For plenty of contracts that carry incentives, the details of the incentives don’t become public. When they do, the details often demonstrate how hard it will be to reach the “up to” numbers that reporters throw around nonchalantly and without proper context.
Yes, Patriots quarterback Cam Newton can earn “up to” $7.5 million in 2020. To do that, however, he’ll have to have the kind of season that would put him above the league’s half-billion*-dollar man.
Field Yates of ESPN.com has the full details on the Newton deal. It already was known that he gets a $1.05 million base salary and up to $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses (i.e., he receives $43,750 for every regular-season game for which he’s in uniform).
Newton can earn up to $3.75 million in playing-time incentives, with specific amounts tied to percentages of playing time — and with a kicker at certain levels if the team makes the playoffs.
If Newton plays 13 percent of the offensive snaps (roughly two games), he gets $250,000. At 20 percent (a little over three games), the amount becomes $500,000. At 30 percent (roughly five games), he gets $750,000. The incentive bumps to $1 million at 40-percent playing time (roughly six-and-a-half games), and to $1.25 million at 50 percent.
The playoff kicker applies at 60 percent playing time, where Newton gets $1.5 million plus another $250,000 if the team qualifies for the postseason. At 70 percent, the numbers are $1.75 million and $2.25 million. At 80 percent, he gets $2 million and $3 million.
The maximum playing-time incentive comes from 90-percent playing time (roughly 14.5 games). Newton gets $2.25 million for reaching that level, and another $1.5 million if the Patriots make the playoffs.
The other $2 million in incentives comes from high-level achievement while playing. He gets $500,000 for making it to the Pro Bowl, a $500,000 All-Pro bonus (there’s only one All-Pro quarterback for the entire league), and $250,000 for each playoff win during which he generates at least 50-percent playing time.
Thus, Newton earns $7.5 million this season only if he: (1) suits up for every game; (2) plays at least 90 percent of all offensive snaps; (3) leads the team to the playoffs; (4) qualifies for the Pro Bowl; (5) is named the Associated Press All-Pro quarterback; and (6) wins four playoff games in which he takes at least 50 percent of the snaps. In other words, the Patriots will have to win the Super Bowl (without earning a bye), Newton will have to be extremely durable, and he’ll have to play so well that he becomes the AP All-Pro, over quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, etc.
If all of that happens, the Patriots will have gotten the best return on their investment in the history of sports — and then they’d have the ability to apply the franchise tag to keep him around in 2021 for a lot less than what he’d get on the open market after checking the six boxes listed above.