This is especially intriguing this weekend, since the club with one of the more controversial demotions of the season will play the Eagles tomorrow.
Numerous reports say benched Bengals second-year quarterback Akili Smith would have gone from $275,000 to $4 million next season if he had passed for 348 more yards (he has 1,253).
Instead, Smith, who struggled, lost his starting job after Game 10.
Smith was taken third in the 1999 draft, just behind McNabb. McNabb has seen more success - he's the NFC's first alternate for the Pro Bowl and he's an MVP candidate - but, unless he has a game to end all games tomorrow, McNabb won't see any extra money for his regular-season performance.
Eagles chief operating office Joe Banner declined to comment on the matter. Fletcher Smith, McNabb's agent, did not return messages. His client seemed oblivious to the matter.
"I'm not even thinking about that," McNabb said.
McNabb also said he was ignorant of Smith's incentive status when he criticized the Bengals on Wednesday for benching Smith in favor of journeyman Scott Mitchell.
Ignoring the money issue must be tough, because McNabb can make a lot of money if he produces Sunday. If he fulfills the requirement of two clauses, he would get a $1 million incentive bonus, in addition to his league-minimum, $250,000 salary.
He already fulfilled the second requirement of the incentive trigger in two categories: leading the team in a quarterback category and throwing for at least 1,601 yards.
The first group of requirements is more difficult. McNabb needs to finish among the league's top eight quarterbacks in touchdown passes, passing rating or completion percentage. In case of a tie in touchdown passes or completion percentage, the quarterback with the higher passer rating receives the higher ranking.
The touchdown passes are his best bet. He probably needs three or four tomorrow to make the money.
He has 20, tied for sixth with three other players, all of whom have a better passer rating than McNabb: the Rams' Kurt Warner (98.8), the Giants' Kerry Collins (82.6) and the Packers' Brett Favre (80.9).
Also, the Panthers' Steve Beuerlein has 19 touchdowns and an 80.5 rating, and the Jaguars' Mark Brunell has 18 and an 84.2 rating.
Considering the opponent, McNabb could meet the touchdown-pass requirement. The Bengals' pass defense is a mediocre 22nd in the league. Only San Diego, St. Louis and Green Bay have surrendered more touchdown passes than the Bengals' 25, and only Minnesota has intercepted fewer passes than the Bengals' eight.
McNabb appears to have the easiest road among those other quarterbacks.
The other contenders' competition: Warner and the Rams play the stingy Saints; Collins and the Giants play the tough Jaguars; Favre and the Packers play the dominant Buccaneers; Beuerlein and the Panthers play pliant Oakland (25th against the pass, 25 touchdown passes surrendered); Brunell faces a very good Giants defense on the road; the Broncos' Brian Griese takes on the San Francisco 49ers today.
Barring a superhuman performance, touchdown passes are McNabb's best hope.
To fulfill the passer rating requirement, McNabb, who stands at 16th at 78.5, would need an incredible day - say, 30-for-40 passing for 400 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions - even to be in the race. About 10 other quarterbacks would have to struggle.
To fulfill the completion-percentage requirement, McNabb would need both a mythical performance - something like 35-for-40 - to raise his 58.0 completion percentage, which ranks 19th, to 60 percent. Again, about 10 or 11 other quarterbacks would have to have very bad days.
McNabb's most proficient categories of performance are, perhaps, the most important. He has just 12 interceptions. His touchdown-to-interception differential is plus-eight, eighth in the league. His interceptions-to-attempts percentage is 2.3, which ties him for fifth.
He's also 10-5 and in the playoffs. He gets incentive bonuses for playoff wins, which come more easily to home teams, so there is extra incentive for McNabb to perform well tomorrow. A loss almost guarantees no home playoff game. He has performed well under similar pressure in the past.
By coming back from a knee injury for the finale against St. Louis last season and by throwing three touchdown passes, McNabb triggered an incentive that pushed his 2002 salary from $350,000 to $3 million. He needed to fulfill two requirements last season: to play in 35 percent of the club's offensive plays and to lead the team in a quarterback category.
He reached the 35 percent mark by starting and playing the entire final game. He stood at five touchdown passes entering the game, two behind Doug Pederson, who started the first nine games of the season and had significant leads in all of the other categories.
Had McNabb thrown only two TD passes, McNabb would have tied Pederson - and missed the incentive trigger, since the tiebreaker was passer rating, in which Pederson finished 2.8 points higher.
McNabb's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Chad Lewis was, at the time, worth $2.65 million in 2002.
In short, if McNabb repeats his performance of two weeks ago, when he torched the Browns for four touchdown passes in Cleveland, he'll have a nice check from owner Jeffrey Lurie sticking out of his stocking.
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