Split Contracts

This is the second post in our CBA Basics series. Today we will discuss split contracts.

How can an NFL player actually earn less than a minimum salary? When a split salary is included within his contract.

Star NFL players and high draft picks do not need to be concerned with this CBA nuance. However, for mid to late round draft picks, rookie free agents, end of the roster veterans, and players coming back from injury, a split salary provision in a contract could subject a player to earning less than the minimum salary for which the player would otherwise be eligible.

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Minimum player salary amounts are based on the number of credited seasons that that player has accrued. If a player signs a minimum contract that includes a split salary, the league minimum amount is considered the “up” salary, and the “down” salary is an amount less than the minimum salary that the team would be responsible for from a salary cap and a cash perspective if that player is placed on the Injured Reserved or Physically Unable to Perform Lists.

The minimum salaries (the “Up” amount) as well as the reduced salary (or the “down” amount) for 2019 for players with between 0 and 5 Credited Seasons (“CS”) are as follows:

CSMinimum (“Up”)Split (“Down”)
0$495,000$378,000
1$570,000$393,000
2$645,000$408,000
3$720,000$448,000
4$805,000$473,000
5$930,000$498,000

Whether a split salary is included in a contract is negotiable, but players without much leverage do not have much choice. If they want a chance to play in the NFL, they accept the contract language.

While the difference in pay can be significant between the “up” and the “down” amounts, note that it is not all or nothing. For example, if the player gets injured in the third game and is placed on IR for the rest of the season, that player will be paid the “up” amount for the weeks that he was on the active/inactive list (3/17 of his salary) and will be paid the “down” amount for the remaining weeks of the season (14/17 of his salary).

The inclusion of a split salary allows for NFL teams to better manage their salary cap and cash condition to back-fill a roster spot for an injured player. However, from the player’s perspective, accepting a split contract could result in a scenario where not only is his earnings potential diminished by an injury, but his current salary is also impacted when he gets hurt doing his job.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a non-star player go down with an injury during an NFL game. Not only will that player need to deal with recovery from his injury and the possibility of not being able to perform, but his salary could also take a major hit while on the Injured Reserve list if his contract is subject to this provision.

For more information about minimum contracts, split contracts and other issues, please review my CBA summary.

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