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NFL Player Salaries and the Playoffs: What Can We Predict?

A workmate and I recently sipped peppermint tea and vented our frustrations over NFL players' outrageous salaries. I fretted over whether they are doing good for the world with all that money when this friend said with disgust, "I wonder how much the winning quarterback of the Super Bowl will get for his three hours in the spotlight." "Good question," I said, "I'm going to find out."

Well, I soon learned that predicting an NFL payout is a tough task, especially for a girl who once forced an exasperated sigh from her boyfriend by calling NFL player's uniforms, "outfits." I had a lot to learn.

I checked in with my football-lovin' friend in my company's IT department and he taught me an important fact. Top NFL player's contracts are complicated, one-of-a-kind documents designed to get around the salary cap. This means that some players aren't paid right away - sometimes not until after they retire.

True football lovers already knew this. Me? Well... I didn't.

So, next, I dug around on USA Today's Salaries Database for the NFL and saw these wild fluctuations in Super Bowl quaterback's earnings up close. Huge streams of money eventually flow toward NFL top salary earners. (And, by the way, these streams are really more like tsunamis.) But, the cash is bundled each year into three basic categories: signing bonus, salary or other bonuses (defined by USA Today as "roster, report, workout and other bonuses, plus any likely-to-be-earned bonuses").

I zeroed in one of the Super Bowl quarterbacks I'd actually heard of - Tom Brady of the New England, Patriots. His former girlfriend was named Bridget and I always thought that was fun. I took a look at his earnings over the last five years

Turns out that Tom Brady's recent earning provide a great example of how variable a top NFL player's salary can be.

For example, in the 2007 season, a year he made it to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady made only $5,160 in other bonuses. But, he received $5,280,000 in signing bonus money. What happened the next year when he didn't make the Super Bowl? He earned $3,001,320 in other bonuses. Must have been that tricky contract.

Take a look at Brady's last five years and you'll see how unpredictable, but ultimately big, the money Tom Brady received outside of his base salary actually was. Keep in mind, he went to the Super Bowl in 2004 and 2007 and made it the playoffs in 2005 and 2006.

Tom Brady's Income for the 2004-2008 Seasons

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Other Bonus Total Salary Cap Value
2008 $ 5,000,000 $ 5,280,000 $ 3,001,320 $ 8,001,320 $ 14,621,320
2007 $ 720,000 $ 5,280,000 $ 5,160 $ 6,005,160 $ 7,345,160
2006 $ 4,000,000 $ 0 $ 12,004,840 $ 16,004,840 $ 13,828,590
2005 $ 1,000,000 $ 14,500,000 $ 154,180 $ 15,654,180 $ 8,427,930
2004 $ 535,000 $ 4,965,000 $ 4,200 $ 5,504,200 $ 5,062,950

So, when the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers face-off on Feb. 1, I don't know how much each quarterback will make for the game and I'm not sure if anyone does, just yet. But, I do know that (1) it will be a lot and (2) it may not arrive for a while.

Oh, and, if they let women into the NFL, I would be happy with just the NFL minimum salary of $285,000. Anyone hiring a 6'0" gal who once played rugby?

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