With the new CBA being adopted in 2020, one rule that was tweaked was in respect of rookie contracts. We'll start to see that take effect next season in respect of players drafted after the first round in 2018.
Under the old rules, such players could potentially earn an escalator to increase the value of the fourth year of their contract. This is not guaranteed and is based on playing time.
In the new CBA, these rules were expanded so that such players can now earn three different levels of escalators. Let's review the rules and how they apply to the Jets players who are in this boat.
The relevant players
First of all, the relevant players are Chris Herndon, Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi. The other two later picks - Parry Nickerson and Trenton Cannon - are no longer on the team while Sam Darnold doesn't come under these rules because he was a first-round pick and instead has the chance to be offered the fifth-year option. The team has until May to decide on that.
The new rules
These new rules enable players to earn the three levels of escalator during their first three years based on their playing time as follows:
Level One: 35% of offensive or defensive snaps in two of the first three years OR on average across the three years. (Note: It's 60% for second rounders, but that doesn't affect the Jets this year because they got rid of their second rounders in the Darnold trade).
Level Two: 55% in EACH of the first three years.
Level Three: The player is selected to a pro bowl on an original ballot (not as an alternate).
The status of the relevant Jets players
Entering this season, none of the three Jets mentioned above had secured any of these escalators. Fatukasi didn't meet the 35% threshold in 2018, Herndon didn't meet it in 2019 and Shepherd didn't meet it in either year, although he was close both times.
To secure the level one escalator in 2020, Fatukasi and Herndon would need to break the 35% threshold again for the second time. Each of them did this. Shepherd, on the other hand, could only earn it by getting to 35% on average, for which he'd need to play 53% of the snaps in 2020. He fell short, although might have had a chance if Quinnen Williams got hurt a bit earlier. Clearly nobody met the criteria for level two or three.
The 2021 salaries would escalate as follows:
- No escalator earned: Remains at the minimum $920K (Shepherd)
- Level one escalator earned: Escalates to the right of first refusal tender amount, which is estimated at $2.25m (Herndon, Fatukasi)
- Level two escalator earned: Another $250K on top of the level one escalator ($2.5m)
- Level three escalator earned: Escalated to the level of a second round RFA tender, which is estimated at $3.4m for 2021.
These escalators would not be accounted for in any previous calculations of the amount of cap space the Jets have, so they'll actually lose almost $3m of cap space with these moves. Of course, other teams' cap space will have been similarly overstated. And, naturally, you could still cut or trade any of these guys.
2019 and 2020 Jets picks
Looking ahead, we can also track the progress of 2019 and 2020 draft picks towards earning these escalators in future. Interestingly, none of the eligible players recorded a 55% snap count in their rookie year, so we can say for sure that no level two escalators will be paid in 2022 or 2023 either. Of course, a level three escalator could still be earned if any of the players in questions got voted to a pro bowl.
Blessuan Austin has actually already secured a level one escalator by attaining a 35% snap count in 2019 and 2020, so he'll earn at least a few million in 2022 if he stays with the team. Chuma Edoga and Blake Cashman met that condition in 2019, but not this year, so they can earn the level one escalator with a 35% snap count in 2021. Trevon Wesco has fallen short in his first two years and would need about a 70% snap count in 2021 to get to the 35% on average condition.
In the case of both Fatukasi and Austin in 2019, they literally just broke the 35% threshold by a few snaps, so any suggestion that the Jets could be inclined to deliberately reduce a player's snap count to prevent them from earning an escalator would appear misguided.
Of this year's rookies, Ashtyn Davis and Bryce Hall were the only players to meet the 35% condition, but any of the other rookie (apart from Braden Mann because he doesn't play offense or defense) can still meet the condition either by being over 35% for the next two years or by getting to 35% on average. Denzel Mims, being a second round pick, obviously needs 60% rather than 35% but only had a 44% snap count as a rookie.