Dak Prescott got a $353,544 bonus because of ex-Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert
The Cowboys QB wasn’t the only player to get paid a rookie performance bonus; Falcons safety Brian Poole made $371,783
In 1992, Greg Biekert was the leading tackler on a talent-laden University of Colorado team. But that didn’t seem to matter at the NFL draft. Biekert was selected in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders — the last player drafted from that Colorado defense.
Four teammates went before him, including fellow linebacker Chad Brown, in the second round, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Biekert didn’t get much playing time his first season with the Raiders. “I honestly thought I was going to get released,” he said of his first training camp.
Undeterred, he became the Raiders’ starting middle linebacker in his second season. He was a mainstay on the Raiders’ defense for seven more seasons before spending his final two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. According to Pro Football Reference, Biekert tallied 832 tackles over his 11-year career.
While with the Raiders he was a leader on the field, extending all the way to the NFL Players Association, where he was the player representative for the Raiders. During the 2001-02 offseason, at the annual NFLPA board of representatives meeting, Biekert proposed a resolution that was surely influenced by his first few seasons in the NFL.
In his second year, Biekert was making $135,000 while playing almost every defensive snap. Biekert’s resolution directed NFLPA executives to negotiate for Performance-Based Pay (PBP). The resolution called for a portion of the salary cap to be set aside every year for players who had outperformed their contract. In the resolution, there was a formula that determined how the PBP pool would be distributed on each team.
Taking into account each player’s salary and the number of snaps they played, the formula ensured that high-paid players got very little of the PBP pool and the low-paid, highly productive players were rewarded. Biekert’s resolution was seconded by his college teammate Brown and was passed unanimously. The league was receptive, so PBP became a big part of compensation for young players who weren’t drafted high.
When I was a rookie back in 2005, I hadn’t heard of PBP until I received the pleasant surprise of a check that was almost as much as my salary for the entire season. Last season, fourth-round pick Dak Prescott made $450,000 in salary and $95,848 in a prorated signing bonus while playing nearly every offensive snap. That earned him a PBP distribution of $353,544, the second-highest among rookies. I bet a check of that size brought a smile to Prescott’s face. But even with his PBP pay, his total earnings are far below what a player of his caliber warrants.
Prescott’s Pro Bowl quarterback peers are paid more than $20 million a year. The NFL doesn’t have a formula in place for a player like Prescott. But the PBP works pretty well for players like undrafted Atlanta Falcons safety Brian Poole, the recipient of the highest rookie PBP distribution. Poole had a salary of $450,000 and a signing bonus of just $3,500. His PBP check was for $371,783.
Rookies normally dominate the PBP list — but not this year. This year’s biggest PBP checks went to players in their second seasons because the league and the union decided to introduce a second PBP pool available only to non-rookie players. This year the normal pool, available to all players, was $127.8 million total (nearly $4 million per team) and a new “Veteran PBP” of $32 million ($1 million per team). Access to the Veteran PBP allowed Poole to be beaten out as this year’s Biekert prize winner by fellow Falcons safety Ricardo Allen. Drafted in the fifth round in 2014, Allen supplemented his $615,000 salary with $429,719 ($342,712 PBP plus $87,007 Veteran PBP).
Biekert’s career with the Raiders began with him getting grossly underpaid, and it ended because he wouldn’t let it happen again. The season after Biekert crafted the resolution, the Raiders pressured him to take a pay cut. He refused, so the Raiders released him just before the season started. He finished his career with no Pro Bowls or Super Bowls. But since his resolution, $1.2 billion has been distributed through the PBP.
Greg Biekert is not a name that young players are likely to recognize. I doubt anyone sends him a thank you card. But every March, his gift keeps on giving.