Agent’s Take: A look at 2018 performance bonuses for Tom Brady, Eric Weddle and other noteworthy NFL players

Safety Eric Weddle had $1 million riding on the Ravens’ 2017 regular season finale against the Bengals. A win would put the Ravens in the playoffs, which was the second condition that needed to be satisfied for Weddle to earn a $1 million incentive. He had already accomplished the other component by being selected to the Pro Bowl.

Weddle earning the bonus almost seemed like a certainty heading into the last game. The Ravens would make the playoffs by beating the Bengals, who had a 6-9 record, or with a loss by either the Bills or Titans. Both teams won. Baltimore had a 27-24 lead when Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw a 49 yard touchdown on fourth and 12 with 44 seconds left in the game to keep the Ravens out of the playoffs and Weddle from getting the $1 million. 

Weddle has a second chance at $1 million because the same incentive is in his contract for this season. He was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. The Ravens are currently on track for the sixth and final spot in the AFC with an 8-6 record but face two tough opponents (Chargers and Browns) to close out the season.

Performance bonuses can be divided into two basic categories, incentives and salary escalators. Both types of bonuses can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. Incentives are also a way for a player taking a pay cut to make back some or all of the money he is losing through the salary reduction. 

Incentives are usually designed to be classified as not likely to be earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the salary cap when a deal is signed. Generally, any incentives with higher thresholds than the player or team’s statistical performance in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. The most frequent categories for individual achievement are playtime or based on the player’s primary function (i.e.; receptions or receiving yards for a wide receiver). Coupling an individual achievement with a team statistical performance also makes an incentive NLTBE. If earned, a team will incur a salary cap charge for most incentives after the playoffs end. Incentives are typically paid in February or March following the season in which they are earned.

Per game roster bonuses are treated as incentives under the salary cap even though they are considered a part of a contract’s base value. The $5 million of 46-man per game active roster bonuses ($312,500 each game) for this season quarterback Sam Bradford had in the two-year, $40 million deal he signed with the Cardinals at the beginning of free agency was the largest ever in an NFL contract. Since Bradford was active for only two games during the 2017 season, there wasn’t an initial cap charge for $4.375 million of the roster bonuses. Arizona’s cap charge for Bradford increased by $312,500 after he started Week 3’s contest. Bradford had made $937,500 of the $5 million when he was benched three games into the season for 2018 10th overall pick Josh Rosen. He didn’t get additional money from the roster bonus for the other five games he was with the Cardinals before his release because he wasn’t active on game day. The Cardinals saved $1,562,500 in cash and on the cap by deactivating Bradford after his benching.

Incentives are preferable to escalators. Triggering an escalator doesn’t necessarily mean that the player will make the increased salary. The escalated amount is rarely guaranteed so teams can still ask the player to take a pay cut or release him without incurring the financial obligation. Running back Adrian Peterson never got the $2 million increase of his 2017 salary from his 2012 and 2013 performance because the Vikings released him after the 2016 season. 

There are entirely too many performance bonuses in NFL contracts to recognize them all. Here’s a look at 2018 performance bonuses for 20 noteworthy NFL players besides Weddle. 

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Maximum: $5 Million

Expected Bonus: $1 Million

$5 million of incentives were added to Brady’s contract during the preseason. The incentives are considered likely to be earned because he reached the statistical achievements in 2017. In order to keep his salary cap number at $22 million because of how the incentives are classified, $10 million of his base salary was converted to a signing bonus so it could be prorated over this year and next.

Brady has a laundry list of performance milestones where he earns $1 million for each of the first five that are met provided his offensive playtime is at least 70 percent and he throws a minimum of 224 passes. The specific milestones are top five in NFL passer rating, top 5 in completion percentage, top 5 in yards per pass attempt, top 5 in touchdown passes, top 5 in passing yards, and each of the five categories paired with the Patriots winning this season’s Super Bowl where Brady has 70 percent or more offensive playtime during the postseason. 

The only one Brady would have met with a 14-game regular season is passing yards. He is currently fifth with 3,979 yards, which is five more than Aaron Rodgers has. Brady is in the top 10 in one other category. He is 10th with 24 touchdown passes. 

Since the $5 million of incentives is considered likely to be earned, the Patriots will get a salary cap credit in 2019 equal to what he doesn’t make under the performance bonuses. That is currently scheduled to be $4 million.


Maximum: $4 Million

Expected Bonus: Zero

Sherman is losing the bet he made on himself by negotiating an overly team friendly three-year deal worth a maximum of $39.15 million without an agent. The contract contains $4 million annually in not so easily achievable incentives. There’s $1 million for 90 percent or more defensive playing time, $1 million with a Pro Bowl selection and an additional $2 million for being named first or second team All-NFL/All-Pro by the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly, the Pro Football Writers Association, Sporting News or Sports Illustrated.

An early season calf injury that sidelined Sherman for two games put the playtime incentive in jeopardy. Sherman’s defensive playing time through 14 games is 79.3 percent. His playtime will be right around 85 percent if he doesn’t miss any of San Francisco’s remaining defensive snaps. 

Making the Pro Bowl would have also triggered some favorable structural changes to Sherman’s contract. Sherman’s 2019 base salary would have increased by $1 million to $8 million and activated an injury guarantee for that amount the day after Super Bowl LIII (February 4, 2019). The $8 million would have become fully guaranteed less than two months later on April 1. His $2 million in 46-man per game active roster bonuses ($125,000 per game) for 2019 would have reduced to $1 million with the increase in base salary.


Maximum: $14 Million

Expected Bonus: $2.25 Million

The Eagles reworked Foles’ contract in the days leading up to April’s NFL draft. In addition to raising the Super Bowl LII MVP’s 2018 compensation by $2 million through a signing bonus, more substantial and easily achievable incentives replaced the existing ones. The total value of the incentives increased from $2.5 million to $14 million.

Most notably, an incentive paying Foles $250,000 for every game in which he plays at least 33 percent of the offensive plays where there’s an additional $250,000 in a Philadelphia win was added. It appeared as if Foles was only going to make $750,000 from this clause for his two starts at the beginning of the season while quarterback Carson Wentz was still recovering from tearing multiple ligaments in his left knee late last season. 

Foles picked $500,000 in an upset win over the Rams on Sunday night. He started because Wentz has a stress fracture in his back, which should sideline him for the rest of the season. Wins over the Texans and Redskins, games in which the Eagles will be the favorite, could put Philadelphia in the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

For playoff games in which Foles’ offensive playtime is 33 percent or above, the base incentive amount is $500,000 and $1 million total for a win. Foles has another incentive where he gets $1 million for playing 33 percent of more of the offensive snaps in the regular season and the Eagles make the playoffs. The amount increases to $1.5 million at 50 percent. Foles is likely to end up just shy of 33 percent for the season. He also has a $500,000 Pro Bowl incentive, which wasn’t earned.


Maximum: $1 Million

Expected Bonus: $1 Million

The one-year contract extension Fitzgerald signed during the middle of last season has rather unique incentive clauses. Most incentives pertain to a particular season. Fitzgerald’s stretch over two seasons. Fitzgerald has already earned $500,000 for reaching 227 receiving yards over the last seven weeks of the 2017 regular season and the current one. He also made another $500,000 for having at least 869 receiving yards over the same span. There’s another condition that needs to be satisfied where the Cardinals theoretically could avoid payment. Fitzgerald must be on Arizona’s 90-man roster for the last regular season game this season. There isn’t any realistic scenario where the Cardinals are going to cut the future first ballot Hall of Famer prior to what could be the final game of his 15-year NFL career.


Maximum: $3.3 Million

Expected Bonus: None

The Patriots addressed Gronkowski’s perpetual unhappiness with the contract he signed in 2012 making him the NFL’s highest paid tight end last season by adding $5.5 million of incentives. Gronkowski earned the entire amount when he was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press. 

The Patriots went with another “band aid” approach this year rather than give Gronkowski a contract extension. Gronkowski earns $1.1 million for each of the following first three individual achievements met: (a) 80% offensive playtime, (b) 70 catches, (c) 1,085 receiving yards and (d) nine touchdown receptions. The thresholds are just above Gronkowski’s 2017 marks to make the incentives NLTBE.

Gronkowski isn’t on pace to earn any of the incentives. He has missed three games this season because of ankle and back problems. Gronkowski has played 74.2 percent of New England’s offensive snaps and caught 45 passes for 658 yards with three touchdowns. 

Gronkowski’s 46-man active per game roster bonuses were also increased from $750,000 to $1.75 million for this season. By playing the last two games, Gronkowski will make $812,500 more from these roster bonuses than he would have if there hadn’t been an adjustment to his 2018 contract year.


Maximum: $2.5 Million

Expected Bonus: Zero

Roethlisberger’s $5 million third day of the 2019 league year roster bonus (next March 15) was originally worth a maximum of $11 million but he didn’t hit any of the necessary requirements during the last three seasons. The roster bonus still had the potential to increase by $2.5 million based on this season’s developments. Roethlisberger being named NFL MVP by the Associated Press, which isn’t going to happen, would have increased the roster bonus by $1 million. The roster bonus goes up by $1 million with a passer rating of 100 or above. Roethlisberger’s passing rating is currently 96.4. Super Bowl MVP would add $500,000 to the roster bonus.


Maximum: $2.25 Million

Expected Bonus: $1 Million

Gurley dramatically re-set the running back market with the four-year, $57.5 million extension (worth a maximum of $60 million through realistically achievable salary escalators) he signed in late July. His 2023 base salary is increasing by $1 million to $6,449,978. Gurley needed to get at least 1,200 rushing yards or 1,650 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) this season. Gurley has gained 1,251 yards on the ground and has 1,831 yards from scrimmage. His 2023 salary will increase by another $1.25 million if named either NFL MVP or Offensive Player of the Year this season.


Maximum: $3.1 Million

Expected Bonus: $3.1 Million

Thielen signed a four-year deal with a base value of $19.246 million in 2017 as a restricted free agent. His contract makes him one of the best veteran player values in the NFL. Thielen’s Vikings wide receiver counterpart, Stefon Diggs, signed a five-year, $72 million extension ($81 million maximum with salary escalators) with $40.007 million in guarantees when training camp opened although his production hasn’t been comparable.

Thielen’s deal contains $9.3 million of base salary escalators and incentives for outstanding performance. He earned a $600,000 incentive once he caught 80 passes or hit 1,200 receiving yards. Being selected to the Pro Bowl gave Thielen another $500,000. 

Thielen’s 2019 base salary increased by $1 million when he reached 90 catches. He has lower thresholds of $500,000 for at least 70 catches and an additional $250,000 for 80 or more receptions. His 2019 base salary also increases by those same amounts based on his 2017 performance. Since Thielen caught 91 passes last season, his 2019 base salary is increasing from $3.85 million to $5.85 million. Thielen has earned all $4.1 million of the performance bonuses that have been available in his contract so far. 


Maximum: $1.5 Million

Expected Bonus: $750,000

Kelce’s $6.75 million 2019 base salary escalated by $375,000 when he reached 1,200 receiving yards in last Thursday’s night game against the Chargers. It increases by another $375,000 with 12 touchdown receptions. Kelce has 10 this season. The final amount earned doubles because the Chiefs have made the playoffs.


Maximum: $1 Million

Expected Bonus: $750,000

The one-year, $14 million deal five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed with the Rams after the Dolphins released him also contained $1 million in incentives. He’s made $500,000 because his defensive playtime is well above the required 65 percent and the Rams are in the playoffs. He gets an additional $250,000 if the Rams win a playoff game and another $250,000 with two postseason victories.


Maximum: $1.25 Million

Expected Bonus: $250,000

Jordan’s 2018 base salary increased by $250,000 because he had 13 sacks last season. He is on track for the same increase with his 2019 base salary since he has 12 sacks. Getting 3 sacks in the last two games for 15 would make the total 2019 escalation $750,000. 17 sacks would be worth an additional $500,000. 


Maximum: $4 Million

Expected Bonus: $4 Million

Allen is financially motivated to make a return from the hip injury that knocked him out of last Thursday’s game against the Chiefs. His 2019 base salary increases by $2 million to $10 million and his 2020 base salary also goes up $2 million to $10.5 million with 90 or more receptions and a Chargers playoff berth or at least 100 receptions and 8 regular season wins two times during the 2016 through 2018 seasons. Allen tore his ACL in the 2016 season opener. He had 102 catches in 2017 while the Chargers won nine games. The Chargers have already clinched a playoff spot for this season. Allen is two catches shy of the 90 needed for the escalators.


Maximum: $2.5 Million

Expected Bonus: $1 Million

Peters’ 2019 salary escalating could be a double-edged sword. He has been rumored to be a potential salary cap casualty because the Eagles have the NFL’s most 2019 cap commitments at $210.349 million with 48 players under contract. Preliminary projections put the 2019 salary cap between $187 million and $191.1 million.

Peters’ 2019 base salary increases by $1 million to $6.75 million, which in turn makes next year’s cap number $12,666,668, with at least 80 percent offensive playtime. Reaching 90 percent would raise Peters’ 2019 base salary to $7.75 million. Peters has been on the field for 84.9 percent of Philadelphia’s snaps. He won’t get to 90 percent. Peters didn’t earn a $500,000 Pro Bowl escalator either.


Maximum: $1 Million

Expected Bonus: $1 Million

Hunter sold himself short by signing a five-year, $72 million extension with $40.007 million of guarantees during the offseason. He would have been facing a 2019 franchise tag in the $17.3 million range by merely duplicating his 2017 performance, which he has easily exceeded. Since Hunter is having a career year while playing out his contract, he would have been in a position to potentially leverage the franchise tag into a long term deal averaging in the $20 million per year neighborhood. 

Hunter’s 2019 base salary increased from $9.4 million to $9.9 million with his single season high 13th sack. It will increase by another $500,000 to $10.4 million if Hunter gets a half sack in the last two games for his 15th. This $1 million sack escalator is in every year of his contract, which runs through the 2023 season.  


Maximum: $1.5 Million

Expected Bonus: Zero

Lee is falling way short of the required 80 percent defensive playtime to raise his 2019 salary by $1.5 million primarily because of another hamstring injury this season. He missed five games in 2017 with a hamstring injury. Lee’s playtime is 22.7 percent this season. The only time Lee has triggered the playtime base salary escalator available for his 2015 through 2019 contract years is because of his 2016 performance.


Maximum: $3 Million

Expected Bonus: $500,000

The Broncos added $3 million of incentives to the five-year extension averaging $8.6 million per year Harris signed near the end of the 2014 season because he is dramatically underpaid. A broken right fibula in the 12th game of the season has impacted his ability to earn some of the incentives. Harris is getting $200,000 because he has intercepted 3 passes this season. He could have made another $300,000 by intercepting 2 more passes.

Harris is also making $300,000 since the Broncos have six wins and his defensive playtime for the season won’t drop below 65 percent. It’s highly unlikely Harris would have earned any of the other $1.7 million tied to team success and his playtime without getting hurt. There’s $300,000 for at least 75 percent defensive playtime and eight or more wins. Another $300,000 for two more wins and 10 percent more playtime. This higher playtime threshold and making the playoffs is worth an additional $300,000. Winning the Super Bowl with at least 85 percent playtime in the regular season and in the championship game is worth $300,000. There’s also $500,000 for being named Super Bowl MVP.

Harris may have had a shot at the remaining $500,000 had he stayed healthy. It’s for a first or second team All-NFL selection. He earned All-Pro honors during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons.


Maximum: $800,000

Expected Bonus: $200,000

Pierre-Paul has done his part to bolster the anemic pass rush the Buccaneers had in 2017 after his offseason trade from the Giants. His 2019 base salary increased from $13.25 million to $13.45 million when he reached 10 sacks. Pierre-Paul has 11.5. One more sack will make Pierre-Paul’s 2019 base salary $13.65 million. Somehow getting to 15 sacks would bring the total escalation to $600,000. A Pro Bowl selection would have also added $200,000.


Maximum: $550,000

Expected Bonus: $550,000

Slay needed two of the following three achievements to trigger a $550,000 2019 base salary escalator: (1) five or more interceptions, (2) 80 percent or more defensive playtime or (3) a Pro Bowl berth. Slay has three interceptions. He’s been on the field for 87.4 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps. Slay was selected to the Pro Bowl. As long as Slay takes roughly 40 defensive snaps in the final two games, his 2019 base salary goes from $12 million to $12.55 million. 


Maximum: $2 Million

Expected Bonus: $625,000

Injuries kept Hightower from earning any of his $2 million of yearly incentives in 2017. That isn’t the case this season. Hightower earns $375,000 for 65 percent or more defensive playtime, with an additional $250,000 for 70 percent. He gets another $250,000 for 75 percent or more playtime and $125,000 more for at least 80 percent of New England’s defensive snaps. Hightower’s defensive playtime is 72.1 percent through 14 games. He has a chance to reach 75 percent if he is in on nearly every defensive play during the final two contests. There is $500,000 for making the Pro Bowl and an additional $500,000 for being 1st team All-NFL, which won’t be achieved. 


Maximum: $2.5 Million

Expected Bonus: $2.5 Million

The five-year extension with a base value of $50 million the Browns gave Bitonio in March 2017 was a bit surprising because injuries had limited him to 15 games over the previous two seasons. The Browns were also on the verge on making Kevin Zeitler the NFL’s highest paid offensive guard. Bitonio’s contract contains a mechanism where his 2020, 2021 and 2022 base salaries increase by $500,000, $1 million and $1 million respectively with his cumulative offensive playtime during the 2017 and 2018 seasons being at least 85 percent. Bitonio hasn’t missed an offensive snap since signing his contract. His 2020 base salary is now $8.5 million. His 2021 and 2022 base salaries are $9.5 million.

Pro Bowl Bonuses

Numerous NFL contracts contain Pro Bowl bonuses. In order to cash in on a Pro Bowl bonus, players must be selected on the original ballot and participate in the game unless medical excused or playing in the Super Bowl. Getting into the game as an alternate doesn’t meet the requirements for payment.

Six players have earned a Pro Bowl bonus this year. Weddle will be the seventh if the Ravens make the postseason. The Ravens control their playoff destiny.  

Chargers center Mike Pouncey earns a $500,000 incentive, just like Thielen, for making the Pro Bowl. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher’s 2019 base salary increases by $500,000 from $9.835 million to $10.385 million with his Pro Bowl selection. Davante Adams going to the Pro Bowl raises his 2019 base salary by $250,000 to $2.75 million.

The Pro Bowl is profitable for two Eagles. Tight end Zach Ertz earned a $100,000 incentive. His 2019, 2020 and 2021 base salaries increase by $250,000, which also occurred with last year’s Pro Bowl selection. Guard Brandon Brooks’ 2019 and 2020 base salaries are going up by $250,000, just like last year as well. 

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