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Anatomy of the NFL 30-Percent Rule

Often times with young, stud players such as Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis, DeSean Jackson, and Patrick Willis, we hear a lot about what is called the 30% rule. The 30% rule basically states that a player’s new deal cannot be an increase of the annual salary of the rookie deal by more than 30 percent.  When calculating the 30% amount of a contract, you must add everything but the signing bonus and other escalators (base salary + Option Bonus + Roster Bonus). Here is a quick example:

Year Base Salary Option Bonus Roster /Workout Bonus Total Salary 30% Amount
2010 $550,000 0 $100,000 $650,000 $195,000

As you can see, 30% of the total salary in 2010 is $195,000. Therefore, in the new deal the total salary each year can only increase or decrease by $195,000, and nothing more. Here is how the rule will be applied after signing a new deal:

Year Base Salary Prorated Option Bonus Roster /Workout Bonus Total Salary Increase from Previous Year
2011 $650,000 $195,000 0 $845,000 +$195,000
2012 $845,000 $195,000 0 $1.04 million +$195,000
2013 $1.1 million 0 $135,000 $1.235 million +$195,000
2014 $1.295 million 0 $135,000 $1.43 million +$195,000

Some of you may be asking why we sometimes see players like Patrick Willis getting these mega deals while still on his rookie contract. Well, that is what signing bonuses and escalators are for. Teams often give a player like Willis a huge signing bonus and a lot of easily achievable escalators.

Let’s face it – The rules in the NFL CBA are mostly on the side of the individual teams and not the players. This is mostly evident in the fact that a club can end a player’s contract if he doesn’t perform well enough. The player cannot just terminate his contract if he’s not happy, so that’s why we hear a lot about holdouts. When I was younger boy entering my teens, I would often stage holdouts at my house. I knew I had no say in my household and the rules heavily favored my parents. In order to combat that, I would refuse to go out when my parents wanted to. That’s kind of a random example, but hopefully makes the situation more clear.