Wednesday whys: All about Pro Bowl bonuses

Why is selection to the Pro Bowl so important to NFL players?

Many can look at the Pro Bowl list every year and dismiss the selections as a popularity contest and not a true assessment of the talent on the field (those are usually agents and the players who were not selected). But to players who do make it (and their agents), the Pro Bowl is vitally important for financial and prestige reasons.

First, there’s the compensation for the Pro Bowl itself. This year, players on the losing team will receive $22,500, and players on the winning team will receive $45,000. Although that may be pocket change to many of them, it does add a sense of urgency to the fourth quarter when the stakes are raised for double the prize money to the victors.

Then there are the Pro Bowl bonuses. There are hundreds of NFL players with Pro Bowl incentives and/or escalators in their contracts. The difference is that an incentive is earned and paid out in February after the game; an escalator is money added to future-year(s) salaries. For example, the deal I negotiated with Charles Woodson for the Packers has a $1.5-million escalator for salary the year following Woodson’s selection to the Pro Bowl (with a maximum involved). Also, $250,000 that will be added to Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson’s 2011 salary based on his Pro Bowl selection Tuesday.

The incentives range from a few thousand dollars all the way to the Julius Peppers level of $1.5 million (with this incentive now earned, Peppers’ 2009 compensation is now over $18M as discussed here). Dozens of players – and their wives, family and others -- anxiously awaited last night’s roll call of selections with their earnings in play.

The other issue with the Pro Bowl selection involves future or even existing contracts. Once a player makes a Pro Bowl, the agent is now armed with a badge of honor that will have significant bargaining muscle behind it. An agent can now compare his player to other players with Pro Bowl on their resumes, and these are usually players who have been rewarded by previously using the same flawed logic.

I experienced the “Pro Bowl problem” in negotiations several times. Players return from Hawaii -- now Miami this year -- with whispers in their ear about how they are underpaid now that they’ve made the Pro Bowl and that it’s high time for a contract renegotiation. While maddening at times, it became an annual ritual in February and March to address the newly enlightened players -- sometimes accompanied by newly hired agents -- with their newly elevated status of Pro Bowl player.

Finally, the Pro Bowl selections are personally gratifying as there are four players named with whom I negotiated contracts (Woodson and Nick Collins of the Packers and Jason Peters and Leonard Weaver of the Eagles), three others who are longtime friends (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Darren Sharper) and one I watched run around as a kid 10 years ago in Green Bay, Jairus Byrd, son of Gil Byrd, the former standout player who worked with the Packers. Congrats to them.

Why does the language in Pro Bowl bonuses need to change?

The Pro Bowl has traditionally been held the week following the Super Bowl in Hawaii. As we know, that has changed this year and the game will be played the week before the Super Bowl in the same location, Miami. So participants in the Super Bowl will not participate in the Pro Bowl.

The language from a Pro Bowl incentive has always been something similar to the following:

“Player will receive a bonus in the amount of --- in the event he is named as a Starter or Back-up on the initial Pro Bowl Ballot and participates in the Pro Bowl game following the regular season, unless medically excused.”

Now language needs to be adjusted to say “…unless medically excused or Player is excused due to the Club’s participation in the Super Bowl.”

Some recent contracts have similar language. If the playing of the Pro Bowl prior to the Super Bowl continues, all Pro Bowl bonuses will need to be modified. In the interim, although the strict reading of the contract would allow teams in the Super Bowl to not pay players Pro Bowl bonuses, there is no way that would happen. There would be a revolt.

Why are the Pro Bowl selections evidence that big splashes in free agency are usually more noise in March than February?

The big signings this year when the bell rang for free agency were monster contracts given to players who set new markets for the positions they play. Among them were the contracts of Albert Haynesworth of the Redskins (defensive tackle), Jason Brown of the Rams (center), Bart Scott of the Jets (linebacker), and T.J. Housmandzadeh of the Seahawks (wide receiver).

None of these players was selected to the Pro Bowl. Moreover, it appears that only three – Brian Dawkins, Leonard Weaver and Darren Sharper – who switched teams during the 2009 free agency period were selected to play in the game, and the latter two signed for modest one-year contracts. (Jason Peters also switched teams due to a trade, and Brett Favre was signed out of retirement).

The point is that players who sign huge contracts in free agency are expected to play to the level of their contracts, which means a Pro Bowl level. But football is not baseball or basketball; it’s a game of schemes and systems, as Haynesworth is finding out in Washington. Players do not plug in as easily.

And for my final pet peeve Why of the Week for the year, and one that may be unpopular:

Why is there such outrage over the Colts’ decision to abandon the quest for an undefeated season?

The job of those looking out for the best interests of the team is to put the team in position to win the ultimate prize, which is not to be undefeated during the regular season but to be undefeated during the postseason.

What would have happened had the Colts continued to play their starters and Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne or even the kingfish, Peyton Manning, been injured?

Although we don’t like to admit it, the last week or two of the season has become the de facto fifth or sixth week of the exhibition season for some teams, a necessary nuisance on the schedule with the primary goal of not getting anyone hurt. Since football is a sport in which every active player is “one play away” from being an inactive player, protection of the prime assets of an organization is overriding.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

For a glance at a potential Packers-Vikings playoff matchup, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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