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The Seahawks needed the Lions to beat the Packers in the 2022 regular-season finale to make the playoffs. The outcome of the game had extra significance for Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. He had already earned $1 million of playtime incentives in his contract. The earned amount was going to double to $2 million with the Seahawks making the playoffs. Seattle got the NFC's last wild card spot thanks to Detroit's 20-16 win over Green Bay.

Incentives are usually designed to be classified as not likely to be earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the salary cap when a deal is signed. Generally, any incentives with higher thresholds than the player's or team's statistical performance in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. The most frequent categories for individual achievement are playtime or based on the player's primary function (i.e.; rushing yards for a running back). Coupling an individual achievement with a team statistical performance also makes an incentive NLTBE. If earned, a team will incur a salary cap charge for most incentives after the playoffs end. Incentives are typically paid in February or March, following the season in which they are earned.

Per game roster bonuses are treated as incentives under the salary cap even though they are calculated as part of a contract's base value. Because of this treatment, they weren't given any consideration.

Salary escalators and incentives can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player's agent and the team on the player's value. Incentives are also a way for a player taking a pay cut to make back some or all of the money he is losing through the salary reduction. 

Incentives are preferable to escalators. Triggering an escalator doesn't necessarily mean that the player will make the increased salary. The escalated amount is rarely guaranteed so teams can still ask the player to take a pay cut or release him without incurring the financial obligation. 

There are entirely too many performance bonuses in NFL contracts to recognize them all. Here's a look at 2023 performance bonuses for 15 noteworthy players. Prominent players with performance bonuses such as Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon and Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas aren't being highlighted because there isn't a legitimate chance for these players to earn anything because of injury and/or poor performance.

Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs

  • Maximum: $6.75 million
  • Expected bonus: $2 million

The Chiefs and Jones weren't in the same ballpark on a contract extension although both sides felt he should be the NFL's second-highest-paid interior defensive lineman. Jones' 51-day holdout came to an end without a long-term deal before preparations for Kansas City's second regular-season game began. 

Instead, modifications were made to Jones' remaining 2023 contract year. Jones' $1.25 million sack incentive was made part of the $5.5 million of new performance bonuses that were added as an option bonus escalator to pick up a voiding 2028 contract year. There's a provision designed to force the Chiefs to exercise the option. Voiding 2024 through 2027 contract years were also included. It was done this way because the $6.75 million would have classified as LTBE if incentives.

Two million of the escalator is based on Jones' defensive playtime over the last 17 weeks of the regular season. It's $1 million for 35% or more playtime during this span with another $1 million for at least 50%. His playtime since returning to action is 74.07%. 

The option bonus increases by $1.25 million if Jones has 10 sacks and an additional $500,000 is for 15 sacks. Jones has 7.5 sacks in 13 games, which puts him on pace for nine sacks. There's a $1 million escalation for the Chiefs getting to the Super Bowl and Jones being named first team All-NFL by the Associated Press. The option bonus also goes up $2 million if Jones is the Associated Press' NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Kansas City wins the Super Bowl.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Ravens

  • Maximum: $3 million
  • Expected bonus: $1.25 million

Beckham missed the entire 2022 season recovering from tearing the ACL in his left knee for a second time during Super Bowl LVI. He signed a one-year, $15 million contract worth up to $18 million through incentives with the Ravens despite his injury history. 

Beckham has incentives for 30, 40, 50 and 60 catches. There are incentives for 250, 500, 750 and 1,000 receiving yards. He also has incentives for three, five, seven and nine receiving touchdowns. He makes $250,000 for each of the four thresholds reached in the respective categories. The entire $1 million can be earned in any of the three categories for leading the team if Beckham falls short of the highest threshold. Beckham has 32 receptions, 519 yards and three touchdown catches through 14 games. He has played in 12 of those games. Beckham is on track for 40 catches for 649 yards with three touchdowns.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Titans

  • Maximum: $3.75 million
  • Expected bonus: $2.1 million

Hopkins signed a two-year, $26 million deal worth a maximum of $33.5 million through incentives with the Titans at the start of training camp after being released by the Cardinals in late May. He has incentives for 65, 75, 85 and 95 catches. Hopkins' incentives for receiving yards are at 750, 850, 950 and 1,000. There are also incentives for four, six, eight and 10 receiving touchdowns. Hopkins makes $250,000 for each of the four thresholds reached in these three categories. He also gets $350,000, $500,000 or $750,000, respectively, with a minimum of 65%, 75% or 85% offensive playtime. 

Hopkins' playtime for the season after 14 games is 70.25% (614 of 874 offensive snaps). He has 59 receptions, 919 yards and six touchdown catches this season. Hopkins is on pace for 72 catches for 1,116 yards with seven touchdowns.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Buccaneers

  • Maximum: $4.5 million
  • Expected bonus: $2.6 million

Mayfield signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $4 million deal worth up to $8.5 million through incentives with the Buccaneers in March. He beat out Kyle Trask in a competition to replace Tom Brady, who retired in early February, as starting quarterback. 

Mayfield has $2 million of incentives primarily based on his offensive playtime. He has $500,000 for at least 66% playtime. It increases by $250,000 for hitting the 75% and 85% marks. The amount earned doubles with Tampa Bay making the playoffs. Mayfield has been on the field for all but three of Tampa Bay's offensive snaps. 

There's $1.5 million tied to how Mayfield performs. Mayfield can make $300,000 each for ranking in the NFL's top 10 or NFC's top five in the following categories: passer rating, touchdown passes, passing yards, completion percentage or yards per pass attempt. He is currently fifth in the NFC in passer rating and touchdown passes.

Mayfield also has incentives tied to Tampa Bay's playoff success. Because Mayfield's regular-season playtime is going to be at least 75%, he gets $250,000 for each playoff win with a minimum of 75% offensive playtime in the game.

Danielle Hunter, Edge, Vikings

  • Maximum: $3 million
  • Expected bonus: $3 million

The Vikings increased the disgruntled Hunter's 2023 compensation by $11.6 million and added $2 million to the existing $1 million of incentives based on his sack total. Eleven sacks are worth $1 million. The amount increases to $2 million and $3 million with 12.5 sacks and 14 sacks, respectively. Hunter has earned the entire $3 million because he is second in the NFL with 15.5 sacks.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers

  • Maximum: $1.75 million
  • Expected bonus: $100,000

The Chargers added $1.75 million to Ekeler's contract this year. It was a compromise that Ekeler found acceptable after the Chargers refused to extend his contract. There's $900,000 based on Ekeler's yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) this season. Provided the Chargers improve over 2022's ranking in average net yards gained per rushing play (as long as the ranking isn't in the league's bottom five), it's $100,000 for 1,125 or more yards. Ekeler gets $200,000 more with 1,250 yards and another $200,000 each at 1,375 and 1,500 yards. He can also earn an additional $300,000 with 1,639 yards. The team component isn't a requirement for this $300,000.

Ekeler has a touchdown incentive where he can earn up to $600,000. He makes $150,000 for scoring at least 10 touchdowns. Getting to 13 touchdowns is worth another $200,000. Sixteen or more touchdowns are an extra $250,000. The previously mentioned team ranking applies as well. He also gets $150,000 for being selected to the Pro Bowl Games on the original ballot.

Ekeler is having a disappointing contract year. He has 879 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns while playing in 11 of the Chargers' 14 games. The Chargers rank 27th in yards per carry. Ekeler has a legitimate shot at the initial yards-from-scrimmage threshold. He is on pace for 1,119 yards from scrimmage.

Tyron Smith, OT, Cowboys

  • Maximum: $11 million
  • Expected bonus: $6.5 million

Smith took a pay cut from $13.6 million to a fully guaranteed $6 million, with the opportunity to earn as much as $17 million total through incentives, because of an inability to stay healthy in recent years. He makes $1 million with a minimum of 50% offensive playtime. Smith gets another $1 million for every additional 5% playtime. The upper limit is $9 million for at least 90% playtime. Smith's playtime this season is 73.09%, while playing in 11 of 14 games. As long as Smith doesn't miss any more games, he should be above the 75% mark at the end of the regular season. 

There's another $2 million based on Smith offensive playtime and Dallas' playoff success. He gets $500,000 for a wild card game playoff win with at least 75% offensive playtime during the regular season and a minimum of 51% playtime in that game. This $500,000 can also be earned with the requisite regular-season playtime and wild card bye. Each successive playoff win, while satisfying the playtime requirements, is worth $500,000.

Geno Smith, QB, Seahawks

  • Maximum: $15 million
  • Expected bonus: $2 million

Smith turned a career year in 2022 into a three-year, $75 million contract that's worth as much as $105 million because of roster bonus escalators in 2024 and 2025. His $9.6 million fifth day of the 2024 league year (next March 17) roster bonus and $10 million fifth day of the 2025 league year roster bonus can each increase by $15 million primarily based on his performance in the previous season. Essentially, Smith must continue to be the same player he was statistically in 2022 when he threw for a franchise-record 4,282 yards with 30 touchdowns, while connecting on 69.8% of his passes for a 100.9 passer rating. Hitting each one of these thresholds increases the roster bonus in the next season by $2 million. There's an additional $2 million for 10 wins or making the playoffs with at least 80% offensive playtime. If all five performance measurements are earned in a given year, there is a $5 million kicker so the roster bonus increase is $15 million instead of $10 million.

Smith hasn't quite been able to duplicate his 2022 performance. He is returning to the lineup in Week 16 after missing the last two games with a groin injury. Smith has completed 64.4% of his passes for 2,918 with 15 touchdowns. He has an 89.1 passer rating. Seattle is fighting for a wild card berth with a 7-7 record. The playoffs are attainable since the Seahawks have the Titans, Steelers and Cardinals left on the schedule. 

Raheem Mostert, RB, Dolphins

  • Maximum: $1 million
  • Expected bonus: $1 million

Mostert signed a two-year, $5.6 million deal worth up to $7.6 million through incentives to remain with the Dolphins. He gets $500,000 for 600 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) and another $500,000 for reaching 900 yards from scrimmage. The money is contingent on the Dolphins improving from their 2022 ranking in average net yards gained per running play, points scored, offensive touchdowns scored or completions percentage. Mostert has earned the $1 million because he already has 966 rushing yards and Miami leads the league in points scored.

Joe Flacco, QB, Browns

  • Maximum: $4.05 Million
  • Expected bonus: $225,000

Flacco was out of football until Week 12 when he was signed to Cleveland's practice squad after Deshaun Watson's season-ending shoulder surgery. He was elevated from the practice squad the maximum three times before signing a deal for the rest of the season worth $800,000 ($400,000 signing bonus and $400,000 base salary) that includes an additional $4.05 million in incentives. 

Flacco has an incentive paying $75,000 for every game in which he participates in at least 50% of offensive plays and Cleveland wins. The same requirements apply to the playoffs except Flacco gets $250,000 for a wild card game win, another $500,000 for a divisional playoffs win, $1 million more for winning the AFC Championship Game and an additional $2 million for winning the Super Bowl. 

Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, Ravens

  • Maximum: $3.5 million
  • Expected bonus: $2.25 million

Clowney took a drastic cut in pay from the one-year, $10 million contract worth up to $11 million through incentives he signed in 2022 to return to the Browns. He accepted a one-year, $2.505 million deal with an additional $3.5 million in incentives from the Ravens during the middle of August. 

Clowney has $1.75 million in incentives based on sacks. It's $500,000 for five sacks. He gets an additional $500,000 with seven sacks and another $750,000 for nine sacks. Clowney has 7.5 sacks through 14 games, which puts him on pace for nine sacks to get the entire $1.75 million.

There's also $1.75 million for Clowney's defensive playtime. He makes $500,000 for 50% or more playtime, with an additional $500,000 for 60%. There's another $750,000 for 65% or more playtime. Clowney's defensive playtime is 57.32% (548 of 956 plays) this season.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, Cowboys

  • Maximum: $1.5 million
  • Expected bonus: $1 million

Gilmore was dealt to the Cowboys from the Colts for a 2023 fifth-round pick in March. He is in the final year of a two-year, $20 million deal worth up to $23 million with incentives. Gilmore has $1 million in playtime incentives. He earns $250,000 for at least 70% defensive playtime, another $250,000 once he hits 80% and an additional $500,000 with playtime of 90% or more. Gilmore has been on field for 94.59% of Dallas' defensive snaps (839 of 887) this season. There's also $500,000 for being named first team All-NFL by the Associated Press.

Lavonte David, LB, Buccaneers

  • Maximum: $3.5 million
  • Expected bonus: $2.5 million

David returned to the Buccaneers for a 12th season on a one -year, $4.5 million deal with another $3.5 million in incentives. There are multiple ways to earn $2.5 million of the $3.5 million. The Buccaneers have to improve on 2022's league ranking in interceptions, touchdowns on returns or recoveries, turnover margin, touchdowns allowed, average net yards per running play or wins. This $2.5 million can also be earned with David having more interceptions, interception return yards, interception touchdowns, fumble recoveries, fumble return yards, touchdowns on fumble recoveries or sacks than in 2022. David is earning the $2.5 million because he has 3.5 sacks this season after three in 2022.

There's also $150,000 each for five interceptions and five sacks. David participating in a minimum of 65% of Tampa Bay's defensive snaps, while the Buccaneers ranking in the NFL's top 10 for points allowed, is worth $200,000. The Buccaneers are 13th, while David's defensive playtime is 82.3% this season. Since David's defensive playtime has hit the 65% mark, he gets $125,000 for every Tampa Bay playoff win in which he is on the 48-man active roster.

Jordan Love, QB, Packers

  • Maximum: $9 million
  • Expected bonus: $2.5 million

Aaron Rodgers' request to be traded to Jets was granted because of the Packers being comfortable with Love taking the reins at quarterback despite his extremely limited track record. The Packers hedged their bets by signing Love to a one-year, $13.5 million extension, worth up to $22.5 million through salary escalators, before the May 2 deadline to pick up his fully guaranteed $20.272 million fifth-year option. Love is making $7.5 million more this year than he was scheduled to in the fourth year of his rookie contract.

His 2024 base salary escalates by $500,000 with at least 65% offensive playtime during this regular season. Love has only missed five of Green Bay's 896 offensive snaps this season. It's another $1 million by hitting the 65% mark and Green Bay winning 10 or more regular-season games, making the playoffs or Love ranking in the NFL's top 10 in both passer rating (minimum of 224 pass attempts) and touchdown passes. He is currently 17th and tied for fifth in these categories.

The increase is $500,000 by taking 65% or more of Green Bay's offensive snaps during the season and ranking in the NFL's top 16 in any of the following categories: passer rating, completion percentage, passing yards and touchdown passes. The escalation is $1 million instead for top 16 in two of the four categories. It's $1.5 million with top 16 in three of the four. Love is 10th in the league in passing yards. Another provision is based on 65% playtime where there's $500,000 each for ranking in the NFL's top 10 for these categories that totals $2 million. Love's completion percentage ranks 24th. The 224 pass attempts requirement applies to passer rating and completion percentage.

There's a separate provision worth a maximum $3 million escalation based on the 65% playtime mark and Green Bay's playoff success. Making the playoffs is worth $500,000. Winning a playoff game, while playing at least 65% in that game, is worth another $500,000. The increase is an additional $500,000 each for winning the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, while playing a minimum of 65% in the applicable contest.

Being selected to the Pro Bowl Games is a $1 million escalation. Selection as an alternate or replacement doesn't qualify for the increase.

Gardner Minshew, QB, Colts

  • Maximum: $2 million
  • Expected bonus: $2 million

Minshew signed a fully guaranteed one-year deal for $3.5 million with an additional $2 million in incentives to back up 2023 fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson. He became the Colts' starting quarterback after a season-ending shoulder injury to Richardson in Week 5. Minshew gets $500,000 with 30% or more offensive playtime. There's an additional $500,000 each at the 40%, 50% and 60% playtime levels. Minshew has been on the field for 779 of Indianapolis' 952 offensive snaps (81.83%) this season.