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New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple (25) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) but is called for interference during the first half Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Saints won 31-28.

The New Orleans Saints have decided they will not pick up the fifth-year option for cornerback Eli Apple, according to a report Wednesday by Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

As a result, Apple will be slated to be a free agent at the end of this season. The Saints could still bring him back but at a much cheaper price than if the team exercised his fifth-year option.

Friday is the deadline for teams to extend rookie deals and pick up fifth-year options of players taken in the first round of the 2016 draft (in other words, those who have just completed their third season and are heading into their fourth season). Apple was the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft by the New York Giants.

The first 10 picks of the draft earn pay in the fifth-year option equal to the average of the 10 highest salaries at their position. For cornerbacks, that salary is projected to be $13.7 million. In not exercising his fifth-year option, the Saints aren't ready to invest that much into Apple yet for 2020. 

Sean Payton mentioned Apple in March when asked about aspects of this year's team that he is looking forward to watching.

"I think we're going to see more growth and I expect more growth from Eli Apple," Payton said.

Apple will get to go through a full offseason with the Saints this year. The Saints acquired him in a trade in October with the New York Giants to help a secondary that was struggling early in the season. They gave up the fourth-round pick in this year's draft and the seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Apple ended up replacing Ken Crawley as the starter at cornerback opposite Marshon Lattimore. Apple started all 10 games he played for the Saints and recorded 29 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups.

The defense improved during the second half of the season after Apple's arrival. They allowed an average of 27.3 points and 387.8 yards per game during the first eight weeks of the season. But those numbers improved to an average of 16.9 points and 310.4 yards per game during the second half of the season.

Apple is one of two first-round players from the 2016 draft class on the Saints roster.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was the No. 12 overall pick in that draft. The Saints exercised the fifth-year option on Rankins' contract, a source confirmed to The Advocate last week.

Rankins is coming off his best season since being drafted out of Louisville. He finished last season with a career high in tackles (40) and sacks (eight) before tearing his Achilles in the playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Rankins is expected to miss the first part of the season recovering from the injury. The fifth year is guaranteed for injury when the team exercises the option.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said last week that the team is "pleased with his progress."

Unlike Apple, Rankins wasn't picked in the top 10 of the draft. He was picked at No. 12, where the salary structure is different. For players selected with picks 11-32, the the fifth-year salary is the average of the third- through 25th-highest salaries at a player's position. For defensive tackles in that range, the salary is $7.69 million.


Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.