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Steelers Evidently Dust Off NLTBEs To Incentivize QB Mason Rudolph To Sign For 2022

The mid-day news yesterday that the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the process of working out a one-year contract extension with quarterback Mason Rudolph seemed to come out of nowhere. The majority belief was that he was going to play out the final year of his rookie deal, and frankly, whatever happens after that is up in the air.

Before we knew the exact details, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN states that his per-year averages for this season and next come in at around $3 million…in addition to “upsides to get it higher.”

A short time ago, Ian Rapaport tweeted that the deal is worth $5 million, with another $4 million earnable via playing time incentives. Without further details, it’s a bit hard to know what that means. Are there incentives in both years, for instance?

Including incentives in a contract is a rare-for-them but also wise decision, given the variables at play and the uncertainty of the position beyond the 2021 season.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is playing out the final year of his contract this year, which most anticipate to be the last before he retires, or is essentially forced to retire. Prior to Rudolph’s extension, the Steelers did not have a quarterback under contract for 2022.

Now, at the very least, they set themselves up with the scenario in which they have Rudolph as a possible starting option next year. And that may look much better by this time next year depending on how this season plays out.

We still must find out the details. Presumably, the deal contains significant Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) incentives involving playing time, but, again, whether that is only for 2022 or also in 2021 is not specified.

The Steelers very seldomly have used incentives in their contracts since the advent of the salary cap rollover in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allows teams to carry unused cap space from one year to the next. Though as Ian Whetstone tells me, it was common practice for them prior to that, in an effort to maximize their resources.

Since then, they have been seldom used, though such deals as that of Mike Mitchell and LeGarrette Blount have included some minor NLTBE incentives, such as bonuses for reaching the Pro Bowl. A NLTBE incentive, by the way, is an escalator marking an achievement that the player has not previously reached before.

If a player has never recorded 10 sacks in a season, but has an incentive for recording 10 sacks in his future contract, that would be classified as NLTBE, rather than LTBE. The difference being that the latter counts against the current year’s cap, and is refunded if not achieved. Where as the latter, if achieved, would count against the following year’s cap.

In the Steelers’ current situation where Rudolph may in theory be their future starter, at least for 2022, it makes a lot of sense to dust off the incentives to get this deal done and ensure that they have him under contract.

Put simply, it’s the only real incentive they had to get him to sign an extension now, rather than have the opportunity to hit the open market next year. It’s a timely divergence from habit with low risk, but I still wouldn’t expect it to signal a fundamental change in general practice.

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