On Thursday we learned that Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner will miss the teams Sunday road game against the Arizona Cardinals due to a shoulder injury he initially suffered back in Week 8. It will mark the fifth full game that he’s missed so far season and it’s unclear how many more he might miss past this weekend. That noted, Conner has a lot monetary incentive to get back on the field sooner rather than later.
Entering the Steelers Sunday game against the Cardinals, Conner has played enough offensive snaps since entering the NFL to qualify for the league’s Proven Performance Escalator and that will likely remain the case through this weekend. However, should Conner miss the team’s Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills, he’ll likely fall just below the percentage threshold required for him to earn a Proven Performance Escalator in 2020 with three regular season games remaining.
As stipulated in the NFL CBA and summarized better by Over the Cap, the league’s Proven Performance Escalator is a fourth-year salary escalator that can be earned by players participating in either 35% of a team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of the player’s first three seasons, or in 35% of all offensive or defensive snaps over his entire first three years. Players eligible for the Proven Performance Escalator will see their fourth-year base salary escalate to the lowest restricted free agent tender for that season.
Conner’s 2020 base salary is currently scheduled to be $758,000 and him qualifying for the Proven Performance Escalator this season would result in that salary jumping to a currently estimated $2.144 million. In short, that’s quite a potential raise Conner stands to miss out on next season should his shoulder injury result in him not qualifying.
According to my current estimates, Conner has played right at 35.9% of all offensive snaps since entering the NFL as a third-round draft pick in 2017. However, since he did play over 35% of all offensive snaps last season, he should just need to hit that 35% play mark this season to qualify for the Proven Performance Escalator in 2020.
So far this season Conner’s played right at around 37.5% of all offensive snaps. In short, and assuming the Steelers stay on course to average around 64 offensive plays a game, Conner will likely need to play roughly 75 more plays in the team’s final three regular season games to qualify for the Proven Performance Escalator.
Obviously, Conner would like to be back on the field sooner rather than later. However, if he rushes back to soon like he did in Week 11 and ultimately re-aggravates his shoulder injury in the process, he will surely miss even more games.