NFL Players Are Underpaid For The Playoffs And Super Bowl

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.

14 Responses to NFL Players Are Underpaid For The Playoffs And Super Bowl

  1. I agree with your salary analysis completely. What you are leaving out is the incentive for a player to do well in the playoffs in order to receive a better compensation package in the future; because in the NFL, all eyes of management are on everybody all the time and the team owners and management certainly make more money by making the playoffs and succeeding in them. So, they will remember and compensate according to free market principles those who give their best effort in the playoffs.

    • There are times when players on a team “quit” and stop trying. If a bubble playoff team tanks their last few games, it’s in their financial best interest. Someone can always make a mistake or two, without jeopardizing their career.

      It’s better to give up a touchdown, than risk a career-ending injury in a playoff game.

  2. Most players do not quit due to injury. The two years is the average due to players being cut. Large numbers come into the league most do not make it or they make it for a year on special teams and are cut the following year. Most veterans retire due to them being once again unable to compete with younger players. There are actually very few career ending injuries. I’d consider this, those players are paid to play 24 games. 4 preseason, 16 regular season and 4 post season. The ones that don’t get to play that many get some extra time off to figure out how to work the whole year next time. In the end it’s a game that adults get paid to play, and I’d bet that 90% of guys would drop what they are doing right now to play one year in the NFL.

    • The players’ performance deteriorates due to cumulative effect of injuries. Even if there isn’t any single play with a career-ending injury, the cumulative effect of hits takes a toll.

      One current example is RG3′s knee. The injury is due to cumulative stress, more than any single play. He may have severely aggravated his injury, due to one extra playoff game, instead of having 6 months to heal before his next game.

      • Your article states they careers are 2 years in length due to injury. This is not the case. Players making a team in their first year average a six year career. I was a college athlete, and having never played pro football know that I currently could not compete at my previous level. This is not due to injuries, but due to age. Players are paid to play a season, not paid for individual games. Ask any of them not playing right now, they’d rather be on the field than on the coach, despite any additional risks.

        • In other sports (MLB, NBA), players can compete at a high level until they’re 35-40. The NFL careers are shorter due to the cumulative effect of injury, more than old age. Even in high school and college, you accumulate injuries.

          The first “wall”, where the effect of aging kicks in, is at age 30. NFL careers end sooner than that, due to injury.

  3. The average NBA career is less than 5 years. Shorter depending on who you include and when you say a career begins and ends. Jus like NFL these are not shortened due to injury, but due to teams replacing with possible future talent. Players often receive lucrative incentives for making the playoffs or for performance which is often easier to reach with additional games. There are 35-40 year old players in the NFL. I admit football is a much more physical (in terms of hits) game than basketball or baseball. Regardless, players sign a contract stating “season” not a contract stating “games”.

    • Average NBA career length: 6-7 years (source)

      Average MLB career length: 5.6 years (source)

      Average NFL career length: 3.5 years (source)

      According to that, injury-shortened careers are MUCH MORE COMMON in the NFL than in the NBA or MLB. If a player plays in one playoff game, that’s shortening his career by 1/56. (56 = 3.5*16, actually more if you consider that playoff games are more intense than a regular season game).

      Yes, the current system forces players to sign a contract for the entire season. I’m pointing out that they aren’t fairly compensated for the playoffs on a per-game basis. If the NFL players don’t mind, that’s fine. If they’re too stupid to negotiate properly in their CBA, that’s their problem.

      Compare that with MLB, where the world series bonus was $323k in 2011, compared with a minimum salary of $414k and an average salary of $3.1M. If a team wins the World Series and each series goes the maximum (5+7+7=19, 19/162=12%), then the MLB players are much more fairly compensated for the playoffs compared to the NFL. Also, an MLB player isn’t risking as much of a serious injury in the postseason (except for pitchers).

      Given that players are underpaid for the playoffs, it’s in their rational self-interest to miss the playoffs, if they’re a bubble team.

  4. 2010 Packers, 2007 Giants, 2005 Steelers-maybe, could all be considered bubble teams. All Super Bowl winners. Athletes have been known to play for more than money. I wouldn’t address them as stupid due to their CBA. Average career if you are good enough to have played in one pro bowl is 11.7 years. So I’d say talent is a greater predictor of career length than playoff games.

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  6. You are ignoring the financial incentives built into many players contracts that provide for bonus payments for reaching the playoffs. Also, you are over-emphasing the role of career-ending injuries. The vast majority of players retire due to diminishing skill sets , also, the role of younger, cheaper players who more easily fit under the salary cap is important.

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  8. They can suck it up & play
    Most have 1 job..like catch the ball ..they make plenty & beyond
    People are starving & they are buying guns girls cars for heck of it.

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