Higher is almost always better when it comes to the draft.
No one wants to be in the middle of the pack. The only teams completely satisfied with their picks are the ones at the very top and the team that won the Super Bowl. Everyone else probably wishes they were somewhere else in the order.
The New Orleans Saints probably feel the same way. What picking at 11 means is they’re likely too far away to think about getting someone like Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, who would alleviate many of the issues New Orleans needs to solve on defense, but high enough to still get a good player.
But there might be one reason the Saints are happy with picking 11th instead of, say, ninth or 10th: It will cost less money. And not just in the sense that the 10th pick will likely make more than $200,000 than whoever is picked 11th in 2017. No, there should be significant savings, down the road, when New Orleans goes to pick up the fifth-year (team) option on the player it drafts this year, for the 2021 season.
As Jason Fitzgerald and Vijay Natarajan wrote in the book “Crunching Numbers: An Inside Look at the Salary Cap and Negotiating Player Contracts,” this puts New Orleans in a unique position.
For players selected in the first 10 spots, their fifth-year option is equal to whatever the transition tag tender is in place during the fourth year of the player’s contract. That means the option is worth the average of the top 10 salaries at the player’s position.
For the rest of the teams picking 11-32, the fifth-year option is calculated using the average of the third through 25th salaries at the player’s position. That can lead to significant (cap and cash) savings.
For instance, before he signed an extension, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, was due to make $12.2 million in 2017. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was picked 27th by Houston Texans in the same draft, will make $7.9 million this season on his option.
That doesn’t mean this will be the only consideration, or even a major one when evaluating how to navigate the board. If the Saints see a player they want slip a couple of draft spots, or have a trade offer to move up that makes sense, a few million dollars in a few years won’t stop them from making a move. But the cost benefit of where to select a player will be something general manager Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Payton and cap guru Khai Harley consider as part of their analysis.
The Saints haven’t always picked up the options of their rookies since the collective bargaining agreement was put in place in the summer of 2011. In 2011, first-rounder Cam Jordan (24th overall) had his option picked up, but Mark Ingram (28th overall) did not, though the running back eventually signed an extension.
New Orleans did not have a first-round pick in 2012 but picked up the option on safety Kenny Vaccaro (15th overall), who was selected in 2013. The team will soon have to figure out if it wants to extend his deal.
The Saints will likely pick up the option on wide receiver Brandin Cooks (20th overall), and have until May to do so, but have not yet picked it up.
Next year, New Orleans will have to determine if it wants to pick up the options on its 2015 first-round picks: offensive lineman Andrus Peat (13th overall) and linebacker Stephone Anthony (31st overall).
Higher is, indeed, almost always better when it comes to the draft. But sometimes picking 11th is better than being one spot higher — especially if you still end up with the player you were targeting anyway. And that might be the position the Saints end up in this year.