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Pay for performance

It hasn't gotten a lot of publicity, but NFL players will soon be receiving checks in the mail based on their 2002 playing time under the league's new "Performance Based Pay" system. The new form of player compensation was created by the NFL and the NFL Players Association when the sides extended the Collective Bargaining Agreement on Jan. 8, 2002 and basically rewards lower paid players for significant playing time, although every player is eligible for the money.

Under the plan a league-wide pool fund, $15.104 million ($472,000 per team) for 2002, will be dispersed to players based on a comparison of playing time to salary. The fund will grow to $32 million in 2003 and will continue to increase in each year of the current CBA that expires in 2008. The money in the fund was created by slowing the annual increases in the minimum base salaries for all players and also slowing the increase in the rookie pool, the amount teams can use to sign draft choices and rookie free agents. Players are eligible to receive the Performance Based Pay in any season in which they play at least one down of regular season action.

The program uses a "Player Index" that takes a player's total plays and divides it by that player's compensation, including salary, prorated bonus and earned incentives. That number is then compared to those of the other players on his team to determine the amount that the player receives.

"The Performance Based Pay system is especially beneficial to lower-salaried players," NFL Executive Vice President of Labor Relations Harold Henderson said. "Under this system, if a player is making the minimum but plays in a high percentage of his team's plays, he stands to get a larger payout than a teammate with equal playtime but a higher salary."

In a press release, the league used a hypothetical example to show how the bonus system works. In the example "Player A" with a $650,000 salary, playing in 75 percent of his team's plays would get a bonus of about $30,000. Player "B" on the same team has a $6 million salary and took part in a similar 75 percent of plays would get a bonus of approximately $2,000. The system makes no adjustment for production while on the field and works under the premise that significant playing time reflects a player's contribution to a team.

According to ESPN.com the biggest beneficiary of the system for last season was 49ers offensive lineman Eric Heitmann. Heitmann's contract called for him to earn a $225,000 salary with a signing bonus of $28,500. But thanks to his playing in 56.7 percent of San Francisco's snaps, he will receive a $42,048 bonus. Other notable big bonus recipients included Chargers center Jason Ball ($41,138), Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael ($40,580) and Dolphins safety Arturo Freeman ($37,605).

But while young and minimum salary players are the ones who benefit most from the performance bonuses, every player sees a proportionate share of the money. For example ESPN.com reports that NFL MVP Rich Gannon earned $4,194, Falcons' sensation Mike Vick got $4,254 and Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe will receive $2,249.

One interesting aspect of the bonus system is the fact that none of the bonus money awarded to the players counts towards a team's salary cap. Essentially it is a way that players can be compensated for their play that does not affect the team's bottom line on the cap.

Pay for Performance may not be a true system of pay based totally on performance as it really only takes into account playing time, but it is a step closer to a truly merit-based system. High profile players, glamorous positions and rookies will continue to receive salaries that may be disproportionate to their future success, but at least this system creates a way for players who need it most to be compensated based on what they do on the field and not simply what a predetermined contract figure calls for.

"We shifted money from the projected increases in minimum salary to annual payments based on playing time, a fairer distribution of the money," NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw said. "Pay for Performance rewards players who may be on the bottom of the team pay scale, but play a majority of the games."

NFL Europe still on, for now

The NFL is continuing with plans for the 2003 NFL Europe season to begin on April 5. Wednesday the league said that there has been no change in plans for the league with the possibility of war with Iraq looming.

"We are monitoring developments, but at this point there has been no change in our plans to go forward with the NFL Europe season as scheduled," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The status of the NFLE season will be discussed at the NFL's Annual Meeting that starts on March 23 in Phoenix, Ariz. There had been published reports that the league was prepared to play part or all of the NFLE season in Florida, but the NFL has not commented on those reports.

The six NFL Europe teams have bee training in the Tampa area for the last three weeks and are scheduled to leave for Europe and their home cities on March 25 and 26.

Stafford sharp in NFLE camp

Patriots NFLE allocated quarterback Shane Stafford was impressive in a game-action scrimmage over the weekend at NFLE training camp in Tampa. Stafford completed 7-of-10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Scottish Claymores in action against the Frankfurt Galaxy at Raymond James Stadium. The action was the first of two game-condition scrimmages, the second will come this Sunday, before the teams leave for Europe and the 11th NFL Europe season.

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