Wednesday marked the deadline for NFL teams to pick up the fifth-year options on their 2014 first-round draft picks. Like in most years since the fifth-year option has been in effect, most of the 2014 first-round draft picks have had theirs exercised: 23 in total. Three players -- both of Cleveland's draft picks (cornerback Justin Gilbert, No. 8 overall and quarterback Johnny Manziel, No. 22) and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley (No. 29) -- have since been released. But six players had their fifth-year options declined, though they remain on their respective teams' rosters for the 2017 season.
So who are these players and what do the moves mean for the upcoming year?
1. OT Greg Robinson (Rams, 2014 Pick No. 2)
Robinson was, at the time of his signing, supposed to be the long-term blindside protector of then-starting quarterback Sam Bradford. But Bradford is gone, the Rams have since moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles, Jared Goff is their starter under center and Robinson's career has taken a rocky turn.
In 46 games (42 as a starter), Robinson has given up 17.5 sacks (including seven last year) while amassing 35 penalties, including 20 for holding and 11 false starts. He was Pro Football Focus' 71st-ranked offensive tackle for 2016 (out of 78 eligible players) and has since seen his job go to free agent signing Andrew Whitworth, a Pro Bowler who signed a three-year, $33.7 million deal to take over for Robinson.
This does not necessarily spell the end of Robinson's tenure with the Rams. They will still need him this year, likely making him their starting right tackle and, barring that, guard. That could open the door to a new contract in a year's time if that position switch results in improved on-field production -- and one that would likely cost the Rams or any team less than the $12.496 million that the option would have paid him in 2018.
2. WR Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills, 2014 Pick No. 4)
The tale of Watkins is a prime example that first-round draft picks are never sure-things. The Bills moved up five spots in the draft to pick up the wideout (losing three picks, including a 2015 first-rounder in the process), believing him to be the centerpiece of their passing offense. Instead, injuries have derailed his career and will need both a productive and healthy 2017 in order to get a second contract from Buffalo or elsewhere.
Watkins has appeared in 37 games over three years. Though a starter in each, only as a rookie did he ever appear in all 16 contests over a season, and even then he was hurt, playing through broken ribs. His most productive season, 2015 (60 catches, 1,047 yards, nine touchdowns), was also marked by injuries, including shin and ankle ailments and a broken foot, which cost him three games. He also had hip surgery in the 2015 offseason.
That foot continued to bother Watkins in 2016, limiting him to just eight games. He had a second surgery to correct the damage in January and the expectation is that he will be ready to hit the field by the time training camp begins.
But training camp is only the beginning of what is a crucial 2017 season for Watkins. Being healthy is the first goal but staying that way is the key to keeping his status in Buffalo and managing to recoup at least some of the $13.258 million he would have earned had the Bills exercised his option. Their choice to not do so makes sense, though; another season-ending injury would have put Buffalo on the hook for that money no matter what.
3. CB Kyle Fuller (Chicago Bears, 2014 Pick No. 14)
Injury was the biggest factor in the Bears opting not to take on cornerback Fuller's fifth-year salary, a price tag that would have totaled just over $8.5 million for 2018. It certainly seemed like Fuller had talent over his first two seasons, with 118 combined tackles, six interceptions and 19 passes defensed. But a knee procedure last summer led Fuller to spend all of 2016 on injured reserve. And now with Prince Amukamara, plus Marcus Cooper, another free agent signee this offseason, Fuller may not be able to crack the starting lineup even if completely healthy.
The good news is that if Fuller can take the field again this year and prove he hasn't lost too much of a step, a new contract in 2017 could be a lucrative one given the kind of paydays veteran cornerbacks have seen as free agents in recent years. But there is competition ahead for him and coaches and a front office that could be on their last legs. A chance for Fuller to prove himself during the 2017 season may never come.
4. S Calvin Pryor (New York Jets, 2014 Pick No. 18)
If the writing wasn't on the wall for the Jets safety when his name began being linked to trade rumors as early as last December -- and which have persisted for months -- then it certainly was after the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Jets used their first two picks on safeties, LSU's Jamal Adams in Round 1 and Florida's Marcus Maye in Round 2 -- in attempts to build up a secondary that was the team's biggest defensive liability a season ago.
Pryor simply hasn't panned out in a defense that has changed identity from a Rex Ryan-led squad when he was drafted to a more aggressively takeaway-oriented under head coach Todd Bowles. In 44 games, he's had 190 combined tackles, but only two interceptions and 14 passes defensed and has been marginal at rushing the passer, recording only .5 sacks. He was ranked 74th among the 90 safeties graded by Pro Football Focus in 2016.
With performances like that combined with the arrivals of Adams and Maye, there's simply no home for Pryor in New York's starting defense. Though he'll doubtlessly see playing time this year in certain packages, it's clear that unless something drastic happens involving the two rookies and Pryor's snap count during the 2017 season that his playing days in 2018 will be with some other team.
5. LB/DE Marcus Smith (Philadelphia Eagles, 2014 Pick No. 26)
The Eagles' decision to not pick up Smith's fifth-year option is pretty straightforward -- the pick just simply didn't work out and paying him over $8 million for a 2018 season with him still on the roster does not make sense. In fact, Smith may not even be on the team once it is whittled down to 53 players prior to Week 1.
Smith, brought in as a pass-rushing linebacker in what was then the Eagles' 3-4 base defense, has never marked a start in his three seasons. Though he appeared in eight games as a rookie, he also didn't notch a sack until his second season, when he had just 1.5. Moving to defensive end in 2016 under new coordinator Jim Schwartz didn't help matters, either; Smith had 2.5 sacks last year.
For a player drafted specifically to rush the passer, his four career sacks and just 18 combined tackles is not a promising stat line, nor is the fact that he hasn't cracked the starting lineup. Smith is now, at best, a third-stringer on the Eagles' defensive line and will be spending his summer fighting for a roster spot.
6. QB Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings, 2014 Pick No. 32)
Perhaps the most devastating injury of the 2016 season happened before any games had ever been played. Just days before the season was set to kick off, Vikings quarterback Bridgewater suffered a serious knee injury on a non-contact play during a late August practice. His left ACL was torn, the knee dislocated and other damage sustained. The believed quarterback of the future, for whom the Vikings traded back into the 2014 Draft's first round to select, would have to wait to play his third season.
Days after the injury, the Vikings traded for the Philadelphia Eagles' Sam Bradford, a quarterback with an injury history of his own. But there was no other option, with the season starting in mere days. Bradford played well in 2016, completing 71.6 percent of his passes and throwing 20 touchdowns to five interceptions; he remains under contract for the 2017 season and should serve as the starter yet again.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater has been trying to work his way back and to get back on the field at some point in 2017. But the Vikings had no choice in the interim than to not pick up his fifth-year option, which have been worth $12.198 million for 2018. According to a source who spoke with USA Today's Tom Pelissero, "Bridgewater is still not healthy." Picking up Bridgewater's option when he could spend another year on injured reserve would have made that option money fully guaranteed, something the Vikings just could not accommodate.
There is nothing but uncertainty surrounding Bridgewater's ability to play in 2017 and where he could do so in 2018 and beyond. Though he's at least present for the team's voluntary workouts does not mean that a return to the field is imminent. It's an unfortunate situation for the promising young passer, who had a two-year completion percentage of 64.9 percent, threw 14 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons and who decreased his interception total from 12 to nine from 2014 to 2015.
It appears that October will be the earliest that we'll have any clear picture of what could be ahead for Bridgewater (and his chances to re-sign with the Vikings). As of now, he's set to open the year on the physically unable to perform list. But given the severity of his injury, him playing football anywhere at any point in the future will be a great development. But also given its severity, it also makes sense why the Vikings had no choice but to pass on his fifth-year option this week.