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Clayton: The lesson from Seahawks not picking up Rashaad Penny’s option

Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny's career has been held back by injuries. (Getty)

No one was surprised at the news Monday that the Seahawks didn’t pick up the fifth-year option of running back Rashaad Penny.

O’Neil: What we learned about Seahawks from their draft picks

Though talented and explosive, his first-round selection in 2018 didn’t work out. Penny has averaged 5.1 yards per carry but only has 161 carriers in three years. Injuries have played a big role – he’s missed 21 of 48 games, and he’s never started even though the chances were there because of injuries to Chris Carson.

Penny has one more year to show his value, but Carson will get most of the Seahawks’ carries in 2021.

The fifth-year option price for Penny wasn’t overly expensive at $4.523 million, but his salary would have to be guaranteed if the Seahawks exercised the option. That was never going to happen.

One thing to remember is playoff teams aren’t really drafting first-round picks. Teams normally have lists of 16 to 20 players with first-round grades. There were 12 playoff teams in a pretty good 2018 draft. Those playoff teams, if they keep their top pick and don’t trade down, are getting players who have a limited chance of making the Pro Bowl, and if a first-rounder isn’t of a Pro Bowl level, their fifth-year option isn’t going to be exercised.

That doesn’t mean that the player is bad, but the number of players taken after No. 21 who don’t get their fifth-year option picked up remains pretty consistent over the past few years. Normally three players from No. 21 to No. 32 get the option each year. The other players usually stay with their club for four years and leave. Some are traded in their third or fourth years.

This year, four first-rounders had their options exercised: wide receivers D.J. Moore (Carolina) and Calvin Ridley (Atlanta), offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (New England) and quarterback Lamar Jackson (Baltimore). Jackson, one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, is the only player from the 2018 first round to go the Pro Bowl.

That’s why general managers like the Seahawks’ John Schneider and Chris Ballard of the Indianapolis Colts are more than willing to trade down into the second round and add more draft choices. If the first-rounder is only with the team for four years and can leave for free agency in the fifth year, the rating of the player taken in the second round won’t be very different from what the player in the first round rates.

It’s become harder to trade down into the second round, though. Remember when Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman spent a couple years trading up from the second round to load up on first-round picks so they could use the fifth-year option to keep the player? That’s not happening much anymore. The Vikings had the 30th pick in 2018 and selected cornerback Mike Hughes, but they didn’t pick up his option for 2022.

Last year, the Seahawks were trying to trade back from No. 27, believing they could move into early in the second round and still take linebacker Jordyn Brooks. Nothing happened. The only team willing to trade up into the first round in 2020 was the Green Bay Packers, who made a deal to pick quarterback Jordan Love, and you see now what a disaster that was. Aaron Rodgers is so fed up with the front office that he says he won’t play for the Packers anymore.

This year, no team that had one of the 14 playoff spots last season traded down from the first round. Fans always criticize first-round picks who don’t work out. They just have to realize those taken after the 19th pick have a limited chance at getting a fifth-year option or a contract extension.

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