Chukwuma Okorafor Leads Steelers in ‘Performance Based Pay’ for 2020

Chukwuma Okorafor

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers greets Chukwuma Okorafor before playing against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020.

On Tuesday the National Football League Management Council released a spreadsheet showing the performance-based pay (PBP) earned by players on each of the league’s 32 member teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a total of 67 players earn performance-based bonuses for 2020, led by right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who earned an additional $567,469 for the year. (Okorafor started 15 games for the Steelers last season, taking over for Zach Banner after Banner suffered a torn ACL during the season-opener against the New York Giants.)

Meanwhile, there were seven other Steelers players who earned at least $300,000 in PBP for last season. Rounding out the top 10 we have:

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – $443,518
CB Cameron Sutton – $383,244
WR Diontae Johnson – $364,074
OLB Alex Highsmith – $360,620
FS Minkah Fitzpatrick – $357,937
ILB Robert Spillane – $324,059
WR Chase Claypool – $322,239
RB James Conner – $295,087
OLB Ola Adeniyi – $259,617

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At the opposite end of the spectrum, there were three Steelers players who earned less than $10,000 in PBP for 2020, with wide receiver Deon Cain getting $6,137, third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs collecting $5,534 and veteran running back Wendell Smallwood bringing up the rear with an added $1,237.

Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will receive an extra $27,618, with backup Mason Rudolph getting a bump of $39,736 for starting the season finale against Cleveland and filling in for Roethlisberger in parts of four other games.

How is Performance-Based Pay Calculated?

PBP is a collectively bargained benefit that provides supplemental compensation to players based on playing time and existing compensation levels. The amounts are derived via a formula that takes into account regular-season playing time, salary, signing bonus (prorated) and earned incentives, all of which is considered in relation to the playing time and compensation of one’s teammates. In practice, the largest bonuses are typically earned by players who are on their rookie contracts and become full-time starters or receive extensive playing time, much like Okorafor, who played 94.4% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps.

The calculations are based on a total pool of $8.5 million per club.

Notably, former Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum earned the highest amount of PBP in the NFL with a total of $604,185, having served as a starting tackle for the Arizona Cardinals last season. And Beachum recently re-signed with the Cardinals for two more seasons at a total cost of $4 million, so it’s easy to imagine that he will remain one of the biggest bargains in the entire NFL. In fact, Pro Football Focus recently rated Beachum, 31, as one of the Top 100 free agents for 2021, noting that he “provided one of the best values in the NFL” last season, starting all 16 games at right tackle on a veteran minimum contract while providing “above-average pass blocking and below-average run blocking.”

This Year’s Performance-Based Payouts Will be Delayed

But as noted by Mike Garafolo, reporter for NFL Network, this year’s performance-based bonuses will not be paid until at least 2024, part of the fallout from the pandemic-induced salary cap shortfall.

As a collectively bargained benefits, the money does not count against each team’s salary cap.

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