Chris Wormley was a third-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2017. His original rookie contract was a standard four-year deal that totaled $3,559,644 in value, including a signing bonus of $898,644, all of which still counted toward the Ravens’ salary cap, as signing bonuses did not transfer via trades.
The 74th-overall pick earned a total of $2,725,644 with the Ravens over the course of his first three seasons in the NFL. So how is his 2020 salary cap hit—which is all base salary–$2,133,000? That clearly surpasses the $3.6 million mark that was roughly the total amount of his rookie contract.
If this is a question that you happened to be wondering—how it is that a third-round pick still on his rookie contract is counting over $2 million against the salary cap—it’s because Wormley, like many other players was awarded a Proven Performance Escalator, something that I have written about in the recent past when both Jesse James and Martavis Bryant qualified for it in 2018. Javon Hargrave also earned it in 2019.
If a player plays at least 35 percent of his team’s snaps in at least two of his first three seasons, and he was drafted outside of the first two rounds, then he qualifies for the Proven Performance Escalator for the final year of his rookie contract, which elevates his base salary to the season to the equivalent of the original-round restricted free agent tender. There are other ways to qualify via playing time, but this is the one Wormley registered.
Why did this come about? Well, prior to the implementation of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, played who were drafted outside of the second round received three-year contracts, meaning that they would be eligible for restricted free agency in year four—think Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis.
This gives these later-round players the opportunity to earn that same amount of money. In fact, under the new CBA for 2020 and beyond, second-round picks are now eligible to receive a Proven Performance Escalator Salary.
Wormley was originally scheduled to earn $834,000 under the terms of his rookie contract for the 2020 season. As a result of the Proven Performance Escalator, the Steelers took on a salary cap burden of $1,299,000 more than they had to.
Due to roster displacement, the acquisition of Wormley due to the Proven Performance Escalator went from being just $224,000 to $1,523,000. This no doubt influenced the Ravens’ decision to part with them, subsequently re-signing Justin Ellis and Jihad Ward to cheap one-year deals after acquiring big-money free agents and trade acquisitions in Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers.
And, one would hope, the Steelers’ willingness to take on this cap number was influenced by their belief that he could be more of a long-term fixture within the organization, perhaps succeeding Tyson Alualu as the number three end by 2021.