NFL Rookie Contracts Explained: Performance Incentives

Rookies are very limited with the types of Performance Incentives allowed in their contracts. While veterans can receive bonuses for attaining certain individual and/or team statistics and/or rankings, rookies can only receive incentives for playtime percentage (figured out by dividing player’s total offensive or defensive plays by the team’s total offensive or defensive plays) (Art. 7, Sec. 6, (A) (f), 30). These incentives can also only be earned for a specific percentage in a particular season and not for improving playtime upon a previous season.

Performance Incentive rules also differ by the round the player was drafted in.

For first- and second-round picks, the minimum amount of playtime a player can be rewarded for is set at 35% in the initial contract year and 45% in any other year of the deal. For players drafted in the third round and later, along with players who go undrafted, the minimum playtime incentive is set at 15% for the first year and 30% for any subsequent years (30).

These incentives can’t be guaranteed for skill, injury or cap and can only be based on playtime in the current League Year. Earning or failing to earn an incentive cannot modify, nullify or create another incentive clause (30).

Also, if a player does not trigger an incentive, the unearned incentive is prohibited from being carried over into a future year. So, if a player has a $50,000 incentive bonus that is unearned, that bonus can’t be added to a $50,000 incentive in the following year to create a $100,000 bonus the next season (30).

Any performance incentive that is negotiated into a rookie contract is considered Likely To Be Earned (LTBE) and considered Rookie Salary for purposes of calculating the Year-One Rookie Allocation, Total Rookie Compensation Pool, Year-One Rookie Compensation Pool, Club’s Total Rookie Allocation, Club’s Year-One Rookie Allocation, and the 25% Rule (30).

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