NFL CBA Series: Pro Bowl Compensation

Peterson splitting defenders in the 2008 Pro Bowl.

Peterson splitting defenders in the Pro Bowl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week before the league’s—more appropriately, the world’s—biggest game, the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl puts the league’s biggest stars between the same white lines. Although Super Bowl participants and more than a few others miss the game, the game still has a certain allure to it.

Sure, many fans will speak of the lack of effort. Football philosophers will point to the simplicity and lack of execution. Players will point to the hula dancers and the beaches. NBC will refer you to the fact that they still generate huge TV ratings for the broadcast.

Since I know we all care about the Pro Bowl game, here are the rules concerning the game according to the NFL’s CBA.

Players are entitled to compensation for their participation in the Pro Bowl. Players on the winning squad were paid $50,000 in the 2011 and 2012 games, while the losing team’s roster made $25,000 each (Art. 38, Sec. 1, 170). Players’ will receive their game pay within 15 days of the games’ date (Sec. 5, 170).

Since the conferences alternated victories in the 2011 and 2012 League Years, AFC players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Darrelle Revis, and Troy Polamalu received the same $75,000 over the two games as NFC players Calvin Johnson, Patrick Willis, Aaron Rodgers, and DeMarcus Ware.

The amount a player receives for this recognition will increase in each league year of the new CBA commencing in 2013. The chart below shows the annual increases from the 2013-2020 games.

Year:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Winner: $53,000 $55,000 $58,000 $61,000 $64,000 $67,000 $70,000 $74,000
Loser: $26,000 $28,000 $29,000 $30,000 $32,000 $34,000 $35,000 $37,000

As the chart shows, the payout for the game will be 48% more in 2020 than it was in 2012. A 48% growth in the payout for an extracurricular activity exemplifies the economic growth the league has enjoyed and is expecting.

When comparing NFL Pro Bowl payouts to the total salaries of other football leagues, the NFL superiority is obvious.

The Arena Football League (AFL) pays most of its players around $400 per contest. Each team is able to nominate three players “franchise players.” This makes them eligible to receive $1,000 per game. The glass-half-full perspective would be that the AFL will pick up the tab for meals and housing costs.

However, the glass-half-empty (maybe more appropriately “the realistic”) view would be this: Eli Manning threw 23 passes in the NFC’s 62-35 victory in the 2013 Pro Bowl, which equals $2,304.34 per pass attempt in a game that had as much lasting impact as a game in the final week of the preseason. Colts’ rookie quarterback Andrew Luck threw 19 passes in a losing effort or $1,368.42 per pass.

The United Football League (UFL) offers most players one-year, $40,000 contracts for eight games per season and also picks up the tab for housing during the season. New Orleans Saints’ punter Thomas Morstead and Minnesota Vikings’ placekicker Blair Walsh each made more playing in the 2013 “exhibition” game than the starting quarterbacks in the IFL made over the course of their eight-game season.

The only one of these leagues that has shown any stability is the Canadian Football League (CFL), having been in competition since 1958. The league minimum for a CFL player is $45,000 dollars, and the league has a salary cap of $4.2 million per franchise, per year. So, although the players of the Pro Bowl’s winning team already make more than the CFL minimum, by 2019 the NFL will be shelling out $4.2 million to the AFC and NFC’s combined 80-man Pro Bowl roster.

Just a side note not Pro Bowl related: The maximum amount a CFL franchise can pay its entire 46-man roster is still $118,000 less than Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weedon’s signing bonus as the 22nd-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The selection process is a ballot of fans, players, and coaches. Each of these three groups’ votes will account for equal one-thirds of the total ballot. The NFL gets the coaches’ votes, and the NFLPA collects the players’ votes (Art. 38, Sec. 2, 170).

American Football player Peyton Manning talks ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The NFL also requires the Players’ Association to assist in getting players to report and play. The League found that by the time the game came around about half of the players on the field would be alternate selections. The League obviously wanted to ensure that its best players were played, but it is not surprising that players’ opt out after a 16-plus game grind.

Any incentive in a Player Contract for a Pro Bowl appearance is considered earned and paid through this process. Most contracts that have Pro Bowl incentives require that a player be selected on the original ballot described in Section 2, unless the contracts specifically states that the incentive will be achieved if the player is selected as an alternate to (or plays in) the game (Sec. 2, 170).

Players who miss the game due to injury or playing in the Super Bowl will also be paid any bonus for being selected to the roster or playing in the game (Sec. 6, 170).

A portion of NFL stars will be happy to know that players’ wives can attend the game on the NFL’s dime. An allowance for flight, hotel, and meals is allotted to each player selected to vacation in Hawai’i. Those who are not married will have to come out of their pocket for the Miss. Unless, as Beyoncé sang during her “lights out” performance during halftime of Super Bowl 47, they want to “put a ring on it” (Sec. 3, 170).

Strikingly absent from Section 3 is a reference to the NFL’s payment of players’ children to attend the game. Outside of an agreement not stated in the CBA, players’ will have to put the lil’ ones on their own credit cards.

It wouldn’t be a first for the NFL and NFLPA to have an agreement that is held in confidence between them. The formula for a rookies’ Year-One Formula Allotment (Article 7, Section 1, g-h, 22-23) is not disclosed to teams, players, agents, or the public and is only known by the League and the Players’ Association.

Players do have an insurance policy, relieving some of the risk of playing a meaningless but physical game. If a player misses any part of the next regular season due to an injury directly sustained in the Pro Bowl, any games that he misses become guaranteed and will be paid in the same weekly installments ad if he was on the active roster (Sec. 4, 170).

This is good. Don’t get me wrong. I just feel like it should extend beyond the season and guarantee all of the player’s remaining contract. The player is basically doing the NFL a favor by taking part in a game that means absolutely nothing.

If a players suffers a career-ending, even career-altering injury, which hinders his ability to play out his current contract or receive another, he will not be compensated beyond the season immediately following the game he was injured.

This, of course, is subject to the guarantees in the specific Player Contract, but in a sport where any play could be your last, Section 4 is not as comforting as it is meant to be.

The last section of Article 38 gives the League the right to choose the time and location of the game. It also grants the NFL the right to cancel the game or substitute it with another event—which will be held to highlight the exploits of the League’s best players. If the NFL changes the game, players will still be chosen through the process set forth in Section 2, and every selected player will satisfy any “Pro Bowl” incentive in their Player Contract.

Section 6 does state that the NFL has to discuss any of these decisions with the Players’ Association.

The League’s potential change to a draft format is not discussed in the CBA, but it is surely a decision that the NFL and NFLPA have discussed and will have agreed upon before it is ever put in place.

Though the game has been loathed and compared to Pop Warner scrimmages, it still has its own article in the CBA. However, despite all of the critics, the game only reinforces the enormous growth of the NFL, as well as its dominance over the other “football” leagues that exist in Northern America.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be played on January 26th in Honolulu, though there are no certainties as to where or if the game will be played beyond 2014.

All contract info from Spotrac.com

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