Unlike the other major professional sports, NFL contracts aren't fully guaranteed. For top players, they'll usually end up making the full amount anyway, but there's always the possibility that they could be cut, leaving millions of dollars on the table.
Players can make that money up in other ways, though. Signing bonuses help, and other players have clauses in their contracts to earn them money by playing a certain number of snaps or games. The most intriguing bonuses, however, are the ones that are earned on the field.
In addition to base salary, teams offer their players performance bonuses. These are great, because they reward players who achieve goals during the season. It's nice to know you're being rewarded for your productivity.
Of course, one of the old football cliches is that it's a game of inches, and for a few players, those inches ended up costing them money. Here's a look at some guys who nearly achieved greatness, only to see everything fall apart in the final week of the season.
Adam Vinatieri, K, Indianapolis Colts
Adam Vinatieri is arguably the greatest kicker of all-time. He's certainly made a number of clutch kicks for both the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, winning four Super Bowls along the way. He also set a record this year for the most consecutive kicks made in NFL history.
Unfortunately for Vinatieri, he had a performance bonus for the year that he'd earn $500,000 if he hit 90 percent of his kicks. He came into the day at 89.6 percent, so he just had to make one without missing. Alas, he was wide right on a 48-yard attempt against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17 so he finished 27-for-31, or 87.1 percent. He nailed another kick later in the game. While his performance was solid this season – he also hit all 44 of his extra point attempts – Vinatieri might be kicking himself for one of those misses during the year.
Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins
Earlier this year, Cameron Wake was asked how many sacks he had. His response? He doesn't even know. "I don't count. I don't care, really. I care about winning on Sunday and part of my job is getting to the quarterback. Obviously, that's going to play a role in it, but a number has never been a goal of mine," he said back in November.
Perhaps he could have invested in a calculator, or at least someone telling him he needed just half a sack against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 17. Had he done that, Wake would have reached 12 sacks on the year and made an extra $875,000. He didn't, though, and finished the year with 11.5 sacks. If it's any consolation to Wake, his Dolphins are in the playoffs, and he's a big reason why.
Lance Kendricks, TE, Saint Louis Rams
The Rams played in one of the most memorable Super Bowls the NFL has ever seen, an exciting 23-16 victory over the Titans. In that game, Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the goal line to preserve the victory.
Though he obviously didn't play in Super Bowl XXXIV, Lance Kendricks produced his own "One Yard Short" this year. He had an incentive bonus of $250,000 if he reached 500 yards on the season. His final total was 499.
Marcus Sherels, DB, Minnesota Vikings
The worst part about this one is that Sherels couldn't do anything about his bonus, or lack thereof. The Vikings defensive back and punt returner came into Week 17 leading the league in yards per punt return. When Minnesota's 38-10 victory over the Chicago Bears concluded, Sherels was still in first place with a 13.9-yard average.
Then he had to watch Kansas City's Tyreek Hill do this:
That 95-yard return for a touchdown put Hill at 15.2 yards per punt return, giving him the lead for the season. And with that, Sherels lost out on $100,000.
Sometimes life just isn't fair.