A few years ago, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to extend rookie contracts from three to four years, allowing teams to retain a player's rights for an extra season. As a compromise for extending the time before a player can reach free agency, both sides established a performance-based escalator system that would financially reward fourth-year players who were key contributors during their rookie contracts.
For the Detroit Lions, that means the players from their 2018 draft class could receive increases to their fourth-year base salaries if they meet the requirements.
Here’s how it works. There are three levels of qualification in which a player can land, based on their draft slot, percentage of team snaps played, how many years they played at that level of snaps, and if they received any NFL honors (like being selected to the Pro Bowl).
As a first-round pick, Frank Ragnow has a team-held fifth-year option on his contract and therefore does not qualify for any performance escalators.
Kerryon Johnson, the Lions’ second-round pick, needed to average at least 60-percent of the Lions offensive snaps in two of the team's last three years. But with the running back rotation firmly in place, he fell short of the benchmark and also doesn’t qualify for a performance escalator.
In order for the remaining draft picks—players selected in rounds three through seven—to qualify for the first tier of the player performance escalator, they need to have played on at least 35-percent of plays in two of the last three seasons. Tiers two and three have very challenging benchmarks, and only 16 players league-wide were able to qualify, none of whom were Lions.
Tracy Walker, the Lions third-round pick, played 73.5 percent of snaps in 2019 and 67.1 percent in 2020, meaning he qualifies for a first-level performance escalator. His 2021 base salary will increase from $920,000 to $2.183 million, bringing his new salary cap figure to just over $2.4 million.
Da’Shawn Hand, the Lions fourth-round pick, suffered too many injuries to get him enough snaps to qualify and will not receive a performance escalator.
Tyrell Crosby, the Lions fifth-round pick, played on 36.5-percent of snaps in 2019 and 62.7-percent in 2020, and he will receive a first-level performance escalator as well. Like Walker, Crosby will see his 2021 base salary increase from $920,000 to $2.183 million, and his new salary cap figure will be just over $2.25 million.
Nick Bawden, the team’s seventh-round selection, was well short of the needed qualifying numbers and will not receive a performance escalator.
Overall, with Walker and Crosby in line to receive first-level performance escalators, the Lions will have another $2.5 million added to their salary cap figures before the 2021 new year begins.
The NFL has yet to confirm these salary adjustments—they typically do just before free agency begins in mid-March—but based on the collective bargaining agreement these changes are expected to be announced soon.