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Proven Performance Escalators: Will Chris Givens Become A Salary Cap Casualty?

Trumaine Johnson and Chris Givens are entering the fourth (and final year) of their respective rookie contracts. Both will receive substantial pay increases in 2015 due to provisions in the CBA. Part two - of a 12-part offseason salary cap series - examines Proven Performance Escalators, and how they affect the Rams' salary cap and offseason plans.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Late January/early February is the time of year when players find out about raises in their contracts triggered by particular provisions in the CBA. 2014 season statistics affecting contracts are officially finalized by the NFL around this time of the year. The Proven Performance Escalator is a provision included in all rookie contracts of players selected between the third and seventh round of the NFL draft.

The escalator/raise becomes available during the 4th (last) year of a player's rookie contract. To qualify, a player must play in at least 35% of the snaps - offensive or defensive - in two of his first three seasons, or 35% of the total snaps - offensive or defensive - over the entire three-year period. If earned, the players base salary increases to that of the lowest Restricted Free Agent tender for 2015. The lowest RFA tender will likely come in at $1.57 million, and will be finalized when the salary cap limit is determined in February.

The 2015 Proven Performance Escalators are applicable to the 2012 draft class. Two Rams players from the 2012 draft class qualify for the PPE: Trumaine Johnson and Chris Givens. Greg Zuerlein does not qualify, as kickers/punters are ineligible for the PPE. The escalator doesn't involve any guaranteed money, nor is it counted against the salary cap as dead money if the player is released.

From the 2011 NFL CBA:

Section 4. Proven Performance Escalator:

(a) The Proven Performance Escalator is mandatory for Rookies drafted in the third through seventh rounds. Rookies drafted in the first or second rounds and Undrafted Rookies are not eligible to earn the Proven Performance Escalator.

(b) The Proven Performance Escalator is a non-negotiable amount by which an eligible player’s year-four Paragraph 5 Salary may escalate provided the player achieves at least one of the two qualifiers set forth in Subsection (c) below. The Proven Performance Escalator shall be deemed a part of every Rookie Contract of a player selected in the third through seventh round by virtue of this Agreement and may not be separately attached to such Rookie Contract.

(c) Qualifiers. An eligible player will qualify for the Proven Performance Escalator in his fourth League Year if: (1) he participated in a minimum of 35% of his Club’s offensive or defensive plays in any two of his previous three regular seasons; or (2) he participated in a "cumulative average" of at least 35% of his Club’s offensive or defensive plays over his previous three regular seasons. "Cumulative average" means the sum of the total number of offensive or defensive plays in which the player participated over the applicable seasons, divided by the sum of the Club’s offensive or defensive plays during the same seasons.

Chris Givens' and Trumaine Johnson's 2015 contracts, before and after the PPE raises:
Player Base Salary Prorated Bonus Total Cap Hit Dead Money Cap Savings
Chris Givens
Before PPE 660,000 124,257 784,257 124,257 660,000
After PPE 1,570,000 124,257 1,694,257 124,257 1,570,000
Trumaine Johnson
Before PPE 794,500 167,794 962,294 167,794 794,500
After PPE 1,570,000 167,794 1,737,794 167,794 1,570,000

As a result of the PPE, Trumaine Johnson receives a $775,500 increase in base salary for 2015, while Chris Givens' base salary increases by $910,000 in 2015. Johnson's salary cap hit for 2015: $1,737,794. Chris Givens' salary cap hit for 2015: $1,694,257. If the Rams released Johnson and/or Givens, the salary cap savings for each player would be $1,570,000.

As noted in part one of the salary cap series, the Rams (at present) have virtually zero salary cap space. They will need to create a substantial amount of salary cap space if they wish to re-sign any of their eligible free agents, or those from another team. Every dollar will loom large this offseason.

Although he will receive a substantial raise, Trumaine Johnson is not a candidate for release by the Rams. Johnson's an integral part of the Rams' secondary, and should rebound from his injury-plagued 2014 season.

Decisions regarding Chris Givens are not so clear-cut. Givens saw very little playing time in 2014, and slid down to 5th on the Rams' WR depth chart in the process. If the Rams re-sign Kenny Britt, Givens will likely remain at the bottom of the depth chart. The salary cap space saved by releasing Givens could play a critical role in re-signing Britt (or other free agents). The Rams could instead force Givens to take a cut in pay at a later date, similar to Austin Pettis last year. The Rams restructured Pettis' contract in early September. The restructure included a pay cut, which significantly reduced the PPE he had earned earlier in the year. Pettis was then released by the Rams on October 20. Does Chris Givens figure into the Rams' long-term plans?

Proven Performance Escalators will always have a negative impact on the Rams' salary cap. It's a small price to pay for the continued productivity and success of the Rams' later-round draft selections. Look for T.J. McDonald and Stedman Bailey to earn the escalators in 2016.