Tailback Eddie Lacy weighed 250 pounds or less Monday and, as a result, will receive $55,000 from the Seattle Seahawks. The payoff is part of a seven-tiered incentive structure designed to keep Lacy at a healthy playing weight during the 2017 season.
If he meets all of his benchmarks, Lacy will earn $385,000 on top of his $2.865 million base salary. It will be fun and interesting to track, but make no mistake: It’s hardly unique in the surprisingly diverse world of incentives in the history of pro sports. Check out this list for some of the more creative attempts to motivate — or discourage — professional athletes over the years.
Fun with numbers, Los Angeles Rams edition
The Rams inject life into the monotony and structure of NFL contract negotiations. They make liberal use of numerical palindromes, numbers that are the same when read backward or forward. Why give, say, Tavon Austin an average salary of $10.5 million (boring) when you can make it $10,555,501? They also name their incentive clauses. Why title it “Article V” when you can give it a name? (Punter Johnny Hekker — pictured above — has a “Johnny Kickball” clause in his deal.) And why send a regular old proposal via fax or email when you can present it via haiku? (Not joking.)
Tony Pastoors, the Rams’ senior assistant who takes the lead in contract negotiations, said he hopes players and agents appreciate the personal touch and added: “It’s just a fun thing to do, [and] football is supposed to be fun.” (Read more in this blog post.)
Fun with numbers, all-NFL edition
Incentive: Tomfoolery … and then some!
While the Rams take the fun to a different level, NFL contract geeks (like myself) have found meaningful throwaways in more than a few deals over the years. In 2008, for example, the Minnesota Vikings acquired defensive end Jared Allen from the Kansas City Chiefs and gave him a signing bonus of exactly $15,500,069. Why the extra $69? It matched Allen’s jersey number, a gesture that coach Brad Childress figured (correctly) would connect with Allen’s goofball personality.
Meanwhile, as noted in the book “Crunching Numbers,” the New York Jets in 2015 configured cornerback Darrelle Revis‘ contract to average $14,024,212. It provided a shoutout not only to his jersey number (24) but also his area code in New York (212).
Rick Mirer, NFL
Incentive: Contract guarantees tied to the Earth’s lifespan
As the No. 2 overall pick in the 1993 draft, Mirer entered the NFL at the start of the salary-cap era. The time was fraught with uncertainty about the cap’s mechanics and impact. Agents Marvin Demoff and Don Yee navigated the new structure to secure an entirely guaranteed contract. One of their methods: mirroring a banking industry practice by writing that the terms would “survive and remain effective from the date of execution of this contract up to and including the end of the world.”
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue initially disallowed the contract, and a subsequent agreement with the NFL Players Association outlawed such phrasing thereafter. Mirer’s deal remained intact, inspiring the expected locker room humor. When a teammate asked what would happen if Mirer were riding in the space shuttle and the world exploded beneath him, Mirer responded: “I keep the shuttle.”
Michael Jordan, NBA
Incentive: Sign and play wherever, whenever, against whomever
In what came to be known as Jordan’s “Love of the Game” clause, the Chicago Bulls in 1988 removed all restrictions on Jordan’s competitive basketball habits. It was an extraordinary concession for a player who, at the time, had yet to lead the Bulls to a single championship.
Most professional athletes, then and now, assume liability for unsanctioned athletic endeavors. If injured by an incident away from the team, their contracts are subject to termination. This clause, however, allowed Jordan to play basketball whenever he felt like it, be it at the local YMCA or a private tournament, and not lose the protections of his multimillion-dollar contract.
Stefan Schwarz, English Premier League
Incentive: Get paid — unless you launch into space
In 1999, Schwarz signed with Sunderland of the Premier League. But before finalizing the four-year deal, Sunderland officials made a demand: No explorations of strange new worlds. As it turns out, one of Schwarz’s advisers had purchased tickets on a commercial spacecraft that was projected to launch in 2002, according to the BBC. The franchise was worried that Schwarz might tag along, and it knew that standard contract insurance wouldn’t cover any injuries (or worse) he might suffer while boldly going where no (civilian) had gone before. So, alas, Schwarz agreed to remain on this planet for the duration of the deal.
Diana Taurasi, WNBA
Incentive: $200,000-plus not to work
Taurasi, one of the best players in the league’s 21-year history, received a unique offer in 2015 from UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia: Sign, skip the Phoenix Mercury‘s upcoming season and receive an extra $200,000 (and possibly more). Taurasi had long played overseas during the WNBA offseason, capitalizing on the high demand and more lucrative salaries for women’s basketball players around the world. The maximum she could have earned with the Mercury that season was about $110,000, so she in essence doubled her salary by cutting her yearly workload in half. Taurasi, 33 at the time, returned to the Mercury in 2016.
Joe DiMaggio, MLB
Incentive: $10,000 for one hit — maybe?
As you might be aware, DiMaggio established one of the most iconic records in sports in 1941 by getting at least one hit in 56 consecutive games. Had he extended it for one more game, however, he was rumored to have a five-figure prize waiting from — yes — the makers of Heinz 57 sauce. Contemporary reports indicated DiMaggio despaired the missed opportunity, but he later denied its existence.
A spokesman for Kraft Heinz, the current manufacturer of that zesty ketchup alternative, said the company has no record of an official offer to DiMaggio and couldn’t confirm its existence. DiMaggio’s prickly post-career personality makes his assertion difficult to judge, so we’ll consider this one a possible urban legend that is too good to ignore.
Rollie Fingers, MLB
Incentive: $300 for a mustache
The most famous mustache in all of sports grew out of a contract incentive. (Technically, it grew from Rollie Fingers’ face, but you get the point.) It also ended Fingers’ career.
In 1972, as the story goes, Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley initially took exception to star Reggie Jackson reporting to training camp with a mustache. Instead of forcing him to shave it, however, Finley came up with the idea of a “Mustache Night” and offered Jackson’s teammates $300 apiece to grow one. Fingers, then a 26-year-old pitcher, took him up on it and added the “handlebar” look to make it unique. Later, the A’s agreed contractually to supply him with $100 worth of mustache wax per year.
As a free agent in 1986, Fingers hoped to sign with the Cincinnati Reds. But he retired instead after they demanded he shave the mustache to conform to team policy. That’s a serious mustache commitment.
Rougned Odor, MLB
Incentive: Sign and get two horses
The Texas Rangers were looking for ways this spring to lock up their young second baseman. They had offered him a six-year deal that guaranteed at least $49.5 million. But as he sat across the table from general manager Jon Daniels, Odor offered no reaction to the numbers. Daniels pivoted. Team officials knew Odor had bought land in Texas and had expressed an affinity for horses. Daniels slid his phone across the table. On it was a photo of two horses.
“His eyes lit up,” Daniels said.
Breakthrough! And that’s the story of the Rangers’ equine advantage. Odor signed, and two horses were delivered to his property, courtesy of the Rangers.
Monica Abbott, pro softball
Incentive: Up to $180,000 per year based on games attended by at least 100 fans
The Houston franchise of the National Pro Fastpitch league really wanted Abbott, a left-handed pitcher who had already played nine years in the league. So the Scrap Yard Dawgs, as they are called, lured her with a deal that found a creative way around the league’s yearly $150,000 salary cap (per team). For the 2016 season, Abbott was to receive a base salary of about $20,000 plus a bonus of $20,000 every time her team played in front of at least 100 fans — home or away, whether or not she pitched. (The incentives are capped at $180,000 annually.) In 2016, she received eight such bonuses for total compensation of about $180,000, according to a source. If the incentives are matched over the life of the six-year deal, it will be worth about $1 million.