NFL Players Earn a Generous Bonus for Every Playoff Game

Of the three major sports leagues in America, the NFL pays its players the least on average. Whereas the average NBA player makes $4.58 million, and the average MLB player makes $4.17 million, the average NFL player takes home a mere $2.11 million. Of course, that number doesn’t include bonuses.

NFL players earn extra pay depending on the number of playoff games they appear in. This system incentivizes the kinds of performances that help teams make it deep into the postseason. So, let’s break down everything you need to know about postseason bonuses.

NFL playoff system

Before delving into the specifics of bonuses, it helps to know the NFL postseason structure. Unlike baseball and basketball, football uses a single-elimination model. In the earliest days of the NFL, from 1933 until 1966, the entire postseason consisted of a single game, the NFL Championship, between the two division winners.

Starting in 1967, the league expanded its playoff system to include four teams. The winners of the two conference championship games go on to play in the Super Bowl. After merging with the AFL in 1970, the postseason expanded to include eight teams. In this system, a round of divisional championships takes place prior to the conference championships.

In 1978, the league introduced two wild-card games to the playoffs, bringing the total number of teams up to 10. Finally, in 1990, the wild-card system was expanded to include an additional team from each conference, bringing the total up to 12. This playoff system, still used today, consists of four rounds of single-elimination games.

NFL playoff bonuses

Making the playoffs is undoubtedly a point of pride for NFL players, who strive to compete at the highest level. Yet the league recognizes that financial bonuses can motivate players just as much. Separate bonuses are awarded for each playoff round.

Every player receives the bonus, provided they have been on the team’s active or inactive list for at least three games. Furthermore, all players receive an equal bonus, whether they are a starter, backup, or injured. The bonus amount increases the further the team makes it in the playoffs.

Players on teams that make it to the wild-card round receive a $28,000 bonus. Players earn the same bonus for making it to the divisional round. The conference championship round, by contrast, awards $51,000 to each athlete.

This leaves the Super Bowl. Players on the winning team get a $112,000 bonus. The losers of the Super Bowl, by contrast, get a bonus of $56,000 each.

Referee bonuses in the NFL playoffs

The players aren’t the only ones who earn bonuses for reaching the postseason. NFL referees also get extra pay for working in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the NFL remains hush-hush about how much the refs actually take home for playoff games. We do know, however, that officials earned $11,900 for working the Super Bowl back in 2001.

Given what we know about the increase in overall referee salaries since then, and assuming that the same rate of inflation holds true for postseason games, we can estimate that referees now make as much as $40,000 dollars for working the Super Bowl. While it’s not as much as the player bonuses, referees’ extra pay is certainly not too shabby for a single night of work.

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