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J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jimmy Smith among 2011 first round picks to have 5th year option exercised

NFL teams have until May 3 to exercise the 5th year option on first round picks from the 2011 NFL Draft. We take a look at who has already handled that, and what the 49ers face.

Al Messerschmidt

Fooch's Update - Adam Schefter tweeted out this update:

The 2014 NFL Draft is three weeks away, but a big deadline looms the week before, on May 3. Teams have until that day to exercise the 5th year option on first round picks from the 2011 NFL Draft. That draft marked the first year of re-worked rookie deals. A rookie wage scale was implemented, which provided significant first round pick stability for a low cost. Teams are still going to have busts in the first round, but the cost of doing business has become a lot less.

We are starting to see teams exercise those options. Numerous media members, including Field YatesAaron Wilson and Ian Rapoport reported on quite a few such decisions Thursday evening. You can track NFL national media on this Twitter list. The decisions include the Texans with DE J.J. Watt, the Jets with DE Muhammed Wilkerson, the Ravens with CB Jimmy Smith, and the Chargers with DE Corey Liuget.

Naturally, the San Francisco 49ers have not yet picked up Aldon Smith's option. Tim Kawakami, Ian Rapoport and others report it as "unlikely" or "probably not" going to happen. They can't say for certain, but they are decidedly pessimistic about the 49ers picking up the option. Personally, I disagree. I can't say with certainty that they WILL pick up the option, but I think the chances are better than 50-50.

I was much more confident about it prior to the LAX incident, but that makes things a little less certain. It's not because I think he's going to go to jail because of that. Rather, it's the concern about how the Santa Clara case will be impacted. It's a question of if the judge and DA decide they need to teach the young man a lesson, and throw the book at him, even in plea negotiations. We'll find out more as we approach his April 29 court date. I doubt we have all the answers, but maybe they get it all figured out.

While we will have to wait and see how that plays out, Pro Football Talk actually brought up an interesting point about others on the 49ers roster. Florio was looking at players who might not get their option picked up, and he pointed out that along with Aldon Smith, the 49ers also have QB Blaine Gabbert and WR Jon Baldwin up for their option. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Baldwin Gabbert with the tenth overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, and the Kansas City Chiefs selected Baldwin with the 26th overall pick.

The 49ers will not be picking up either of their options. In fact, we already know the 49ers re-worked Baldwin's deal earlier this offseason to clear some cap space. I'm guessing that in re-doing the deal it more less tore up the fifth year option, but even if not, it's not going to happen.

I do still think there's value to trying to re-work Gabbert's contract into a 2-year deal. He's due a touch over $2 million this year, and then will be a free agent. I don't see why the 49ers don't turn his contract into something like a 2-year, $3.5 million deal, or something along those lines. They get a guy who Jim Harbaugh and Geep Chryst can work with and develop. Maybe he turns into a guy they can trade, maybe he just develops into a solid backup option for now. It's not like Gabbert will be starting anywhere anytime soon, so why not just try and lock him in a little longer. Of course, the 49ers could elect to draft a quarterback this year to develop this year, and to have succeed Gabbert in that backup role in 2015. Or, there's always McLeod Bethel-Thompson!