Petitti banks $271,287 in performance pay

Compliments of the NFL's performance-based pay program, Rob Petitti has a freshly invested $100,000 tucked away in a mutual fund, a special-order hot tub that is to be delivered to his Dallas home sometime Friday, an itch to make one more big purchase, and if possible, even more motivation for the 2006 season.

"To tell the truth, I was shocked, because I didn't realize [the PBP program] could be worth this kind of money," Petitti said of the bonanza bonus that arrived in his mailbox last week. "A guy told me, like, 'Oh, you might get $80,000 or $90,000,' and I was pretty cool with that. And then I found out how much I was going to get, and I couldn't believe it."

The second-year veteran, who started all 16 games for the Dallas Cowboys at right tackle in 2005, is now a true believer. Only the 209th prospect selected in the 2005 draft, having dropped into the sixth round after an injury-plagued senior season at the University of Pittsburgh overshadowed what had been an otherwise superb college career, Petitti is No. 1 on this year's performance-based pay roll call.

His windfall, a record $271,287, is nearly $45,000 more than last year's biggest beneficiary, New York Jets safety Erik Coleman. And it represents a nifty 95 percent increase in Petitti's 2005 compensation. Notable is the fact Coleman ranked in the top 25 again for 2005, pocketing $196,813 in PBP funds.

The playing time that Petitti earned in '05 -- a result of the season-ending knee injury to left tackle Flozell Adams and a product of his own work ethic -- will prove invaluable as he attempts to carve out a long career in the league. But it helped him earn an unexpected dose of security, as well, with the amount only $13,000 less than Petitti had banked between his signing bonus ($54,000) and rookie minimum base salary ($230,000).

Both elements -- playing more than he anticipated and earning more for it than he expected -- are certainly boosts for Petitti, who struggled for several months preceding the 2005 draft. Before the season, many scouts rated Petitti as the top senior tackle prospect in the nation. But then an injury definitely reduced his effectiveness, and kept him from working out for a while, and his weight and conditioning suffered. He went from being a top tackle prospect to an afterthought.

Certainly his newfound riches aren't trivial to Petitti, who will have to battle to retain his starting job in 2006, with Adams back from injury and the Cowboys having signed former New York Jets starting right tackle Jason Fabini as a free agent last week.

Petitti actually found out about his good fortune in a phone call from his father, who had seen it reported on the Internet. A few days later, the check arrived, and after stashing away the bulk of his bonus in a mutual fund, Petitti decided to treat himself to the hot tub. Given that the Cowboys this week began their offseason conditioning program, providing Petitti's body only two months to recover from the rigors of his rookie year in the league, his one bit of splashy self-indulgence can't arrive soon enough.

"There are some days, when I'm really hurting, where that [hot tub] is going to feel really good," Petitti said earlier this week. "I mean, really good, you know?"

Around the league, there are a lot of players feeling really good about the PBP program, implemented in 2002 as part of that year's extension to the collective bargaining agreement, to establish a fund from NFL revenues to supplement the salaries of men whose playing time in a given season is disproportionate to their compensation. Those who benefit the most are primarily guys like Petitti, young players who generally are earning a minimum base salary.

Every player in the league who participates in even one snap receives something from the PBP pool, which does not impact a player's salary cap charge. The pool to fund the supplements is deducted from the overall league salary cap funds, and it was essentially created by slowing the annual increases in base salaries and by blunting the increases in the annual rookie allocation pool.

While it won't ever replace an NFL compensation system that often rewards players with lucrative deals before they ever set foot on a field, and is based solely on playing time and not statistical comparisons by position, it has been very effective.

"There are always going to be some young guys who outperform their contracts, and those guys, it seems they spend their entire careers trying to catch up [financially]," NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw said. "This is a good way to reward them."

Of the top 25 PBP earners for 2005, for instance, nine were rookies and 15 were second-year veterans. All were earning the minimum base salary. Said rookie safety C.C. Brown, a sixth-round draft choice of the Houston Texans who started six games in 2005 and earned $251,593 in his PBP bonus: "You think that money doesn't make a difference? It's big, man, big."

Last year, Coleman said he "almost exploded" when he found out how much performance based pay money he had earned. And explode is indeed an apt term for the burgeoning program, which has demonstrated huge increases every year of its existence.

In the 2002 season, the PBP program paid out $472,000 per franchise. That number rose to $1 million for 2003, to $1.78 million for 2004 and to $2.48 million per franchise in 2005. That's more than a five-fold increase in the first four years of the program. The increases in individual bonuses have been just as dramatic.

For the 2002 season, there were three players who received supplements of $40,000 or more. In 2003, there were 82 players who earned PBP bonuses of $50,000 or more and 20 of those players got $70,000 or more, with three players topping the $100,000 mark. For the 2004 campaign, 56 players banked $100,000 or more and 15 players received at least $130,000, while Coleman became the first to cross the $200,000 threshold under the program.

But for 2005, there were 19 players who received supplements in excess of $200,000. And 167 players got checks of more than $100,000 each. Every franchise had at least three $100,000 players and the Cowboys led the league with eight.

No telling how Petitti's seven teammates who banked six-figure PBP supplements plan on spending their money. As for how to spend their casual time this weekend, well, there's a new hot tub at Petitti's house that needs to be christened.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.