Players: Playoff share isn't fair

Joe Rutter
| Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

Jonathan Dwyer and Kyle Jolly will stand on the Steelers sideline Sunday, wearing team-issued apparel and watching Super Bowl XLV unfold at Cowboys Stadium.

Neither rookie will play in the game, but Dwyer could earn tens of thousands of dollars more than Jolly if the Steelers defeat the Green Bay Packers.

If the Steelers win their seventh Lombardi Trophy, Dwyer will collect $142,000 for being part of the team's playoff run. Jolly will get $26,000.

The disparity exists because Dwyer, despite being active for just one of 18 games this season, is on the 53-man roster. Jolly, who has played in zero games, is on the eight-man practice squad.


"I totally think so," said Steelers safety Ryan Clark, the team's union representative.

Clark would like to see the issue addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement, which expires in March.

"Just as all of us are part of this team, so are they," he said, referring to the practice squad players. "It would be a great credit to the union to get something like that done. No matter who you are or what you are doing at this time of the year for this team, we're all in the playoffs. Everybody should get the same check."

Unlike Major League Baseball, where players on playoff teams vote to determine the size and share portion for each team member, the NFL has a slotted system that is outlined in the CBA and contains no provisions for practice squad players.

Each player on the winning Super Bowl team receives $83,000 this year; the losers pocket $42,000 apiece. To get that money, however, players must be on the 53-man roster. Practice squad players collect $5,200, the same weekly check they receive during the regular season.

Even a player on injured reserve who hasn't played a down the entire season, such as third-year receiver Limas Sweed, will get a $59,000 playoff share that covers the divisional and conference championship rounds. Not so for practice squad guard Dorian Brooks, a rookie from James Madison.

"You try not to think about it," Brooks said. "In the grand scheme of things, if you do your job, everything will take care of itself."

At least the Steelers rewarded their practice squad players with a Super Bowl ring after title victories following the 2005 and 2008 seasons.

"Some teams don't even do that," said backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who preceded Clark as the team's union rep. "Even if a veteran guy is brought in this week five days before the game, he gets a Super Bowl ring and a playoff share. It just isn't right."

Any practice squad player activated for the Super Bowl -- say, to take the roster spot of injured players Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Smith -- would get half a share: $41,500 if the Steelers beat the Packers; $21,000 if they lose.

"It's definitely a chunk of money you could be getting," said safety Ryan Mundy, a practice squad member on the 2008 Super Bowl team. "But you have to see the bigger picture. The money will come eventually if you work hard and prepare."

Practice squad players typify that blue-collar work ethic. They simulate the opposing team in practice, study game film with the regulars and patiently wait for a turn that may never come. They earn about $90,000 for a 17-week season -- or about what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earns per 15-minute quarter.

"They go through all the necessary evils of practicing and taking all the punishment, lifting weights and hitting each other week in and week out," said linebacker James Harrison, another former practice squad player. "And they don't get the payoff of playing in the game."

"Yeah, but they work harder on Sundays," said practice squad defensive end Sunny Harris. "It's a give and take."

During the season, practice squad players don't travel and are given the option of watching home games from the press box or the stands. At the Super Bowl, they are permitted to stand on the sideline and wear their jersey.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," Jolly said.

Just not a financial one.

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Additional Information:

Earnings potential

Using Steelers rookies Jonathan Dwyer and Kyle Jolly as examples, here is a look at the financial disparity that exists between an NFL player on the 53-man roster and one on the practice squad, respectively:

Dwyer: $320,000 base salary*, $142,000 potential playoff earnings, $462,000 total

Jolly: $88,400, $26,000, $114,400**

* • NFL rookie minimum

** • Based on $5,200 a week over 17-week regular season, plus same amount for five weeks since regular season ended Jan. 2.

Additional Information:

Playoffs pay off

Here are shares for players on a 2010 playoff team's active roster:

$21,000 for division champion participating in a wild-card game ($19,000 for non-division champion)

$21,000 for participating in a divisional playoff game

$38,000 for participating in a conference championship game

$83,000 for winning the Super Bowl

$42,000 for losing the Super Bowl

Source: NFL collective bargaining agreement

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