Allen Park — The primary benefit for NFL teams to consistently draft well in the later rounds is it provides cap flexibility. Rookies are cheap and players drafted in the third round or later are paid little more than veteran minimum for their first four seasons.
But the league's collective bargain agreement has a clause that rewarded those late-round picks for developing into key contributors. Any player drafted in the third round or later who either plays 35 percent of a team's offensive or defensive snaps two of their first three seasons, or an average of 35 percent over those first three seasons, receives a significant pay increase for the fourth and final year of their rookie deals.
Instead of making a salary at or close to veteran minimum, those players that hit the Proven Performance Escalator see an increase in their base salary that correlates to the lowest restricted free agent tag that year.
In 2020, that's $2.147 million, and that's what Lions receiver Kenny Golladay is now set to earn.
Golladay, a third-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2017, was originally slated to make $750,500 in 2020. But after blowing past the 35% snap count threshold each of his first three seasons with the Lions, including 84.1% in 2018 and 86.9% last season, he's in line for the 186% raise in 2020.
Even at $2.147 million, Golladay will be an exceptional bargain for the Lions after leading the league with 11 touchdown catches last year to go along with his team-high 1,190 receiving yards.
Set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, Golladay is in line for a lucrative multi-year deal, which could pay him between $14-16 million per season. He's expressed interest in having discussions with the Lions about an extension before hitting the market in 2021.
The Lions have had multiple players hit the Proven Performance Escalator in recent years, including guard Graham Glasgow, safety Quandre Diggs, center Travis Swanson, cornerback Nevin Lawson and guard Larry Warford.
Safety Tracy Walker, offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby and defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand are all candidates to earn the bump next season. Walker played more than 70 percent of snaps in 2019, while Crosby was at 36.8 percent as an injury replacement.
Hand, who missed much of last season due to various injuries, played 46.1 percent of the team's defensive snaps as a rookie.