison is the contract Ward received, a player from his own draft class. Ward set the new ceiling for the cornerback position in terms of guarantees, just nudging past the Los Angeles Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, on a five-year, $100.5 million contract worth $44.5 million guaranteed that will see him make $60 million over the first three years of the deal. Ward’s cap hit, on the first year of this extension, is $5.04 million, about one-third of Alexander’s option number.

According to cap analyst Ken Ingalls, who does a great job of tracking every dollar of the Packers’ accounting on Twitter, the team needs to shed north of $1 million to get under their effective salary cap for the upcoming season. That is not accounting for a hypothetical signing of another veteran receiver, as Rapoport suggested.

Currently, the Packers have $10.8 million in cap space according to Spotrac, though the numbers are going to get tighter when rookie contracts are finalized and the Rule of 51 expires the week before the regular season, the deadline when teams are forced to account for their 53-man roster, injury list players and practice squad players for the remainder of the season.