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Recently, ESPN (and others) reported that the New Orleans Saints had instituted a "bounty" program. This program awarded players for inflicting game-ending injuries against the opposing teams and awarded different amounts of money depending on the type of injury. These types of individual player incentives are obviously deemed illegal by the NFL.

However, there have incentives written into player contracts regularly regarding total number of team wins, playoff wins, interception totals, sack totals, total number of yards rushing/passing or touchdown totals. As recently as March of 2012, San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Ahmad Brooks signed a contract extension that included incentives for wins and sacks.

Brooks has a base salary of $4.3 million in 2013 which is guaranteed for injury at the time he signed the deal. That becomes guaranteed for skill and cap if he’s on the roster April 1 of that year. However, the guaranteed portion can be reduced up to $2.5 million that year if he does not achieve certain sack totals.

In 2014, Brooks has a base of $5.15 million, with $4.95 million becoming guaranteed for injury and skill if he is on the roster on April 1. However, that guaranteed total and base salary can be reduce by up to $2.5 million based on his 2013 sack production.

Brooks can void all de-escalators in the contract if the 49ers win 12 games, he has 93.2 percent playing time that season and San Francisco plays in the conference championship game, or if he has two prior seasons of 12 sacks or more.

Is this contract legal by rules of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (or just general NFL League Policy)? If so, what types of individual player incentives are allowed or disallowed?

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7  
I just realized that it would be ironic to award a bounty for this question :) –  Marcus Swope Mar 6 '12 at 22:06
    
Haha, great comment! –  Matt Mar 6 '12 at 23:10
    
What made the bounty program illegal was part because of rewarding hurting another player as well as the pay-off being made by players and not the team. Players cannot offer each other financial performance incentives. –  JeffO Nov 22 '12 at 4:43
    
how do incentives affect the salary cap? Most teams leave a little bit of salary cap space during the season since they need to sign guys as other guys get injured. So what happens if players hit a bunch of incentives. This could easily push the team over the cap. If it does not affect the cap, its a way to get a loop hole around the cap, by giving player alot of very easy incentives to get. –  Bob Aug 22 '13 at 15:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Well, quite a question.

As of the latest (August 2011) NFL CBA - Incentives have a lot of rules around them. I'm not a lawyer or arbitrator but from what I can tell, Brooks' contract sounds legal (and fairly typical) for a player of his status in the NFL.

As far as what is spelled out around individual player incentives in the NFL CBA - Section 6(c).v on page 96 of the CBA states, "Any incentive bonus that depends on team performance in any category not identified in Exhibit A hereto is prohibited." while section 6(c).vi at the top of page 97 states, "Any incentive bonus that depends on a player’s individual performance in any category not identified in Exhibit B hereto is prohibited." so the incentives listed in the CBA are what players & teams are limited to as far as incentives go.

INDIVIDUAL INCENTIVES

RUSHING

  • Total yards
  • Average yards (100 attempts)
  • Touchdowns

PASSING

  • Passer rating (224 attempts)
  • Completion percentage (224 attempts)
  • Interception percent (224 attempts)
  • Total yards
  • Yards per pass (224 attempts)
  • Touchdown passes

RECEIVING

  • Total receptions
  • Total yards
  • Average yards (32 receptions)
  • Touchdowns

DEFENSE

  • Interceptions
  • Interception return yards
  • Touchdowns on interception returns
  • Opponent fumble recoveries
  • Opponent fumble return yards
  • Touchdowns on opponent
  • fumble returns
  • Sacks

PUNT RETURNS

  • Total yards
  • Average (20 returns)
  • Touchdowns

KICKOFF RETURNS

  • Total yards
  • Average (20 returns)
  • Touchdowns

PUNTING

  • Gross average (40 punts)
  • Net average (40 punts)
  • Inside 20-yard line

PLACE KICKING

  • Total points
  • Field goals
  • Field goal percentage (16 attempts)
  • Field goal percentage 0-19 yards (4 attempts)
  • Field goal percentage 20-29 yards (4 attempts)
  • Field goal percentage 30-39 yards (4 attempts)
  • Field goal percentage 40-49 yards (4 attempts)
  • Field goal percentage 50 yards or longer (3 attempts)

OTHERS

  • Roster bonuses
  • Reporting bonuses
  • Playtime bonuses (excluding special teams)
  • Special teams playtime

There are also team incentives where the amount set aside in the pot for each incentive is split evenly among all players on the team. The rules around how team incentive money is calculated into the salary cap is long-winded and written in legalese so I will refer you to the NFL CBA PDF if you wish to read more about it. Do I get some incentive for having back-to-back-to-back 3-letter acronyms in my answer? ;)

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I found this wording listed in the NBA CBA PDF you referenced, which seems to spell it out pretty clearly (Exhibit B is the listing of incentives that you listed above). "Any incentive bonus that depends on a player’s individual performance in any category not identified in Exhibit B hereto is prohibited." For clarity, this should probably be added to the answer. –  Marcus Swope Mar 7 '12 at 2:46
    
thanks, got it added. –  jamauss Mar 7 '12 at 3:02
    
Where did you get this info from? On ESPN I could've swore they said the NFL had a 0-tolerance policy for any type of incentive, whether it be a hit or a touchdown. –  Dynamic Mar 9 '12 at 10:54
    
This info came from the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement document (linked to). I am guessing what ESPN said is that there is zero tolerance for any type of incentive that IS NOT listed in the CBA. –  jamauss Mar 9 '12 at 16:36

There seem to be 2 types of incentives in contracts: "Likely to be earned" (LTBE), and "Not Likely to be earned" (NLTBE). Pages 109-124 of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement lists all of these incentives (as well as rookie incentives broken down by their draft round), and it looks like they are the only things that can be offered. I also found something here (although a little less official) that says essentially "anything as long as it's legal". Although this citation admittedly leaves more to be desired as far as an explanation and it's more specific to endorsement contracts.

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You have confused incentives paid by the team (legal) with those provided by other players (illegal). Players cannot offer one another performance based financial incentives. Some players will provide gifts to their teammates who helped with their performance. Usually a running back will take the lineman out to dinner if they get a rushing title. A QB would not be allowed to pay a lineman money for preventing sacks.

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I think this happens quite a bit anyway... there is a huge difference in the amount of money a star player makes over most players. I don't see how this can be enforced. –  Bob Aug 22 '13 at 15:33

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