In a perfect professional football world all NFL player contracts would be built off incentives. In an industry that is so dependent on FUTURE production it seems asinine to pay someone for the PAST. Yet the key to lucrative opportunity in the NFL is the amount of guaranteed money an agent can build into his client’s contract and conversely the amount a club’s negotiator can keep out. Pro football’s mantra might as well be “Here today, gone tomorrow.” There are no guarantees of stability or longevity in a professional football career, and therefore the short term strategy of both player and agent is to “Get it while you can.”
But understand that incentives are often not in control of the player. Clubs control the amount of playtime divvied up throughout a roster. Coaches or an NFL front office can both reward or punish a player by controlling the opportunity to achieve a particular threshold. I’ve worked in an environment where the head coach wouldn’t think twice about seizing away a chance for a player to earn a contract incentive just to make his point about a particular issue and to ensure his control.
Working against incentives
So it works both ways. There are those players that lack the maturity and professionalism to deliver the level of production a club clearly expected when they signed the contract. There are those clubs clearly lacking the same character traits to deliver upon their own feigned promises. The complexity of accounting for incentives within the rules governing the NFL Salary Cap and the overall skeptical attitude of clubs & agents towards their effectiveness in motivating/compensating players doesn’t support their overall cause. And yet somehow we still find incentives built into the financial reimbursement of professional football players, and they work to the simultaneous advantage of both the player and club.
Understanding the advantages of incentives
The Football Educator has addressed the phenomena of “Gen Y or Millennials” in the NFL player pool. In fact one of the biggest problems the NFL faces is its unwillingness to recognize that it’s dealing with a different generation of young player than just a decade ago. Trying to motivate and manage them in today’s workplace is an entirely different set of circumstances. One of the foremost authorities on the management of Millennials is Bruce Tulgan. Tulgan emphasizes the importance of short-term, special rewards you negotiate in exchange for short-term above-and-beyond performance. He writes;
Immediate rewards are much more effective and a higher level of reinforcement. Gen Yers are likely to remember the precise details and context of the performance and are therefore more likely to make the connection the next time the desired performance is called for. Plus they won’t spend time wondering if their performance has been noted and appreciated, and they will therefore be less likely to lose the momentum generated by their short-term success.
From my own personal perspective of management and leadership as a GM in the NFL, I’m a huge proponent of the incentive clause. A number of dynamics work directly in contrast to these philosophies, but it doesn’t make them any less relevant in helping to maximize the performance and development of young players. The next few articles posted on The Football Educator will address incentives in NFL player contracts and their effect on the NFL Salary Cap.