WNBA CBA Explained: Bonuses

What is a time off bonus? What is a trade bonus? What is a merit bonus?

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Welcome back to our WNBA CBA and Salary Cap Explained series. As part of our mission to unlock better insight about the women’s game, we’re breaking down the rules outlined in the 350-page WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), covering the 2020 through 2027 seasons, in plain language. Each article will focus on a bite-size chunk of the CBA to make the concepts more digestible. To catch up on the previous nine pieces in the series, check out the list at the bottom of this piece. We are also compiling all of this information on the Her Hoop Stats website in a single FAQ document.

In previous pieces, we have detailed the inner workings of a player’s base salary, but there are other forms of compensation that players can receive. In this installment, we will take a look at bonuses that players can earn, including the amounts, requirements, and effects on the salary cap.

What is a time off bonus?

Time off bonuses are payments made to players to encourage them to refrain from or limit the time spent performing basketball activities with other organizations in the WNBA offseason. Time off bonuses may not exceed $50,000 for the first offseason of the contract and may increase by no more than 3% of the first offseason’s time off bonus. That increase is in line with the rate that base salaries may increase throughout a contract. 

The time off bonus clause in the contract will specify that a player is permitted to play a given number of days professionally outside of the WNBA during the offseason. The requirement can range from a limit of 90 days allowed down to zero days (no professional play during the WNBA offseason). That limit can also vary from season to season in a contract. Time off bonuses are included in a team’s total salary unless they have been canceled, and therefore also have to fit under the salary cap.

The bonus counts on the cap for the season before the player has to fulfill their requirements, meaning a player’s bonus will be on the cap for the 2021 season with an agreement that the player will meet the requirements in the offseason after the 2021 season. Time off bonuses must cover the first offseason after they are signed or added, but they are not required to be included for all subsequent seasons. The bonus can be added to the contract at any point, provided the contract did not initially have one.

No time off bonus requirements may be amended by the team or player, but if a player fails to meet the requirements in any season, then the time off bonus for all future seasons is removed from the player’s contract. Any player who does not fulfill their offseason playing obligations, but would have surpassed their maximum allowed days competing professionally if they did, is not eligible to earn their time off bonus.

Time off bonuses are prorated in the same manner as base salaries, based on the portion of the season a player was on the team’s active list. The only exceptions are for players who only missed time due to on-court discipline, and for rest-of-season contracts that are fully completed. In both of these cases, the bonus is not prorated.

What is a trade bonus?

Trade bonuses are additional payments for players who are traded from one team to another. Only players with six or more years of service at the time the contract is signed may receive a trade bonus. They must be negotiated in a player’s contract and cannot be added after the contract has already been accepted (except when signing an extension), and can only be exercised once for the duration of the contract.

Trade bonuses cannot be for more than 10% of the player’s remaining base salary on their contract, not just the season the trade takes place. The specified amount for the trade bonus can either be expressed as a percentage of remaining base salary or as a specific dollar amount. Remaining salary means salary that has not yet been paid, so a player earning $100,000 who had earned $60,000 that season before being traded would have a remaining salary of $40,000 for that season, plus the entirety of the future seasons on their contract.

This also means if the trade bonus is for $20,000, but the player only has $100,000 left on their contract, the bonus needs to be amended. It would go down to 10% of their remaining salary, making the amended bonus $10,000. This could be avoided by opting for a percentage of remaining salary instead of a set dollar amount.

Trade bonuses do count against the cap, but only after they are paid out. For this reason, the amount of the trade bonus must not bring the player’s salary over the applicable maximum in the event it is paid out. If the trade bonus would bring the player over the maximum, it must also be amended accordingly. The only other time a trade bonus can be lessened or removed is if the team and player agree to the change at the time of a trade. If a trade bonus is arranged in a contract that is part of a sign & trade, which we will discuss in a later piece, the trade bonus is not paid until the second time the contract is traded.

What is a merit bonus?

A merit bonus is a bonus paid to a player given individual or team success throughout the season. None of these bonuses are considered salary, and therefore they do not count towards a team’s total salary. As merit bonuses do not count as salary, players whose base salary is already at or close to the league maximum will earn the entirety of their bonus.

Team bonuses are awarded based on how far a team progresses in the playoffs. The further the team gets, the higher the bonus. These bonuses are constant throughout the current CBA, but if the maximum number of playoff games increases, they increase by 10%.

Team bonuses above are per player, and they are only available for players who are on the roster for the last day of the regular season. Any players who had their base salary prorated will have their team bonuses decreased at the same rate. Any player who played more than two-thirds of the season for a playoff team but did not end the season on the roster will earn a $250 bonus, regardless of any prorated salary, or where their prior team finishes.

Individual merit bonuses are awarded for players who have earned various awards or who have been named to All-WNBA or All-Star teams. Players earn each relevant bonus to their achievements, meaning the league MVP would earn the MVP bonus and the All-WNBA First Team bonus, barring any weird voting results. They are constant for the length of the CBA, and they cannot increase as team bonuses can.

Bonuses for All-Star Game selections are only paid out for years that the All-Star festivities are held. It is unclear whether or not the league would pay players these bonuses if the festivities had to be canceled on short notice after the participants had been selected.

Putting all of those merit bonuses together, let’s make up an imaginary player who can do it all and carries their team to the championship. If that player won the WNBA Championship, secured the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, and the obvious All-WNBA and All-Defense recognition, they would earn $43,756 in bonuses. Then, let’s say they swept the All-Star Game honors and are named MVP, and win the skills and three-point contests. That would be an additional $12,875 in bonuses, bringing them up to a grand total of $56,631. For a player at the supermax in 2021, that would mean $278,081 in earnings between salary and merit bonuses, with about 20% coming from bonuses.


Missed our previous installments? Here are all the topics we have covered so far…

This series is about learning, so we want to hear from you! If you would like a clarification for any rule, suggestions for future CBA Explained topics, or any other questions, please feel free to let us know in the comments or tweet at us @herhoopstats.

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Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.