Young NFL players who go undrafted or who are signed off of waivers, and even later day 3 draft picks, have to play through their earliest years on team friendly deals. The incentive to work hard and ignore a wide compensation disparity is strong. If they put together a strong resume as they head into the final years of their contracts, they could be handsomely rewarded with shiny new deals that may take care of them for the rest of their lives.
Exhibit A - Kenny Moore
In 2018, Kenny Moore entered his second season with the Indianapolis Colts. He established himself as one of the most important pieces in the secondary. He had the ability to disrupt opposing receivers, knock down passes, create turnovers, and was one of the most effective pass rushers on the entire team.
His salary in 2018? $555,000.
Chris Ballard had no interest in allowing Kenny Moore to continue playing at this current contract level and provide the young defensive back with an incentive to leave. He also had an opportunity to put Jim Irsay’s money where his mouth is, following through on the promise to pay homegrown players who earn it.
Kenny Moore signed a four-year contract extension worth $33 million before he started the 2019 season. His hard work and impact on the field paid off.
Any fan who has followed the NFL for a while understands that these new contracts and extensions aren’t guaranteed. No player’s health is guaranteed for a given game or a given season, let alone for the length of their contracts. It would seem entirely unfair for players who are responsible for high levels of production but on bargain contracts to have no ability to earn additional salary except if they play for a franchise who has the money to kick in and who has a personnel manager interested in doing so.
The good news is that each season there is a pool of additional compensation that will provide players with performance-based pay bumps. Two players for the Indianapolis Colts earned a portion of this pool.
Wide receiver Zach Pascal was the Colts most productive and most reliable pass-catcher in 2019. He played on a deal that offered $570,000 for the season. Yesterday, the NFL announced that he will receive the 14th (HA!) highest additional compensation of all eligible players in the NFL for the season. His additional compensation of $529,838 nearly doubles his salary.
A well deserved bonus for a player whose performance well exceeded his salary.
The other player who received additional compensation for 2019 is linebacker Anthony Walker. As a day 3 draft pick, Walker has a little higher annual compensation than Pascal. He was playing on a deal worth $711,353.
As one of the most consistent pieces of the Colts defense and the team’s leading tackler, Walker has been another player to outperform expectations. He earned $492,525 in additional compensation, which is the 20th highest performance-based compensation offered to players for the 2019 season and pushes him total compensation over $1M for the season.
In both cases, this is well deserved.