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2 Steelers who could cash in on the Proven Performance Escalator in the new CBA

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In the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed this offseason, the NFL improved their program to increase the salaries of high-performing players on their rookie contracts

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After nine years of finally wrapping your head around the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the owners and the players up and agreed on a new 456 page document. For most fans, they do not care about the CBA or what is in it as long as there is no work stoppage because of labor strife for the next 11 years. For outliers who enjoy lawyer jargon and diving deep into the depths which makes the NFL fun, the new CBA has been a treasure trove of newfound goodies.

Proven Performance Escalators (PPE) are designed to give an increase in salary to drafted players who are deemed to have outperformed their draft position. They have been around since the 2011 CBA, but its formula for the newest CBA has transformed in favor of players. You might not be familiar with this feature as the vast majority of players eligible for it did not obtain it. Before diving into which Steelers could benefit from the rules changes, let’s look at what changed in order to now make them eligible.


2011 Proven Performance Escalator parameters

Players who qualify are third through seventh round draft picks on their original rookie deals. If a player gets waived and passes through waivers unclaimed, his rookie contract is nullified and he is no longer eligible for the PPE. Undrafted players are not eligible either.

A player must play in 35% of the team’s offensive or defensive snaps, two of his first three years or accumulation of 35% for the first three years total.

If a player accomplishes the above, they receive a raise in their fourth season to the lowest Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender. ($2.133 million in 2020)

The problem with the quirk is third rounders were making more than thirteen of the second round picks as second rounders were not eligible for PPE. First rounders were fine being left out as they saw huge salary jumps because of clubs picking up their fifth-year options.


2020 Proven Performance Escalator parameters

Now there is a three-tiered system. Players now receive a non-negotiable raise in their fourth season if parameters are met.

Level 1 PPE:

Second round picks must play 60% of either offensive or defensive snaps in two of the first three years or 60% of snaps cumulatively for the first three years or

Third through seventh round picks need to hit 35% of the above to qualify.

Raise: RFA original round tender minus any prorated signing bonus money.

Quirk: All eligible 2017 third through seventh rounders are eligible for Level 1 PPE. The raise will only be the difference between original round tender and the players salary minus prorated signing bonus.

Level 2 PPE:

Second through seventh rounds are treated equally.

Must play 55% of offensive or defensive snaps in EACH of the first three seasons.

Raise: Original round tender plus $250,000 minus prorated signing bonus money.

Level 3 PPE:

Second through seventh rounds are treated equally.

Selected to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot in one of their first three seasons.

Raise: Second round tender minus prorated signing bonus money.


What does the above mean for current Steelers?

2017 Draft Class

Because James Conner did not play much in his rookie season and injuries the past two years, he missed out on the escalator by around 20 offensive snaps in 2019. He lost out on about $1.2 million.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was a second-round pick and ineligible, but if he fell within the new CBA, he would have gained another $1.7 million in salary.

2018 Draft Class

James Washington needs to hit 60% of snaps in 2020 to hit the Level 1 escalator for 2021. Currently he has a 2021 base salary of $1.1 million.

Mason Rudolph played in 52.4% of the snaps in 2019 and the only way he can secure an escalator would be to make the Pro Bowl in 2020. His 2021 base salary is $1.1 million.

2019 Draft Class

Diontae Johnson hit 65% of offensive snaps in 2019 and needs to continue that pace to get a lucrative raise in 2022. His base salary in 2022 is $1.1 million.


How much are the future Restricted Free Agent tags? This is where things get all tricky as the RFA tags increase by 10% ONLY if the NFL salary cap rises. The second round tender for 2020 is $3,259,000 and the original round tender is $2,133,000.

The changes to PPE is just one of the myriad of changes to the NFL CBA that will govern the league for the next 11 seasons. The pay raise is a superb way to compensate players for performance heading into their final year of their contracts while they work on negotiating a long-term deal. Jesse James and Martavis Bryant are two former Steelers who have been rewarded in the past.

Do you think Washington and Johnson both receive the escalator? Are there any other players from 2019 who can wiggle their way into the 2020 lineup and be in line for PPE in 2021? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.