Managing the salary cap is something that is not easy to do. late round picks performing well actually help manage that. But that actually got a little more difficult because of a couple of clauses in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. The result is there are several Arizona Cardinals players who are due to get a bump in salary than their original contract amount.
It affects Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor and Andre Ellington.
According to Overthecap.com, roughly 40 players in the league, including those three Cardinals players, hit rookie escalators because of playing time.
In the last CBA, all draft pick contracts were made to be four years. That means no draft pick could essentially ever become a restricted free agent like some undrafted players can. There is a clause that bumps player salaries drafted from rounds three through seven. Here is OTC's explanation.
The new CBA required 4 year contracts for all draft picks and those selected from the third round onward could escalate their salary in the fourth year by either playing 35% of the offensive or defensive snaps in two of three seasons or 35% of the cumulative snaps across all three seasons. If earned, the player's salary for the year increases from the contracted amount (in most cases the minimum) to that of the lowest RFA tender. This year that generally means a salary increase from $675,000 to about $1.62 million.
The result is Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and Alex Okafor are projected to make much more than the $675,000 they are currently slotted to make contractually. If true, this means they will make almost $1 million more.
While this likely is not going to affect Mathieu, as he is in negotiations for a long-term contract extension, Okafor and Ellington might actually be hurt by this new clause.
Ellington saw his playing time diminish and David Johnson emerged. Johnson is expected to be the starter and bell cow at running back in 2016. Ellington is expected to be a backup. But will the team want to keep him as a backup with a cap hit of more than $1.7 million?
It makes sense to keep him if he is making $675,000, because you can't get much cheaper than that, but will they keep him around at the higher salary? That is a real question now. It should not be a given that he is on the roster.
Okafor is another question mark. After an eight-sack 2014, he was expected to be the consistent pass rush threat. After two sacks in Week 1, he didn't get another the rest of the season, suffered calf injury, came back and then was "that guy" during the playoff bye week and landed on the non-football injury list because of a toe injury that happened during some pool party. Markus Golden emerged. Dwight Freeney played well. The team is looking for pass rushing help. If Okafor is not going to be a starter, can they afford to keep him at the new salary amount?
Would you keep Ellington or Okafor around at those salaries? Or do you see them as cap casualties? If so, will they come sooner or later in the offseason?