More than playoff seeding was on the line in Week 18. Take a look at some of the incentives that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Gronk, and others had to play for.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article refers to Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season. To read Boardroom’s overview of the top NFL player incentives on the line for Week 18 of the 2022 season (Jan. 7-8, 2023), click here.
The first regular season Week 18 in the NFL brought plenty of suspense and drama. From a team perspective, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens in the early window, the San Francisco 49ers’ epic comeback against the Los Angeles Rams in the late afternoon window, and the Sunday night classic win for the Las Vegas Raiders over the Los Angeles Chargers.
But while everyone was concentrating on how the playoff picture would shake out, there were tens of millions of dollars on the line in performance-based contract incentive bonuses throughout the season’s final day.
Here are a few big-name players who had a lot hanging in the balance on Sunday.
The ageless GOAT had five incentives worth $562,500 each riding Sunday for a total of $2.25 million, assuming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished better than 26th in yards per rush attempt, which they did. He had to finish top-five in the league in the following categories:
- Passer rating: His 102.1 passer rating ranked seventh in the league, just short of fifth-place Russell Wilson’s 103.1.
- TD passes: His 43 ranked tops in the league, cruising to this incentive bonus.
- Pass yards: A career-high 5,316 was the best in the NFL by more than 300 yards, so he easily hit that target.
- Completion percentage: His 67.5% rate is really good considering his absurd league-leading 719 attempts, but it didn’t get him into the top five here.
- Yards per attempt: Again, his staggering number of attempts weighed him down here, falling outside the top 10 with 7.4 YPA.
An extra $1.12 million still isn’t bad. Tack on an extra $500,000 for a playoff berth and Brady’s doing just fine. He could also get $750,000 for a Wild Card win Sunday against Philadelphia, $1.25 million for a divisional round win, $1.75 million if the Bucs make the Super Bowl and $2.25 million if Tampa wins back-to-back titles.
Like Brady, the reigning MVP and MVP favorite had some elite category incentives that he had a chance to hit. With home field advantage already assured, the Green Bay Packers pulled Rodgers late in their loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. But if he finished top three in the NFL in these five categories, he would add $100,000 each to his total.
- Passer rating: AR12’s 111.9 mark was more than three points better than second-place Joe Burrow, easily earning him the bag on this incentive.
- Completion percentage: Rodgers’ 14-for-18 passing day improved his rate to 68.9%, putting him above Dak Prescott’s 68.8 and into third overall, earning him an extra 100K by the slimmest of margins.
- Interception percentage: With an absurd four picks on 531 attempts this season, leading the league in this category was never in doubt.
- Yards per attempt: Rodgers’ 7.7 YPA was quite good for someone with that many attempts, but he finished sixth in the category and missed out on the cash.
- TD passes: Maybe the late-game substitution cost him here, because his 37 touchdown throws put him one short of Justin Herbert, whose late-game heroics Sunday pushed him ahead of Rodgers into third.
Rodgers also earned $100,000 for playing in more than 72.5% of the Packers’ offensive snaps this season. And like Brady, he has some playoff incentives as well. Rodgers will get $120,000 for making the conference championship game, $130,000 if he makes the Super Bowl and $150,000 if he wins it.
Gronk needed seven catches, 105 yards and three touchdowns Sunday against Carolina for an extra $1.5 million in incentives. Though the all-time great tight end knew he wasn’t going to get the trio of scores, the former two incentives were well within reach.
And his guy Brady wasn’t going to leave the game until he got them.
Gronk already had the yards sewn up, but needed that reception for the extra $500,000, and his buddy Brady made sure he’d get it. Just don’t ask Gronk what he’s gonna do with that money.
Here are a few more players who had cash on the line in Week 18:
- Stefon Diggs: The Buffalo Bills superstar wide receiver needed six catches against the New York Jets to reach 100 and earn an extra $658,333. He got nine in the 27-10 win, though he fell exactly 150 yards short of another $658,333 he would’ve received with a 1,375-yard campaign.
- A.J. Green: Needing 10 catches and 75 yards in the Arizona Cardinals’ game against the Seattle Seahawks to earn an extra $250,000 for each, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver fell short with just four receptions for 23 yards in an upset defeat at home.
- Taylor Heinicke: In an ongoing incentive structure where Washington Football Team paid him an extra $125,000 for every win in which the quarterback plays at least 60% of the snaps, Sunday’s win over the New York Giants gave him his sixth such win of the season, adding an extra $750,000 to his pay.
- Justin Houston: The Ravens’ star pass rusher needed 1.5 sacks against the Steelers to earn an extra $2 million in incentives, but he fell short of his goal.
- Marvin Jones Jr.: The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver needed four receptions to get to 70 and an extra $500,000. He needed 14 to reach 80 and an extra $1 million. His seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown in a shocking upset over the Indianapolis Colts got him the extra 500K and a promising end to a dark 2021 season alongside rookie QB Trevor Lawrence.