A look at the new Proven Performance Escalators for 2nd Round Draft Picks

One of the stranger quirks of the 2011 CBA was centered around a rookie contract mechanism called the Proven Performance Escalator. Simply put, the PPE provided pay raises to rookies in the 4th year of their original contracts, but only for those selected in the 3rd to 7th Rounds. 1st Round picks benefited from larger contracts with more guarantees, 3rd-7th Round picks had the PPE… and 2nd Round picks had nothing. This arguably made 2nd round picks even more valuable than performance data already suggested they were, which was very valuable.

Per the 2011 CBA, if a 3rd-7th Round Draft pick participated in at least 35% of their Club’s offensive or defensive snaps in 2 of their first 3 seasons, or a cumulative average of 35% over their first 3 seasons, their Year 4 base salary would increase to the lowest RFA tender amount ($2.133 million for 2020).

What this looks like in terms of a pay raise: Larry Ogunjobi of the Cleveland Browns was the 65th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, a.k.a. the first pick in the 3rd round. His 2020 base salary has escalated to $2.133 million as a result of his snap counts over the first 3 years of his career. This equated to a raise of $1,135,206 over his original 2020 base salary. The raise brings Ogunjobi’s total 4-year contract amount to $5,042,448. Ogunjobi, at pick No. 65, will now have a larger rookie contract than picks No. 52-No. 64.

13 Draft picks, almost half of the 2nd Round, will make less than Ogunjobi. In fact, No. 71 overall pick Dan Feeney will now also make more on his rookie contract than picks No. 52-No. 64 as a result of the PPE. Almost 20 picks later than No. 52… more money over the rookie contract.

This obviously made no sense, so with the new CBA in 2020 came a Proven Performance Escalator for 2nd Round picks.

There were many modifications to the PPE system, and there are now Level One, Level Two, and Level Three PPEs. Here is the language from the CBA for the 2nd Round PPEs:

Level One Proven Performance Escalator

Level Two & Three Proven Performance Escalator

Below are these qualifiers broken down as well as the requisite raise:

L1: 60% in 2 of 3 first seasons, or a cumulative average of 60% over the first 3 seasons

  • Raise = RFA Original Round Tender Amount

L2: 55% in each of first 3 seasons

  • Raise = RFA Original Round Tender Amount + $250,000

L3: Pro Bowl in one of first 3 seasons

  • Raise = RFA 2nd Round Tender

So, the new CBA has righted the wrong in some respects for 2nd Round Draft picks. They too are eligible for these PPEs now, beginning with players drafted in 2018 (who would see the raise to their 2021 base salary). While there are three levels now, a player cannot stack PPEs, and will only be eligible to receive one pay raise.

I was curious what it would look like if I ran the numbers from 2011-2017 and retroactively applied the Proven Performance Escalators for 2nd Round picks. First, here are all of the players that hit the thresholds for Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. Because a player that hits Level 1 and Level 2 would just receive the Level 2 raise, I have the Utilization numbers in the bottom column.

There were 221 2nd Round Draft picks in the sample. 91 players, or 41.18%, of all 2nd Round picks would have received a PPE raise. 41 would have received Level One, 39 Level Two, and 11 Level Three. All 44 Level Two qualifiers also hit Level One. Of the 11 Level Three qualifiers, 5 qualified for all three PPEs (Bobby Wagner, Derek Carr, Landon Collins, Michael Thomas, and Juju Smith-Schuster), 4 hit Level One and Level Three (Jamie Collins, Le’Veon Bell, Xavien Howard, and Budda Baker), and 2 just hit Level Three by making a Pro Bowl (Kawann Short and Dalvin Cook).

The Level Three breakdown highlights a few complaints I have with the new PPEs. First and foremost, allowing millions of salary dollars to be dictated by a completely arbitrary, fan-vote-based Pro Bowl is just asinine. Why any player’s union in any sport ever agrees to constructs like that I will never know. Secondly and more importantly, snap counts are not created equal for all positions. Positions like QB, OL, and S routinely play upwards of 95% of snaps in a game/season. On the other hand, RBs and DTs like Dalvin Cook and Kawann Short rarely play 60% of snaps in a game/season. All positions are subject to the same snap thresholds to qualify for these PPEs even though all positions are not utilized the same. Long story short… if you’re a nose tackle playing for a small market team, or a team that struggles in the W/L column even though you are balling individually, good luck qualifying for a PPE.

Below is a breakdown of the actual dollars for each year for each Level:

Over $54 million in raises would have gone to these 91 qualifiers, around $600K each, though obviously they would’ve received individual raises of varying amounts. The largest raise would’ve been $1.7 million for Juju Smith-Schuster, the smallest $141,594 for Coby Fleener.

Here’s a breakdown of PPE qualifiers by team:

I wouldn’t say this suggests certain teams are better at drafting in the 2nd Round than others. Oftentimes teams can be forced to play rookie contract players a lot of snaps because they don’t have a quality veteran at the position. However, obviously good players will breakout early and continue to see high snap counts.

2017 2nd Rounders obviously just missed the cut to qualify for these new Escalators, but many are soon to be in extension talks and haven’t begun their 4th years yet, so technically there is still time. If I were their agents, I would bring this up in talks. Even though it’s a brand new rule, it’s worth arguing about and digging for leverage.

Here are the 2017 2nd Rounders and the raises they would have received:

  • Cam Robinson: $374,982
  • Budda Baker: $1,349,641
  • Marcus Maye: $438,270
  • Dalvin Cook: $1,414,639
  • Marcus Williams: $731,035
  • Zach Cunningham: $972,217
  • Chidobe Awuzie: $747,876
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster: $1,708,849
  • Dion Dawkins: $1,011,559
  • Taylor Moton: $764,979

One final issue I would raise if I were a player/agent is players that don’t see the 4th year of their rookie contracts even after qualifying for a PPE. Two players in this sample, Jonathan Martin and Pete Konz, qualified but then didn’t play in Year 4 in the NFL. Some type of bonus payout, perhaps 1/2 of the PPE, would be a fair way to compensate these players for their service in Years 1-3.

The most players to qualify in a single season over the 2011-2017 sample, as illustrated in the first table, was 15 in 2012. The 2018 class has proven already to be a great 2nd Round class, and will be able to collect these PPEs in 2021. 13 of them already have qualified and 5 others are very likely to qualify barring injury or another issue in 2020. Those 13 players are:

  • Will Hernandez
  • Nick Chubb
  • Darius Leonard
  • Braden Smith
  • James Daniels
  • Courtland Sutton
  • Harold Landry
  • Christian Kirk
  • Connor Williams
  • Jessie Bates III
  • Donte Jackson
  • Brian O’Neill
  • Carlton Davis

Keep an eye out for 2021 to see their raises go into effect.

One final note, while the PPE numbers may seem small on an individual basis, these raises can influence decisions. One such example: Zay Jones qualified for the PPE in just his first two seasons in Buffalo by playing over 60% of snaps both years. Do the Raiders still make the trade for Jones if his 4th year salary was higher? Do the terms change?

Follow me on Twitter @BradOTC