Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. A majority of players take a hefty pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make during the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for each playoff round, and each eligible player gets paid the same.
Players will receive the following amounts for the 2015 season's playoffs:
|Postseason payouts for 2015 season|
|Wild-card round||Division winners||$25,000|
|Super Bowl||Winning team||$102,000|
Players typically receive their entire salary over the course of the 17-week regular season. For example, Alex Smith made $700,000 per week during the regular season since his base salary was $11.9 million. He will receive $23,000 for the Kansas City Chiefs' wild-card game, just like third-string quarterback Aaron Murray and the rest of his teammates. Wild-card money is less than the weekly pay of a player making the $435,000 first-year player minimum salary ($25,588 per week).
Players on teams with first-round byes (Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots) are essentially working for free for the week since they will not receive payment. The additional rest and home-field advantage in the divisional-playoff round are supposed to make up for the lack of money.
The maximum a player can make in the 2015 season's playoffs is $198,000, if the Super Bowl winner is a division winner that participated in the wild-card round (Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings or Washington Redskins). The most a player can earn if he is from a team with a first-round bye is $173,000. Payments during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.
For a player like Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett, winning the Super Bowl would be more meaningful financially than to most of his teammates, since he is only making his $435,000 league minimum salary this season. The additional $173,000 would be almost 40 percent of his 2015 salary.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's situation is different from anyone else in the playoffs because of a performance bonus in his contract. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer took a $4 million pay cut in the offseason in which he reduced his salary from $19 million to $15 million. Manning can earn the $4 million back in the playoffs. $2 million is for the Broncos getting to the Super Bowl while he plays at least 70 percent of Denver's offensive plays in the AFC Championship Game. Manning will earn the other $2 million by Denver winning the Super Bowl with him having a minimum of 70 percent offensive playing time in the game.
Players on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time receive payment for Wild Card and Divisional Playoff games. Practice squad players don't receive playoff money but continue to get paid (minimum of $6,600 per week) during the weeks their respective teams are in the playoffs. The Chiefs putting wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas on the non-football illness list means he won't get anything from these playoff rounds.
Payment eligibility is more complicated for the conference championships and Super Bowl. The payment requirements for these two playoff rounds are outlined below.
- Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for at least three previous games (regular season or playoffs).
- Veterans (at least one year of service) put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played.
- Vested veterans (four or more years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.
- Players who aren't on the 53-man roster at game time that spent at least eight games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they're not under contract to another team in the same conference.
A couple of former members of this season's Seattle Seahawks have financial reasons for wanting the team to succeed because of the last category. Wide receiver Chris Matthews, a Super Bowl XLIX star, played nine games for the Seahawks. He finished the season with the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback/wide receiver B.J. Daniels was on Seattle's 53-man roster for 10 games before being let go. He has been with the Houston Texans since Week 16.
Both will make $148,000 if the Seahawks win their second Super Bowl in three years. In this instance, Daniels would be receiving payment from two different teams in the playoffs since he will be getting at least $25,000 for currently being on the Texans. Cornerback Cary Williams, who started 10 games for the Seahawks before his release, also qualified under the last category until signing with the Washington Redskins, another NFC team, for the playoffs.
- Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for less than three previous games (regular season or playoffs).
- First-year players put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played and signed a player contract or practice-squad contract in a prior season.
- Non-vested veterans (one to three years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.
- Players who aren't on the 53-man roster at game time that spent between three and seven games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they're not under contract to another team in the same conference.
The final category will apply to wide receiver Jacoby Jones and kicker Josh Scobee should the Pittsburgh Steelers advance deep in the playoffs. Jones was with the Steelers for seven games before getting released prior to the regular season finale. Scobee was let go four games into the season. A Super Bowl 50 victory will be worth $74,000 to them.
There is one more category that receives a one-quarter share for conference championships and the Super Bowl. First-year players put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played. They also must have been on a team's practice squad for at least eight games in a prior season or received one or two game checks while on a team's 53-man roster or injured reserve in a prior year in order to qualify for payment.
The playoff payment rules will create an unusual scenario with Williams provided the Redskins have a fruitful postseason. He would get paid $50,000 for the first two playoff rounds. In the NFC Championship Game, he would receive a half amount of $23,000 because of his short tenure in Washington. He would qualify for the full amount in the Super Bowl.
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Before his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.