It's the NFL's way of trying to make things right.
The program is called Performance-Based Pay, and it awards young players who don't have big contracts and yet serve in significant roles for their teams.
Vikings center John Sullivan, who came into the league as a sixth-round pick in 2008, earned $397,555 in Performance-Based Pay for last season to finish first on the list. Steelers cornerback William Gay was No. 4, and he received $325,607 from the fund.
Gay came to the Steelers as a fifth-round draft choice in 2007, and by the end of the 2008 season he was alternating series at cornerback with starter Bryant McFadden. When McFadden left the team in 2009 as an unrestricted free agent, Gay was promoted and started 14 games.
Approximately $109.5 million of Performance-Based Pay was distributed to players for the 2009 season, and during the eight years of the program almost $600 million has been paid out.
Performance-Based Pay is computed by using a "player index." To produce the index, a player's regular-season playtime (total plays on offense, defense and special teams) is divided by his adjusted regular-season compensation (full season salary, prorated portion of signing bonus, earned incentives). Each player's index is then compared to those of the other players on his team to determine the amount of his pay.
The Steelers have two players among the top 25 in Performance-Based Pay since the system began in 2002. Gay is No. 15 with a total of $721,985 and Willie Colon, who entered the NFL as a fourth-round draft choice in 2006 and has started at right tackle for three straight seasons, is No. 17 with $697,854.
The fund is only paid in years in which a salary cap is in effect, and so there will be no Performance-Based Pay in 2010.