NFL teams, for salary cap and other reasons, can fill out a player’s contract with incentives that make a deal seem bigger as long as the player performs at a certain level. That’s how it was when Baker Mayfield was traded from the Cleveland Browns to Carolina Panthers and he took a $3.5 million pay cut in the transaction.
The Panthers in the new contract offered Mayfield a chance to make up for the $3.5 million, which were guaranteed, as incentives instead.
Unfortunately for Mayfield, none of the incentives are likely to be earned.
That’s not an opinion or prediction of what Mayfield is likely to earn. It’s an actual salary cap category in which none of the $3.5 million in incentives the Panthers are offering are categorized as likely to be earned because neither Mayfield nor the Carolina offense nor any offense Mayfield played on last year reached the heights required to trigger the incentives this coming season.
And so none of that $3.5 million is on the Carolina salary cap cost this year. The only way those costs figure on the Panthers cap is if Mayfield plays lights out and earns all the incentives. Then they’ll show up on next year’s cap for the Panthers.
But, again, not likely.
Consider according to figures acquired by OutKick:
If Mayfield plays 75 percent of the regular season snaps and …
The Panthers win 10 games Mayfield gets a $250K incentive payment.
The Panthers win a divisional round playoff game (with Mayfield playing 50 percent of the snaps in that game), Mayfield gets $500K.
The Panthers win the NFC Championship game (with Mayfield playing 50 percent of the snaps): $600K.
The Panthers win the Super Bowl (With Mayfield playing 50 percent of the snaps), he gets an extra $750K
So Mayfield can earn up to $2.1 million if the Panthers do a lot of great things while he’s playing a lot for them. But these are not likely to be earned incentives. Why?
Mayfield has indeed played over 75 percent of his team’s regular season snaps each of his first four seasons — with 96 percent in 2018 and last season representing his low numbers.
The last time the Panthers won 10 games was 2017 when they won 11 games. The team has been under .500 each of the past four seasons.
The last time the Panthers won a divisional round playoff game was 2015 when they also won the NFC title game and went to the Super Bowl. And that plus the fact Mayfield has never been the QB for 50 percent of the snaps on any team that has won a conference title game means this incentive is classified as not likely to be earned.
Mayfield’s incentives also reward playing time combined with high team statistical accomplishments.
If he plays 75 percent of the downs and the Panthers are a top 5 offense in the NFC OR if Mayfield plays 75 percent of the downs and the Panthers are a top 10 offense in the NFL, the quarterback gets an added $300K.
If Mayfield plays 75 percent of the snaps and the Panthers are top 5 in the NFC or top 10 in the NFL in points scored, the quarterback get an added $300K.
So that’s $600K if Mayfield and the Panthers get busy good in 2022.
Except the Panthers weren’t a top 5 offense last year. More like bottom 3. The Panthers did lead the NFL in scoring in 2015 — six seasons ago.
Finally there’s the Pro Bowl incentive. While many players treat the game as something less than an honor, it means a big payday for Mayfield gets selected. He gets $500K if he gets voted to the Pro Bowl.
Mayfield has never been selected to the Pro Bowl.
Mayfield can indeed earn back the $3.5 million in salary he gave up as part of his trade from Cleveland to Carolina. But it’s just not likely.
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