Maybe the Green Bay Packers' 2016 draft class wasn’t so bad after all.
Because of their contributions, all three earned the NFL’s “proven performance escalator” for the 2019 season.
Each qualified by playing in at least 35 percent of snaps in at least two of their first three seasons. By doing so, their pay spiked to $2.02 million for this coming season. Each had been scheduled to make the fourth-year minimum of $720,000.
The PPE was added to the rookie wage scale implemented with the collective bargaining agreement of 2011. Players drafted in Rounds 3 through 7 are eligible for the salary bump in their final season if they play at least 35 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three seasons or 35 percent of all offensive or defensive snaps over their entire first three years. The salary is not guaranteed and will be paid only if each player makes the team coming out of training camp (or goes on injured reserve).
Last year, only one member of the Packers’ 2015 draft class, fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, met the qualifications for the raise – a sign of how weak that draft class was. Third-round pick Ty Montgomery, fifth-round pick Brett Hundley and sixth-round pick Aaron Ripkowski did not qualify. Two other picks from Rounds 3-7 of that draft were not with the Packers: sixth-rounders Christian Ringo and Kennard Backman. The Packers’ top-two picks from that draft, Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins, also were not on the Packers last season. Ryan blew out his knee in training camp last summer and spent the entire season on injured reserve, where he collected $1.907 million (an increase from his $705,000 base salary).
Of the 2016 class, only fifth-round pick Trevor Davis (who remains on the roster) and sixth-rounder Kyle Murphy (who finished the season on the Rams’ practice squad) did not qualify. The top two picks from that draft, Kenny Clark and Jason Spriggs, remain on the roster but are ineligible for the raise. Clark, a first-round pick, will actually make less ($1,726,587) this season than the Fackrell-Martinez-Lowry trio, but he made far more up front with a $5.008 milling signing bonus. Clark also is one of the top candidates for a contract extension this year.
The 2016 class was the second-to-last under former general manager Ted Thompson, who was forced out after the 2017 season. Midway through the 2018 season, the Packers had just four starters from Thompson’s last three classes. At that point, only two teams had fewer starters combined from the 2015-2017 drafts.
However, neither Fackrell nor Lowry was a full-time starter at that time, but they moved into that role midway through the season because of injuries. Fackrell, a third-round pick who had underachieved in his first two seasons, went on to lead the Packers with 10.5 sacks and ranked second in snaps played among the team’s outside linebackers (behind only Clay Matthews).
Fackrell had only 5.0 sacks combined in his first two seasons before he spiked to double-digits last season.
“It’s the benchmark, so that will definitely be a goal to have double-digit sacks again next year,” Fackrell said. “There’s plenty of other areas that I can improve on, like being more of a factor in the run game with TFLs and things like that.”
With Matthews scheduled to become a free agent and oft-injured Nick Perry a candidate to be released, Fackrell could open next season as a starting edge rusher.
A year after Martinez tied for the NFL lead in tackles, the former fourth-round pick followed it with another solid season. He led the team with 147 tackles (103 solo) and was third on the team with a career-best 5.0 sacks.
Lowry, a fifth-round pick, moved into a more prominent role after the Packers lost defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. By season's end, he was the only one of the Packers’ top four defensive linemen not on injured reserve (Mike Daniels and Clark joined Wilkerson).
With the return of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, a holdover from former coach Mike McCarthy’s staff, there’s a good chance that all three “prove performance escalator” players will play key roles this season.
“I like Pettine a lot,” Fackrell said the day after the season ended. “I like his scheme. I think he did a good job. There were a lot of things that went against us this year with a ton of injuries, a ton of new guys. I think the way that he was able to still keep us playing pretty well, I think he did a great job. Yeah, it definitely helps with consistency to have the same guy back.”
Previously, two players from the Packers’ 2014 draft class earned the PPE bonus – center Corey Linsley and tight end Richard Rodgers. Linsley parlayed that into a three-year, $25.5 million contract extension, while Rodgers left in free agency last March.
Before that, left tackle David Bakhtiari (2013 class), safety Micah Hyde (2013) and Daniels (2012) earned the PPE bonus. Bakhtiari and Daniels both received contract extensions during their fourth seasons. Hyde left in free agency following the 2016 season.
Linebacker Antonio Morrison, originally a fourth round pick of the Colts in 2016, also qualified for the pay raise but it’s from his time in Indianapolis.
Morrison played just 28 percent of the defense of snaps for the Packers last season after they acquired him in a trade for cornerback Lenzy Pipkins.
Morrison played 75 percent of the defense of snaps for the Colts in 2017. The Packers inherited his original rookie contract from the Colts in the trade.