Program helps supplements players' salaries
Vikings' Brian Russell was one of three $100,000 recipients of the NFLPA's "performance based pay" program.
Little more than a spare part during his first two years in the league, Minnesota Vikings free safety Brian Russell intercepted nine passes in 2003, tying for the NFL lead. He also started all 16 contests and, more amazingly for a player who spent 2001 on the practice squad and 2002 on special teams, Russell was on the field for all 955 defensive snaps.
For the former deed, Russell commanded some notice, but he still wasn't selected to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. For the latter accomplishment, becoming one of only three non-offensive linemen among the 35 players who participated in every snap in '03, Russell will pocket an additional $114,258 and is the biggest beneficiary in the second year of the league's "performance-based pay" program.
|“||It's like putting on an old pair of pants, and finding a $20 bill in the pocket, except it's a whole lot better than that even ”|
|— Dan Koppen, Patriots center on the $101,521 he'll pocket as part of the "performance based pay" program|
Then again, Russell had a lot of company, as dozens of young players will soon find PBP checks of $40,000 or more in their mail boxes in the next few weeks.
Every franchise had at least three players who qualified for $40,000 or more in terms of PBP money and Denver and Indianapolis had eight each. There was at least one player in the $50,000-plus bracket on every team.
"It's like putting on an old pair of pants, and finding a $20 bill in the pocket, except it's a whole lot better than that even," said New England center Dan Koppen, who started in 15 games as a rookie, won a Super Bowl ring and the $122,500 in playoff money that goes with the title, and now will bank $101,521 in a PBP bonus. "I wasn't even aware of (the program) until somebody told me about it during Super Bowl week. Hey, it's great, man."
It is, indeed, one of the best concepts to emanate from the partnership of the NFL and the NFL Players Association, and from their continuing labor peace. Some purists, who feel that players should be paid solely on production, likely view the program as representing little progress toward that lofty and idealistic goal. Truth be told, the PBP program will not eradicate a system in which first-round draft choices pocket millions of dollars before they ever set foot in their first NFL locker room.
The program is, though, a step in the right direction. And the direction, as evidenced by the payouts for 2003 playing time, is definitely in the "up" position.
In 2002, its first season, the program doled out $472,000 per franchise and three players received bonuses of $40,000 or more. For the '03 season, the payout per team rose to $1 million and there were a whopping 163 players who qualified for checks of $40,000 or more. Eighty-two players will receive checks for $50,000 or more and 20 earned more than $70,000. In addition to Russell and Koppen, linebacker Scott Fujita of the Kansas City Chiefs, will get a bonus of $100,000-plus, with his PBP payment of $113,298.
Those numbers will rise again in 2004 as the PBP fund continues to increase.
The best collective example of how the PBP, in application, is matching its theoretical purpose: All 20 of the men who qualified for $70,000-plus bonuses under the program were minimum-salary players in 2003, earning between $225,000 and $380,000 based on their years of NFL tenure. And all 20, quite obviously, performed at a level far exceeding those minimum base salaries, and deserved to have their compensation augmented.
"It's almost a given that, every year, every team in the league is going to have players who (outplay their contracts)," NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw acknowledged. "Sometimes those players spend years, maybe even their entire careers, trying to catch up salary-wise. This is a way to reward those players."
|Play For Pay: This marks the second year of the "performance based pay" program, instituted between the league and the NFL Players Association as part of the 2002 extension to the collective bargaining agreement, and primarily designed to reward players with minimum salaries but whose 2003 performance exceeded their paychecks. There are 82 players who will collect more than $50,000 each as part of the PBP program. Here is a list of the 20 players:|
|FS Brian Russell||Vikings||$114,258|
|LB Scott Fujita||Chiefs||$113,298|
|C Dan Koppen||Patriots||$101,521|
|FS Clinton Hart||Eagles||$96,310|
|OG Dave Diehl||Giants||$88,320|
|OG Steve Edwards||Bears||$86,319|
|OG Kyle Kosier||49ers||$84,921|
|OT Tom Ashworth||Patriots||$82,583|
|CB Brian Williams||Vikings||$80,081|
|CB Lenny Walls||Broncos||$78,758|
|OT Wade Smith||Dolphins||$78,180|
|FS Will Demps||Ravens||$77,864|
|TE Casey Fitzsimmons||Lions||$77,567|
|FS Ifeanyi Ohalete||Redskins||$76,986|
|FS Deke Cooper||Jaguars||$76,398|
|LB D.D. Lewis||Seahawks||$75,335|
|OT Phil Bogle||Chargers||$74,754|
|TE Randy McMichael||Dolphins||$74,352|
|FS Kevin Kaesviharn||Bengals||$74,155|
|CB Kelly Herndon||Broncos||$72,204|
Harold Henderson, the league's executive vice president of labor relations, pointed out last year that some players need the PBP checks simply to get through the offseason. At least Thomas, a three-year veteran, can splurge on a week's worth of fast-food dinners.
One of the attractive components of PBP is that it does not increase a player's salary cap charge because the money is deducted from the overall cap pool upfront. The fund was essentially created by slowing annual increases in the minimum salaries and by blunting increases in the rookie pool.
Fujita and Miami tight end Randy McMichael are the only two players who ranked among the top 20 beneficiaries each year, but they certainly mirror the escalation in PBP funds. Fujita, who earned $35,079 for 2002, saw his bonus increase more than threefold. McMichael received $40,580 for 2002 and jumped to $74,352 for the '03 season.
"Keep that 'found money' coming," said McMichael. "Once you know it's out there, and I didn't in the first year of the program, it really is (an incentive). I mean, the better you play, the more your playing time increases, and so does the (PBP) money. You want to be out on the field as much as possible."
Around the league
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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