You might recall an article I wrote just a short time ago that offered one explanation for why the league’s salary cap came in slightly under what most were projecting. While the majority of prognosticators were working under the assumption this offseason of a $178 million salary cap, the final number came in at $177.2 million.
Obviously still very close, but more often than not, the actual number has been coming in higher than the projected number, and there was a report not too long ago suggesting that it might even be north of $179 million.
Long story short, the NFL and NFLPA negotiated as part of the 2018 salary cap an increase in the Performance-Base Pay Pool, a pool into which all teams pay, which does not affect the salary cap, that compensates players who perform, basically, above their pay grade, determined by the amount that they play and relative to the other plays on their team eligible for the pool.
Two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers were among those to profit most from the pay pool this season, with both tight end Jesse James and cornerback Mike Hilton earning themselves a nice chunk of extra change in addition to their 2017 earnings for their playing time in 2017.
Hilton came in with the 10th-highest total payout from the pool this year, earning an additional $327,377.67 for himself. That is the total for performance-based pay, but relatively new is the addition of veteran bonuses, and that really helped James out.
While the three-year veteran earned an additional $293,971.07 in performance-based pay, which was the 23rd-highest total, he also earned on top of that another $84,822.88 as a veteran bonus. That brings his total in additional pay up to $378,793.95, which was the 15th-most in the NFL.
The top 25 earners in additional performance-based pay ranged from Atlanta lineback De’Vondre Campbell pulling in nearly $350,000 (which was more than Hilton, who did not make the top 25 in total compensation) all the way to the nearly $500,000 earned by Tennessee guard Quinton Spain.
Other Steelers in the past have made good use of this additional means of earning money, and that is especially so for the left tackle position. Over the course of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Alejandro Villanueva, who is now highly-compensated, earned over $300,000 in each of those years in performance-based pay plus veteran bonuses.
Before Villanueva, Kelvin Beachum also reaped the rewards of this system, for the 2013 season earning himself almost another $250,000. Go back further to the 2012 season and you’ll find that Max Starks, too, profited, nearing $300,000 in additional pay as well.
Hilton was an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss, James a fifth-round draft pick. Hilton served as the Steelers’ starting nickel cornerback in 2017 while James functioned as the team’s primary tight end for most of the year. The latter remains on his rookie contract, while Hilton was playing on a one-year minimum deal for a player with no accrued experience.