Objective: To compare 5-year change in femorotibial cartilage thickness in 121 young, active adults with an acute anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear randomized to a strategy of structured rehabilitation plus early ACL reconstruction (ACLR) or structured rehabilitation plus optional delayed ACLR. Design: 62 patients were randomized to early ACLR, 59 to optional delayed ACLR. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was acquired within 4 weeks of injury, at two- and 5-years follow-up. Main outcome was 5-year change in overall femorotibial cartilage thickness. Secondary outcomes included the location-independent cartilage ChangeScore, summarizing thinning and thickening in 16 femorotibial subregions. An exploratory as-treated comparison was performed additionally. Results: Baseline and at least one follow-up MRI were available for 117 patients. Over 5 years, a comparable increase in overall femorotibial cartilage thickness was observed for patients randomized to early ACLR (n = 59) and patients randomized to optional delayed ACLR (n = 58, adjusted mean difference: −5 μm, 95% CI: [−118, 108]μm). However, the location-independent cartilage ChangeScore was greater in those treated with early ACLR than in patients treated with optional delayed ACLR (adjusted mean difference: 403 μm [119, 687]μm). As-treated analysis showed no between-group differences for the main outcome, while the location-independent cartilage ChangeScore was greater for patients treated with early (adjusted mean difference: 632 μm [268, 996]μm) or delayed ACLR (adjusted mean difference: 449 μm [108, 791]μm) than for patients treated with rehabilitation alone. Conclusions: In young active adults with acute ACL-injury, choice of treatment strategy for the injured ACL did not modify the magnitude of 5-year change in overall femorotibial cartilage thickness. Trial registration: ISRCTN84752559.