# NFL Player Bonuses and Who’s Chasing Millions of Dollars

This prominent agent thought the proposal itself, made to one of his most prominent clients, was pragmatic enough. And if handled properly, would create a very real win-win.

The player, a high-end corner, had a contract incentive tied to interception return yards and, with 13 games in the books, was four yards short of the mark. If he hit it, it’d land him $100,000. And in thinking about that, the agent had happened upon a quirk in the rules that could help his client get there—if a teammate lateraled an interception to him, and he picked up additional yardage as a result, those yards would count toward the total.

So the agent had a proposal for his client: “You’re gonna walk up to every player on defense, and tell them if they get a pick, and they pitch you the ball, you’ll give them $10,000.” With three games left, he’d figured, an opportunity was bound to pop up.

“So, first game, one of his teammates picks the ball off, and I see him running right behind the guy—he’s there,” the agent says. “And the guy falls down, even though he definitely could’ve pitched it.”

After the game, the agent asked the player whether he’d gone through with the plan.

“I probably need to up my offer,” the player said.

“What did you offer?” the agent asked.

“Five-hundred dollars.”

The season, a couple of decades ago, ended two weeks later.

The incentive went unearned.

This is the side of the NFL at the end of the season that’s rarely seen. As teams jockey for division titles, wild-card spots and playoff seeding and, at the other end of the spectrum, draft position, you have hundreds of players with a lot on the line individually. Some of it, to be sure, is about where they’ll be the next year. Some of it, like the story above, is about getting money in the here and now.

And in a lot of cases, teams will work with players on getting their incentive money. It’s become routine, for example, for teams to tell players who are close that they’ll give them their incentives—in the form of an offseason roster bonus—if they don’t hit their markers, so they aren’t focused on where they are in regards to six- or even seven-figure payouts. And because of rules preventing teams from just cutting checks (the owners put these rules in for a reason), a lot of times the guys in the front office have had to work around things to reward players.

“You’re in a bind if it’s an expiring contract; that makes it difficult,” says one team’s cap chief. “If there’s no more [time] on the contract, they won’t let you stuff money into the current year, so that can be an issue. We’ve had to be creative.”

But, before that, guys have to produce to a point where they have that sort of money on the line going into the final weeks of the season. Here, then, is our list of players from across the league who are right on the cusp of hitting their incentives, and, as such, are playing for a lot more than glory the next two weeks.

• Cardinals K Matt Prater gets $250,000 if he’s 83% or better on field goals (minimum 20 tries)—and he’s at 18-of-20 (90%) now.

• Arizona DE J.J. Watt has already gotten an escalator bonus for $900,000 (it was at $500,000 for seven sacks, $700,000 for eight sacks and $900,000 for nine sacks) with 9.5 sacks. He can push that to $1 million if he gets to 10 sacks.

• Ravens DL Calais Campbell, who’s injured, has already hit a $500,000 incentive with 5.5 sacks. If he gets to eight sacks, he gets $1 million.

• Campbell’s linemate, Justin Houston, is at nine sacks, having already earned $500,000 (five sacks) and $1 million (7.5 sack) incentives. If he gets to 10 sacks, his bonus goes to $1.5 million.

• Another Ravens pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, is at two sacks, which gives him an outside shot at his sacks incentives ($500,000 for five sacks or $1 million for seven).

• Bills CB Taron Johnson, who has one interception, would get $200,000 for three picks, $300,000 for four or $400,000 for five.

• Buffalo slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie has an incentive in his contract where he gets $100,000 at each of four catch markers (30, 40, 50 and 60 receptions), and $50,000 for 250 regular-season yards, then $100,000 for 350, 450, 550 and 600 yards. So at 40 catches, he’s collected $200,000. And with 404 yards receiving, he’s earned another $150,000, with a chance for more the next couple weeks.

• Bills S Jordan Poyer gets $750,000 for six interceptions *or *$250,000 for a pick-six *or *$250,000 for a fumble recovery *or *$300,000 for two fumble recoveries *or *$500,000 for five fumble recoveries. Right now, he has four interceptions, no pick-sixes and no fumble recoveries.

• Buffalo DT Tim Settle, who has one sack on the year, gets $250,000 for three sacks, $600,000 for five or $800,000 for seven.

• Bears K Cairo Santos can increase his 2023 base salary by $375,000 by hitting 87.5% of his field-goal attempts or $750,000 for hitting 90%. He’s 20-of-22 (90.9%) right now.

• Bengals TE Hayden Hurst gets $125,000 for 50 catches *or* $250,000 for 60. He also would receive $125,000 for 500 receiving yards *or* $250,000 for 600. He’s currently at 48 catches and 400 yards, and is expected to return from injury this week. His $125,000 incentive for five touchdowns catches (he has two) is probably out of reach.

• Bengals RB Samaje Perine, who’s at 376 rushing yards, gets $100,000 for 500.

• Cowboys DE Dorance Armstrong cashed in a $250,000 incentive last week for making the playoffs *and *posting eight sacks. Dante Fowler has the same incentive, but is sitting at five sacks. If Fowler somehow gets to 10 sacks next week, he’ll hit a $1 million marker.

• Lions WR Kalif Raymond gets $250,000 each for 50 catches, 600 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. He’s at 40, 510 and zero in those categories. He also gets $150,000 for 300 punt-return yards (he’s at 248) and $25,000 for every punt return touchdown.

• Lions RB Jamaal Williams, who has 850 rushing yards, gets $250,000 for 1,000 rushing yards.

• Packers OLB Preston Smith, who has 8.5 sacks on the year, has a sacks escalator that gives him $1 million for reaching each of three markers—10, 12 and 14 sacks.

• Jaguars WR Zay Jones landed a $500,000 incentive for getting to 70 catches and can get $250,000 more for 80, then another $250,000 for 90. He also can land $500,000 for getting to 900 yards, with another $250,000 there at 1,000 *and *1,100 yards. Right now, Jones has 75 catches for 778 yards.

• Jacksonville WR Christian Kirk has $500,000 incentives at 80, 90 and 100 catches, and 1,000, 1,100 and 1,200 yards. He has 76 catches for 988 yards.

• Jaguars pass rusher Dawuane Smoot, who has five sacks, gets $250,000 for six, $500,000 for eight *or *$1 million for 10.

• Chiefs DE Carlos Dunlap has one of the more complicated ones on the board—needs team improvement in one of several defensive categories, including total yards/yards per carry allowed/pass-play yards allowed, sacks, total defense, touchdowns allowed *or *takeaway differential *and *six sacks to cash in on a $1 million incentive. If he meets the condition with nine sacks, it goes to $2.1 million, and at 10 sacks, it goes to $3 million. Right now Dunlap has four sacks. While we’re here, Chris Jones just hit his $1.25 million, 10-sack incentive.

• Kansas City’s receivers have cash to play for as well. JuJu Smith-Schuster gets $500,000 at 40–49 receptions or $1 million at 50–59 or $1.5 million at over 60. He also gets the same amounts at 500, 650 and 900 receiving yards. He’s at $2.5 million, with 74 catches and 877 yards. Meanwhile, Marquez Valdes-Scantling gets $500,000 at each of these catch markers: 60, 70, 80 and 100. Which means with 37 catches, he needs to go bonkers even to get $500,000.

• Chargers WR DeAndre Carter gets $100,000 at 25, 35 and 45 catches; 350, 450 and 550 yards; and five and seven touchdowns. He’s earned $400,000 of that, with 41 catches, 481 yards and three touchdowns going into Week 17.

• Chargers TE Gerald Everett has $250,000 incentives at 50, 60, and 70 catches. So, with 52 catches, he’s now sitting at $250,000.

•. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler added $500,000 to his 2023 base salary by getting past 1,375 scrimmage yards last week.

• With 576 receiving yards, Rams TE Tyler Higbee has earned $375,000, getting past benchmarks of 300, 400 and 500 yards. That number will grow to $500,000 if he gets to 600 yards.

• Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert gets $1 million if he’s over 900 scrimmage yards, and the team is top 25 in points scored. Mostert has 941 yards, and Miami is ninth in scoring.

• Vikings OLB Za’Darius Smith has an incentive for $500,000 at 8.5 sacks *or* $750,000 at 10.5 sacks *or* $1 million at 12.5 sacks. Smith has 10 sacks, so he’s almost at the second step on that escalator.

• Saints LB Demario Davis already hit a $250,000 incentive for having a pick and four sacks (he has an interception and 6.5 sacks). He can make another $250,000 for finishing with two fumble recoveries—right now, he has one.

• Saints DE Cam Jordan just hit a $500,000 incentive for 10 sacks *or* 18 sacks over the past two years. He has just 5.5 this year, but that puts him at an even 18 since the start of 2021.

• Giants WR Richie James gets $100,000 for having 40 catches and a 10.0-yard punt return average. He’s got the first half of the equation, with 50 catches. But it’d take a historic finish to get his return average up from 7.2 to 10.0.

• Jets TE Tyler Conklin just hit a $250,000 incentive for getting to 50 catches, and S LaMarcus Joyner reached his three-interception incentive, earning $300,000.

• Jets DE Carl Lawson has earned $400,000 for getting to six sacks, which is the number he’s on going into Week 17. That goes to $600,000 at eight sacks, and $800,000 at 10.

• Jets K Greg Zuerlein is 83.9% on field goals. He gets $250,000 at 85%, $500,000 at 87.5% or $750,000 at 90% for the season.

• 49ers WR Deebo Samuel could return this week and has some money to earn. He already got $150,000 for scoring three rushing touchdowns. He can take home another $500,000 for getting to 380 rushing yards; he’s at 228.

• 49ers DE Samson Ekubam gets $100,000 at seven sacks, $250,000 at eight, $375,000 at 10 or $500,000 at 12. He’s at 4.5, making even getting to that first step a tough ask.

• With 10 wins, Seahawks QB Geno Smith would’ve collected $200,000 in play-time incentives. Now at 7–8, and since he’s checking the 55%, 65%, 75% and 85% play-time boxes, he’ll wind up with $1 million. He’s already passed markers at 3,400 and 3,700 yards passing to hit another $750,000 incentive. And if he gets to 4,000, that’ll jump to $1 million—he’s now at 3,886.

• Seahawks DE Quinton Jefferson gets $250,000 for five sacks, and $500,000 for seven. He’s sitting at four sacks with two games to go.

• Titans coach Mike Vrabel sat Derrick Henry on Thursday, and Henry had already hit a $500,000 incentive for 1,300 rushing yards. Henry did not play against the Cowboys.

• And last but not least, Commanders K Joey Slye gets $125,000 if he finishes in the top 12 in field goal percentage, or $250,000 for finishing in the top six (minimum 24 attempts). Slye currently ranks eighth among qualifiers at 88%.