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Salary Cap Nuggets - No. 5: How do NFL players get paid for the post season and the pro bowl?

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She took little bites and she chewed very slow, just like a good girl should...

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This series is called Salary Cap Nuggets because ‘nuggets’ is such an interesting word in English. It calls to mind chicken nuggets - tasty, bite sized and easy to eat. But it also calls to mind gold nuggets - small, but valuable.
The salary cap is a product of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is a 301-page contract between the NFL Owners and the NFL Players Association. In these articles, I try to explore just one or two small parts of the NFL salary cap defined in the massive CBA. Hence, Salary Cap Nuggets - small, bite-sized, easy to digest, yet valuable information for NFL fans.
The goal is to, one bite at a time, get a clear understanding of the salary cap.

Click this link to for handy access to all the Salary Cap Nuggets


Nugget #3 looked at the difference between Salary Cap and Player Benefits, focusing on the fact that the money paid to players in the post-season is not part of Salary Cap, but is in the second bucket (Benefits), and paid from a league pool; playoff money is not paid by the playoff teams themselves.

Today’s Nugget focuses on the same general idea — postseason play, including the Pro Bowl — and how the amount of pay for those players is determined.

The authors of the book Crunching Numbers deal with this question on pages 219 and 220:

How (and how much) do players get paid then for participating in the Preseason, Postseason and for playing in the Pro Bowl?

PLAYOFFS

Players get paid outside of their regular season salaries, none of which will count on the salary cap. They get paid for participation in both Preseason and Postseason games, [and, those players who get selected] get paid for the Pro Bowl, even if they...don’t already have an incentive already built in.

According to Article 37 (Postseason Pay), players who are on the active, inactive or placed on the injured reserve list may qualify to receive payments for games in which their team participates in the postseason (playoffs).

The postseason has four games: wild card game, divisional playoff game, conference championship, and the Super Bowl. Depending on which round a team is able to advance through, qualified players may earn a maximum of $210,000 for winning the Super Bowl in 2016.

If a team has a first-round bye, qualified players will not receive payment.

The authors of the book go on to give specific amounts, but they are all listed as of 2016, when the book I own was published. Below, I have kept the format presented in the book, but updated numbers of the most recent post-season.

Postseason amounts increase each year, and in 2019 (following the 2018 season), players received postseason pay of:

  • $27,000 for a wild card game ($29,000 if they were division winner entering this round), plus
  • $29,000 for the divisional round, plus
  • $54,000 for the conference championship, and
  • $118,000 for winning the Super Bowl or $59,000 for losing.

The CBA defines postseason pay for ten years

The amounts for these payments are written into the CBA and defined for each year. I copied that table from pg 168 of the CBA and paste it here for reference:


Qualifying for full pay, half pay, or quarter pay

Players don’t have to play in the game, or even still be on the team to get at least a partial payment for post-season play.

As we mentioned, players may qualify for this amount or half these postseason amounts depending if they were currently on the team, [or the] number of games participated at the time they were on that team’s roster.

In 2014, even though wide receiver Percy Harvin was traded mid-season by the Seattle Seahawks to the New York Jets, Harvin received $70,500 in postseason pay, qualifying for half the pay, thanks to his former team advancing through the playoffs but eventually losing Super Bowl XLIX to New England Patriots.

There appear to be only two possibilities listed in the book, but looking at the CBA, I found that there is actually a third possible payment defined in the agreement.

  1. Players who are on the team during their playoff games receive full pay from the league pool, which is part of the Player Benfits bucket in the league-wide Player Cost.
  2. Players who had a significant role with the team during the regular season, but who are no longer with the team during post-season play (as in the Percy Harvin example) may qualify for half-pay.
  3. Certain First-Year players may qualify for 14 pay.

I went to the CBA itself to find out how these three categories are defined. The information is on pages 168 and 169.

I learned quite a lot, and I created a little ‘Decision Tree’ for determining how much playoff money a player qualifies for. I thought I would present it first, then provide the details copied and pasted from the CBA below it (worried that the legalese of the CBA provisions might scare too many people away from scrolling down to my decision tree).

The Decision Tree

The decision tree is based on details copied directly from the CBA (emphasis is mine) and pasted below.


To qualify for FULL PAY for playoff games

  • A player who, at the time of the game in question, is and has been on the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game for AT LEAST THREE PREVIOUS GAMES (i.e., regular or postseason) will receive the full amount designated in Section 2 for such game.
  • A player who, at the time of the game in question, is not on the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game but was on the Active or Inactive List for EIGHT OR MORE GAMES (i.e., regular or postseason) will receive the full amount designated in Section 2 for such game provided he is not under contract to another Club in the same Conference at the time of the game in question.
  • A veteran player injured during the regular season and removed from the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game in question for reason of injury will receive the full amount designated in Section 2 for such game provided he is still under contract to the Club at the time of the game.
  • If a veteran player who completed the season in which his fourth year or more of Credited Service ... was earned is injured during the preseason and, as a result, is removed from the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game in question, he will receive the full amount designated in Section 2 for such game provided that he is still under contract to the Club at the time of the game.

To qualify for HALF PAY for playoff games

  • A player who, at the time of the game in question, is and has been on the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game for LESS THAN THREE PREVIOUS GAMES (i.e., regular or postseason) will receive one-half the amount designated in Section 2 for such game.
  • A player who, at the time of the game in question, is not on the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game, but who was on the Club’s Active List or Inactive List for AT LEAST THREE AND NOT MORE THAN SEVEN games (i.e., regular and postseason) will receive one-half the amount designated in Section 2 for such game, provided he is not under contract to another Club in the same Conference at the time of the game in question
  • If a first-year player is injured during the regular season and, as a result, is removed from the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game in question, he will receive one-half (½) the amount designated in Section 2 above for such game, provided that he is still under contract to the Club at the time of the game and had signed an NFL Player Contract or Practice Squad Contract during a prior League Year.
  • If a veteran player who has NOT completed the season in which his fourth year of Credited Service ... has been earned is injured during the preseason and, as a result, is removed from the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game in question, he will receive one-half (½) the amount designated in Section 2 for such game provided that he is still under contract to the Club at the time of the game.

To qualify for ONE QUARTER PAY for playoff games

  • If a first-year player is injured during the preseason and, as a result, is removed from the Active List or Inactive List of a Club participating in the game in question, he will receive one-quarter (¼) of the amount designated in Section 2 above for such game provided that he is still under contract to the Club at the time of the game and; (A) he was on that Club’s Practice Squad for eight or more games in a prior League Year; or (B) he received at least one, but fewer than three, regular season game checks while on that Club’s Active or Inactive or Reserve Injured list during a prior League Year.

Note 1: “First year players” are not rookies. A “rookie” has never before signed an NFL contract. “First year players” have previously signed a contract, but did not qualify for an accrued season. An example of a first year player from the current Redskins roster is long-snapper Andrew East, who is 27 years old and has signed eight NFL contracts, but was on the roster for only 3 games in 2018.

Note 2: For the clauses cited above that apply to “First Year Players”, the CBA says, “A player who has not signed an NFL Player Contract or NFL Practice Squad Contract during a previous NFL season is not entitled to postseason pay under [the relevant] Subsections.”


PRO BOWL

According to Article 38 (Pro Bowl Game), players who are selected to the Pro Bowl will receive either a winning team or losing team paycheck.

For the 2016 season, players who are on the winning side will receive $61,000 in additional income while the losing team receives $30,000.

Some players have a Pro Bowl incentives clause (e.g. $250,000 each year) already built into their contracts. It should be noted that if a player were to get injured in the Pro Bowl game, and, because of this, be unable to play in any regular season game the following season, that player will be paid his weekly installments of his Paragraph 5 salary for missed games.

Like the playoff amounts, payment to players for being named to the Pro Bowl are listed in the CBA on page 170. I have copied the table, and paste it here to show the amount paid, increasing each season: