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Should the Buffalo Bills pick up Josh Allen’s fifth-year option in 2021?

We’re one year away from a major decision for the Bills’ front office

By May 3rd of 2021, fans of the Buffalo Bills will know a lot about the team’s future. Sometime between the end of the 2020 regular season and that date, the Bills will need to decide whether they will exercise the fifth-year option of Josh Allen’s rookie contract. Or not. I have some opinions on the matter, so get ready to shout at me in the comments.

Before we begin, there are two basic principles that drive the conclusions below. The first is that I’ll be basing my decision off of two seasons of data and some educated guesses on how the third season might go. The second principle is that the Bills have routinely demonstrated that they will put a value on each position and stick to it. Combining the two thoughts, will Josh Allen’s value match the cost?

Josh Allen’s fifth-year option will be the equivalent of the transition tag, or the average of the top-ten salaries at his position during his fourth year. There’s bound to be some fluctuation between now and then, but here’s a handy link to if you want proof that this means Allen’s fifth year will come with a sizable price tag north of $17 million. That narrows the scope of our question. If the cost is bound to be massive will Allen’s value mirror it?

I’m going to cut to the chase and make many of you angry with me well before the conclusion. I don’t think Josh Allen’s first three years in the league are going to be good enough to warrant the large fifth-year price tag.

I won’t turn this into a stat dump, but if you’re so inclined, make sure to check out the links sprinkled throughout this paragraph courtesy of Pro Football Reference. Being objective, whether you like volume or efficiency metrics, Allen’s first year was really bad. Bottom of the league in nearly every category bad. In his second year, he did make a pretty sizable jump. That big jump placed him between average and bad in most pertinent categories.

In order to justify a large price tag, Josh Allen would need another major jump, and that’s where my confidence falters. There’s a lot to like with Allen going by the eye test, but at some point that also needs to translate to production we can measure. Regular readers know I always add layers of data to the mix, and this becomes the dilemma. Allen very closely followed my best crack at a statistical model to predict his growth from year one to year two. If take two of the predictive model is similarly accurate, it means Allen’s production will remain relatively stagnant from year two to three.

It’s a simple equation at its roots. Allen’s fifth year would pay him like a top-ten quarterback. That is drastically out of line with his current output on the field and the current best guess that I have. As evidence suggests as well, overpaying for a quarterback likely has an impact on your odds to win a Super Bowl.

There are certainly counterarguments. That Allen has “it,” with “it” being the fabled “clutch gene.” Or maybe it means he’s a “dog” or “baller?” To be fair, I think all those things are true of Allen. But don’t try to sell me on fourth-quarter comeback statistics. They’re not a real quarterback stat. Comebacks depend too much on the defense stepping up, the other ten on offense executing, and more. They’re a team stat, not a Josh Allen one. If we’re really getting into the nitty-gritty of it too, Allen is roughly 50/50 when it comes to winning one-score games.

And you won’t convince me that the fourth-quarter comeback is superior to the “fourth-quarter maintaining a lead.” Poise late in a game is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong. But again, at some point these traits need to translate to consistent production. Fourth-quarter Allen needs to be four-quarters Allen. To date, that hasn’t been the case.

There are reasons I can point to why I might be wrong as well, and believe me I want to be wrong. A major issue for Allen was deep-ball accuracy—a problem that I attributed a great deal of fault to his receivers. Stefon Diggs could be what the doctor ordered. I’m making my guess today though and the “could be” scenarios aren’t guaranteed enough for my taste.

But here’s the funny thing: I would exercise the fifth-year option for Josh Allen. I stand behind my prediction that he will not have justified the price tag of the hypothetical fifth year at the conclusion of the coming season. However, I do think he has already justified his current salary and value to keep him through four years. In Allen’s case, there’s no reason to lose the good faith and negotiating leverage that comes along with the option year.