Agent’s Take: An inside look at postseason pay and how Antonio Brown can still benefit from Bucs’ success
Written by Joel Corry on January 15, 2022
Wide receiver Antonio Brown effectively ended his tenure with the Buccaneers in dramatic fashion. He made a shirtless exit from MetLife Stadium during the middle of a Week 17 game against the Jets. Brown was released a few days later. Despite an acrimonious departure, Brown has a financial interest in Tampa Bay making a deep playoff run. If the Buccaneers repeat as Super Bowl champions, Brown will get $215,000 because of the way money gets allocated during the postseason.
Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. A majority of players take a hefty pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make during the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for each playoff round where each eligible player gets paid the same.
Players will receive the following amounts for the 2021 season’s playoffs:
- Wild card division winners: $42,500
- Other wild cards: $37,500
- Wild card byes: $37,500
- Divisional round: $42,500
- Conference championships: $65,000
- Super Bowl winner: $150,000
- Super Bowl loser: $75,000
Players earn their base salary over the course of the 18-week regular season. For example, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo earned nearly $1.4 million per week from his league-high $24.1 million base salary during the regular season. He will receive $37,500 for San Francisco’s wild card game, just like 49ers linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who earned $43,333 each regular-season week, and the rest of his teammates. Flannigan-Fowles’ primary contribution has been on special teams. Postseason money for wild card and divisional playoff games isn’t much more than the weekly earnings of a player making the $660,000 first-year player minimum salary ($36,667 per week).
The maximum a player can make in this season’s playoffs from his current team is $300,000. The Super Bowl winner would have to be a division winner that participated in the wild card round (Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Cowboys and Rams). The most that can be made from playing on the other playoff participants is $295,000.
Players on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time receive payment for wild card and divisional playoff games. Practice squad players don’t receive playoff money but continue to get paid at their weekly rate for as long as their respective teams are in the playoffs.
That’s $9,200 per week for most practice squad players. Longtime veterans, like Buccaneers tight end Darren Fells, make $14,000 a week. Teams are allowed to expand the 53-man roster to 54 or 55 players by elevating two practice squad players for each regular or postseason game. The elevated players get paid like the others on the 53-man roster and injured reserve for the first two playoff rounds.
Payment eligibility is more complicated for the conference championships and Super Bowl. The payment requirements for these two playoff rounds are outlined below.
- Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played who have been on the roster for at least three previous games (regular season or playoffs).
- Veterans (at least one year of service) put on injured reserve during the regular season who are still under contract when the game is played.
- Vested veterans (four or more years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason who are still under contract when the game is played.
- Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time who spent at least eight games on the roster (regular season or playoffs), provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.
Bills All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White is among the players eligible for payment through the second category. He is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during a game in November. The same holds true for Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin because of December tears to the ACL and MCL in his right knee.
Brown can make the full the amount under the final category. He was on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster for 12 games prior to his release.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has a chance to receive payment from two different teams in the playoffs thanks to the final category. He will be getting at least $37,500 because he has been with the Raiders since a midseason release from the Rams. He was with the Rams for eight games. The Raiders are in the AFC West, while the Rams are in the NFC West.
- Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played who have been on the roster for less than three previous games (regular season or playoffs).
- First-year players put on injured reserve during the regular season who are still under contract when the game is played and signed a player contract or practice squad contract in a prior season.
- Non-vested veterans (one to three years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason who are still under contract when the game is played.
- Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time who spent between three and seven games on the roster (regular season or playoffs), provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.
The most notable players eligible under these categories are former Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson. Ruggs, who was released by the Raiders after a fatal car crash while driving under the influence of alcohol, fits in the last category. He had played in all of the Raiders’ seven games when he was released. The Raiders aren’t expected to advance to the divisional playoffs.
Peterson is probably in a better position than Ruggs to collect $107,500 because of the last category. He played in three games during his brief stint with the Titans, who are the AFC’s top playoff seed, before getting released. Peterson subsequently signed a practice squad contract with the NFC West’s Seahawks
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is precluded from collecting money if the Patriots have a lot of playoff success, although New England dealt him to the Panthers four weeks into the season. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was on the physically unable to perform list rather than injured reserve with the Patriots this season.
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz isn’t getting any playoff money for his six games with the Eagles regardless of how far they advance. He was traded to the Cardinals, who are also in the NFC. Chiefs edge rusher Melvin Ingram is in the same boat as Ertz because the Steelers dealt him away after playing seven games. The Chiefs and Steelers are both AFC teams.
There is one more category that receives a one-quarter share for conference championships and the Super Bowl: first-year players put on injured reserve during the preseason who are still under contract when the game is played. They also must have been on a team’s practice squad for at least eight games in a prior season or received one or two game checks while on a team’s 53-man roster or injured reserve in a prior year in order to qualify for payment.
Payments during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.
Individual playoff bonuses
NFL contracts occasionally contain performance bonuses, either incentives or salary escalators, for a player’s or his team’s performance in the playoffs There are a few hanging in the balance for some prominent players this postseason.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has a chance to earn $2.25 million of incentives for Tampa Bay winning the Super Bowl, like he did last season. The other requirements of the incentives have been met because Brady participated in least 75% of Tampa Bay’s offensive plays in the regular season and the Buccaneers improved over last season’s NFL ranking in average net yards gained per rushing play.
Brady has already made $500,000 for the Buccaneers getting to the playoffs. The amount increases by $250,000 to $750,000 for winning a wild card playoff game where Brady is on a minimum of 75% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps. It becomes $1.25 million instead for winning a divisional round playoff game and the same playtime requirement for that contest. There’s another $500,000 for being NFC champions where Brady takes at least three-fourths of the offensive snaps in the game. If Tampa Bay wins the Super Bowl and Brady is on the field for 75% or more of the offensive plays during the game, he gets the entire $2.25 million.
The Buccaneers removed the 65% defensive playtime requirement that defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh didn’t meet so he could still possibly make his $1 million of incentives. The team improving in touchdowns on returns and recoveries remained and has been met. The elimination of the playtime requirement assures Suh of $200,000 for Tampa Bay reaching the playoffs. Suh gets an additional $200,000 for each Buccaneers playoff win.
A Cowboys Super Bowl win is worth $1 million to Dak Prescott. The quarterback must also take at least 50% of Dallas’ offensive snaps in the Super Bowl to collect the incentive.
The contract wide Odell Beckham Jr. signed with the Rams after his midseason release from the Browns contains $3 million of incentives. Beckham gets $500,000 for a wild card game win against the Cardinals. There’s another $750,000 each for divisional playoffs and NFC Championship Game victories. It’s an additional $500,000 for making it to the Super Bowl and $500,000 more for winning. All of the incentives are also predicated on Beckham being on the game day active roster and participating in at least one offensive play for that particular contest.
Beckham’s teammate, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, has $1.5 million of incentives based on the Rams’ playoff success and his offensive playtime reaching 65%. It’s was 85.03% in the regular season. Whitworth gets $500,000 for making the playoffs. Winning one playoff game is worth $500,000 more. There’s another $500,000 with a Super Bowl victory. Whitworth’s 2022 base salary increased by $1 million for the Rams’ postseason berth and will another $500,000 with a playoff win. The playtime requirement for the salary escalator is 75% instead of 65%.
One million of Eagles Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce’s $3 million third day of the 2022 league roster bonus escalator is tied to playoff performance. Since Kelce has hit the 85% offensive playtime threshold during the regular season, each Eagles postseason victory adds $250,000 to the roster bonus, which has already escalated to a fully guaranteed $2 million. Any additional money because of playoff wins is also fully guaranteed.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to rely on the generosity of the Packers for any of his $500,000 in playoff incentives. The requirement of Green Bay improving from 2020 in touchdowns on returns and recoveries wasn’t met. The Packers had two such touchdowns in the 2020 and 2021 regular seasons. The incentives are $125,000 for each Packers playoff game where Rodgers has at least 72.5% offensive playtime during that specific contest and his regular-season playtime is at least the same number, which was easily exceeded. There isn’t any payment contingency for a wild card bye like the Packers have earned.
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