The 2011 NFL CBA created a new salary escalator that allows lower round draft picks to receive an escalated base salary if they reach certain playing time thresholds. The “Proven Performance Escalator” operates to increase the player’s 4th year salary from the minimum salary for a player with 3 years of service time up to a total equal to the lowest Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender.
The 2011 draft class was the first to be able to earn this escalator, but for the Ravens, no one in that draft class reached any of the thresholds. However, out of the 2012 draft class, there is one player who it appears has earned the Proven Performance Escalator – yes, Center/Guard Gino Gradkowski.
When negotiating the new CBA in 2011, one of the goals of the owners (and, to an extent, the NFLPA) was to reduce the compensation paid to draft picks who had yet to play a down in the NFL. The main focus, of course, was to reduce the exorbitant contracts given to high 1st round draft picks, but another measure that was implemented requiring 4-year contracts for all draft picks.
For players drafted in rounds 3 through 7, this meant minimum base salaries throughout the contract while eliminating the possibility of becoming a RFA and earning a higher base salary in the player’s 4th year.
The Proven Performance Escalator was put in place to allow those lower draft picks to make the equivalent of the lowest RFA tender if they performed well. The player’s “performance” is measured by playing time, so the escalator is earned if the player either (1) plays in 35% of offensive or defensive snaps in 2 of the player’s first 3 seasons or (2) plays in 35% of the cumulative snaps over his first 3 seasons.
According to Football Outsiders, Gradkowski has played in over 35% of the total offensive snaps since 2012. Football Outsider’s references the NFL Media website, so it would appear that the following numbers are accurate:
So, while it seems somewhat unbelievable, the fact that Gradkowski played 99.9% of the snaps in 2013 was enough to offset his pretty much total lack of playing time in 2012 and 2014.
Under his contract, Gradkowski was set to make the 3rd year minimum base salary of $660K. Under the Proven Performance Escalator (a real misnomer in Gradkowski’s case), he will make a total equal to the lowest RFA tender. The amount of that tender is too be determined at this point as it is indexed to the rise in the Salary Cap, but early projections by the NFL indicate that the 2015 Cap will be in the $138.6-$141.8M range (although most seem to expect it to be higher).
Using $141.8M as the projected Cap, the low RFA tender in 2015 would be $1.526M.
That would increase Gradkowski’s salary by $866K.
Fear not, though, there is one other factor at play – the Proven Performance Escalator is not guaranteed, so Gradkowski has to make the team to earn it. And, given the ascension of G/C John Urschel, it’s very possible that this increase in salary could mean the end of Gradkowski’s career as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
That certainly is not the result envisioned by the change in the CBA, but could well be the practical result in Gradkowski’s case.
SALARY CAP NOTE: The Ravens have officially carried over $5,791,927 in excess 2014 Salary Cap space into 2015, thereby increasing their 2015 Cap by that amount.