From $248 to $622K: NFL players to bring in a wide range of bonuses

  • Covered NFL since 1997, Cowboys since 2003
  • Previously covered Bengals and Dolphins
  • Lives in Dallas area with his wife and two children

Sometimes the best feeling can be finding an extra $20 in a pair of jeans you have not worn in a while.

Now imagine what it must be like when you learn you have found an extra $622,056.

The NFL’s performance-based pay system has been around since 2002, when it was included in the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, and it rewards players who have had high playing time but are making low base salaries.

This year, the league divvied up $8.55 million per team for veterans and rookies, and while the checks won’t hit the players’ accounts until 2024 at the earliest, it’s still good to know there will be some money coming in.

Here’s a look at some of the notable performance-based bonuses that were distributed:

Big money

Alex Cappa, a 2018 third-round pick, played all 1,070 snaps for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 at guard, winning a Super Bowl ring along the way. Because of the NFL’s performance-based pay system, Cappa earned a league-high extra $622,056 on top of his $750,000 base salary.

He was one of 26 players to have earned at least $500,000. He wasn’t the only Buccaneer, either. Safety Jordan Whitehead earned $555,455. A fourth-round pick in 2018, Whitehead started every game for the Super Bowl champs and had two interceptions.

Small money, but …

At the other end of the spectrum is Cincinnati Bengals center B.J. Finney. He collected the smallest bonus, just $248 for two snaps on special teams.

But Finney was able to double dip. He also earned $3,668 from the Seattle Seahawks, who dealt him to Cincinnati in the Carlos Dunlap trade in October 2020. Finney signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.

Offensive lineman Marcus Martin, who split the 2020 season between two teams, was also a double-dipper. He earned $2,839 from the Detroit Lions and $591 from the New England Patriots.

The rest of the top 10

Arizona Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum collected the second-highest check at $604,185 after starting every game. Not bad for a player who signed a few weeks before training camp began. This offseason, he signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Cardinals.

The remainder of the top 10 includes: Buffalo Bills corner Taron Johnson ($578,749), Los Angeles Rams guard Austin Corbett ($572,736), Detroit cornerback Amani Oruwariye ($572,067), Chicago tackle Germain Ifedi ($570,571), Steelers offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor ($567,469), Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier ($561,469), Baltimore Ravens safety DeShon Elliott ($557,477) and Whitehead ($555,335).

The bottom 10

Finney was one of 13 players to earn bonuses of less than $1,000, with Houston Texans quarterback AJ McCarron receiving the second-smallest check at $316.

In spots 3 through 10: Seattle linebacker D’Andre Walker ($453), Carolina offensive tackle Matt Kaskey ($542), Green Bay defensive tackle Anthony Rush ($547), Martin ($591), New York Giants wide receiver Alex Bachman ($600), Jacksonville Jaguars place-kicker Stephen Hauschka ($740), Philadelphia Eagles tackle Prince Tega Wanogho ($781), Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson ($924) and Washington Football Team tackle Saahdiq Charles ($924).

There could not have been a more disappointing season for anybody other than Wilson, the Titans’ first-round pick.

The players selected immediately before Wilson at No. 29 overall — Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen and Miami Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene — earned $181,141 and $139,826 respectively.

The Titans traded Wilson to the Dolphins earlier in the offseason and he has already been released.

Big names, small money

Playing on his rookie contract from 2016 to 2019, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott regularly cashed in quite well in the performance-based pay system, earning more than $1 million total in his first four seasons.

Last year, Prescott had the highest base salary in the NFL at $31.4 million, playing on the quarterback franchise tag. He was also limited to five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. His take from the 2020 performance-based pay system: $5,653.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. He collected $4,786. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (knee) played just two games as well, and he earned $4,279. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. lasted seven games before a knee injury. He received $14,669.

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