A weighty choice: Mingo’s fifth-year option

Mingo tips an Andy Dalton pass in 2013. Will added weight help him become a consistently disruptive force this year?

The lament upon the loss of so many unrestricted free agents has echoed from within and without the walls of Berea: we should’ve re-signed those folks a year ago.

It’s true. The team’s best bargaining position is heading into the contract season, not after it, when all the player has to do to maximize his value is sit tight and hit the open market in March. Maybe reasonable deals weren’t there to be had, but I can’t help thinking that RT Mitchell Schwartz and S Tashaun Gipson in particular should’ve been high priorities for long-term extensions a year ago. The same logic applies to Jabaal Sheard and Buster Skrine the year before.

So looking forward, the new front office must aim to not repeat this type of mistake; i.e. letting home-grown talent walk away to play their prime years elsewhere. And now they must take on this sea change with the infuriatingly curious case of OLB Barkevious Mingo.

Clearly he has underperformed what you’d expect from the sixth-overall pick. Part of that is due to injury, and probably a good part of it can be attributed to the fact that 2013 just wasn’t a good draft class at the upper echelons. The top 17 picks have produced a total of two Pro Bowl seasons.

Other factors include the defective defensive scheme he was stuck with under Jim O’Neil the last two years and, of course, the prima facie notion that Mingo is just too skinny to wreak havoc as a pass rush threat and edge-setter against the run. But now…

Good point, except not all the coaches are new. Ray Horton returns as his defensive coordinator, and it’s under his attacking scheme that Mingo put up five of his seven career sacks as a rookie.

Even the official site is turning its editorial eyes toward Mingo, so it’s safe to say that he’ll be among the most-watched returnees as the off-season program convenes next week. The Browns will have an interesting choice to make soon concerning the fifth-year option. Here’s the deal:

  • If they don’t exercise their option for 2017 by this May 3 (three days after the draft ends), Mingo’s rookie contract will end after this season, and he could become an unrestricted free agent.
  • If they exercise the option, Mingo, as a former top-ten draft pick, would be paid the transition tag figure in 2017. That’s the average of the ten highest-paid players at his position. For linebackers, it’s $11 million already, and headed north.
  • Let’s say they pick up the option and Mingo gets seriously injured this year. If he can’t play in 2017, the salary is still guaranteed.
  • If he could play but the Browns don’t want to keep him around at that price, they could either try to negotiate an extension or they could release him before the start of the next league year in March 2017, when the option year salary would be fully guaranteed.
  • If he leaves as an UFA after the natural expiration of his contract (be it four years or five), he’d potentially count toward a compensatory draft pick a year later. If they exercise the option and then release him, he wouldn’t.

So what’s the bigger risk? That they pick up the option, he blows out a knee, and they pay some $12 million for nothing? Or that they decline, and then Mingo shows enough on the field to become a hot free agent commodity, and he becomes another 26-year-old departure?

Tough call. That’s why they’ll be watching him closely in April and evaluating their options at the position in the draft. I’m leaning toward picking up the option, as most teams do, since injury is the only real downside. But clearly Mingo will have to step up his game in a serious way to make the most of his NFL career potential. Let’s hope that he does, and he does it in the brown and orange.

By the way, the Browns’ other potential UFAs after this season are

And a year from now, if he’s still on the roster, the Browns will have the same fifth-year option choice to make on CB Justin Gilbert.