I heard an interesting argument. Someone said “For an NFL team that’s on the bubble for making the playoffs, with not much chance of winning the Super Bowl, they’re better off not making the playoffs than qualifying for the playoffs. By qualifying for the playoffs, they play one extra game, but they get paid less than their normal salary per game.”
For 2012, the NFL salary cap was $120M. With a 53 man active roster, that’s an average salary of a little more than $2M.
The minimum salary varies based on years of experience. The average NFL career lasts only a few years, so I’ll use the value for a player in his 4th year, $615k/year.
Dividing by 16 games a season, the average salary is $125k/game, and the minimum salary is $38k/game.
This article has NFL playoff bonuses. It’s from January 2011, so I’ll increase it by 5%. (From 2011 to 2013, the minimum salary for 4th year players increased by 5%, so I’ll assume playoff bonuses increase by the same percentage.)
Let’s take a Jets or Packers player for example, who each played an extra game because they played in the Wildcard. They made $19,000 each for the Wildcard game, $21,000 each for winning the Divisional Playoff Game and are guaranteed $38,000 for the Title Game. Should they win the Super Bowl, they’d make $83,000 (losers make $42,000).
So if the Jets or Packers win the Super Bowl, each player will get $161,000 for their playoff run. Break that down by game and it’s $40,250 per game.
Increasing by 5%, that’s
- wild-card game: $20k
- divisional game: $22k
- conference championship: $40k
- Super Bowl loser: $44k
- Super Bowl Winner: $88k
Comparing to regular season pay:
- average NFL salary per game: $125k
- minimum salary per game: $38k
Consider a bubble team that just made the playoffs and loses their first game. They get paid less for that game than the minimum salary for the regular season.
If the Super Bowl winner had a first round bye, they got paid $50k per playoff game. If they did not have a bye, they got paid $42.5k per playoff game. The Super Bowl loser gets paid $35.3k per playoff game.
For the superstar players, it’s worth it to win a Super Bowl, for the endorsements. For the average players and backups, it’s not a good deal. By qualifying for the playoffs, the NFL players play an extra game, risk a career-ending injury, but get paid less per game than during the regular season.
Most NFL players have short careers. They stop playing due to injury and not old age. Financially, the playoffs are a bad deal for the players. They are risking a career-ending injury on every play, but they get paid less per game than during the regular season. Given that players are underpaid for the playoffs, the players on losing teams are paid more per game than those on playoff teams.