Salary Cap

NFL To Delay Franchise Tag Deadline?

As of this writing, NFL teams have until Tuesday to assign the franchise tag to players. Now, there’s word that the deadline could be pushed up, as Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets.

The NFL and NFLPA are still working to set the salary cap number for 2021, which may complicate the decision for teams. The players’ union is hoping to wait until the league’s broadcast deals with TV partners are finalized — the larger the TV deals, the higher the salary cap can go. As a result, they’re pushing the NFL to pump the breaks on the deadline.

The league rearranged the calendar last year in the midst of the pandemic, so there is precedent for this type of last-minute shuffling. That included the franchise tag deadline, which went from 3/10 t0 3/12 to 3/16. The extra time allowed the two sides to hammer out the new collective bargaining agreement and set the salary cap beforehand.

Teams have been bracing for this possibility, though some clubs have made their calls already. The Broncos, for example, decided to franchise tag standout safety Justin Simmons late last week.

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Latest On NFL Offseason, Salary Cap

Although the NFL is expected to use many of the same protocols it did during the COVID-19-altered 2020 offseason, the league will make it easier on non-big-ticket free agents this year. As of now, the NFL is expected to allow free agents to visit teams’ facilities, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports. With the pandemic hitting just as free agency began last year, the NFL banned free agents from making visits. Physicals for players who agreed to deals were a no-go as well, making contracts trickier to finalize than usual. Multiple players who agreed to deals early — Michael Brockers and Darqueze Dennard, to name two — saw teams back out of agreements. Both visits and physicals are currently allowed, per Florio, who adds free agents must pass a rapid PCR coronavirus test before entering any team’s facility. This would open the door to players with injury questions working out for teams. This sect of free agents being unable to do so last year led to months-long delays, with several UFAs signing just before training camp or after camps began.

Here is the latest on the offseason front:

  • On the draft front, the top evaluation event — the NFL Scouting Combine — did not occur this year. And for the second straight offseason, draft prospects will not be permitted to make visits to team facilities. (Though, a few did so early last offseason.) Prior to 2020, teams could bring in 30 prospects for visits. This year, no limitations exist regarding how many prospects teams can meet with virtually, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes. However, teams are limited to five virtual interviews per prospect.
  • Earlier this year, Roger Goodell confirmed the 2021 offseason would look similar to 2020’s. But even when the NFL can return to its more traditional offseason and in-season setup, the commissioner indicated virtual meetings will continue to play a major role. “Virtual meetings have now become standard in the NFL,” Goodell said this week, via The Associated Press’ Barry Wilner. “We are not going to have as much (in-person) meetings when we get back.”
  • Several high-profile players are being shopped, and more big names figure to become cap casualties soon in an offseason expected to feature a steep salary cap reduction — one that could see it plummet from $198MM to $180MM. But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith envisions the league’s cap growth returning in 2022, via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (on Twitter). This year’s cap has yet to be determined, but with greater attendance likely in 2021 and new TV deals expected soon, there should be no threat of the cap dropping or plateauing come 2022. We will gain a clearer picture of the cap’s future once this year’s figure emerges, but teams may have a greater appetite for restructures that push more money onto future caps. And extensive backloading of free agents’ deals figures to commence.

NFLPA Encourages Agent Collusion

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith urged agents for free agents at the same position to collude and increase leverage in a virtual meeting this week (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Smith anticipates that teams will try to cut players and dollars with the salary cap decreasing. With a bit of teamwork, Smith hopes to lessen the impact. 

The cap floor has been set at $180MM, once thought to be the potential cap ceiling. Still, the maximum is expected to be less than the $198.2MM limit from 2020. From this point forward, the cap will be largely dictated by the outcome of the league’s TV negotiations. Interestingly, Smith indicated that the cap for future seasons could still be impacted.

At the corporate level, collusion is an illegal practice. However, workers are free to collude, and use the term freely. Agents will occasionally work together to inform negotiations, but competition between player representatives sometimes gets in the way. In this unusual year, Smith wants players to be on the same page in order to get the largest deals possible.

The cap figure may fall somewhere between $182-$183MM, slightly above the agreed upon floor. It’s unlikely that the number will reach $185MM. No matter where it lands, the league will record its first salary cap decrease in over a decade.

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Salary Cap To Be Between $182-183MM?

We heard earlier this week that the lowest the salary cap would be was $180MM. The initial minimum cap had been reported to be $175MM, so that increase led to some speculation that the actual salary cap could end up being $190MM+.

That would’ve meant there wouldn’t have been that dramatic of a decrease from last year’s cap of $198.2MM, but that speculation looks to have been a bit optimistic. The number most likely won’t reach $185MM and could end up between $182-183MM, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.

The cap had been steadily increasing in recent years, but obviously the COVID-19 pandemic halted that. Revenue loss as a result of the pandemic was always going to send the cap down for 2021, it was only a question of how much, and now we appear to more or less have our answer.

It looks like teams will each have around $15MM less to play with this season, which will give some squads some headaches. While there will still be a lot of shuffling required for teams to get under the number, it sounds like a true disaster was averted.

The initial plan of $175MM was ditched after some “aggressive lobbying” from teams, Florio writes. A source told him that had it been $175MM, it would’ve been chaos as teams would have “flooded the market” with veteran players they cut to get down under the cap.s

Browns Lead NFL In Salary Cap Carryover

Earlier today, the NFL Players Association announced (via Twitter) the salary cap carryover amounts for all 32 NFL teams for the 2021 season. Effectively, teams are able to rollover their unused cap from the previous season. So, when the 2021 salary cap numbers become official, they can be added to each team’s carryover amount to determine that individual club’s official cap for 2021.

This follows news from earlier today that the NFL has raised its salary cap floor to $180MM for 2021. This total could clue us in to the salary cap maximum, which could end up landing north of $190MM. The salary cap was $198.2MM for the 2020 campaign.

As the NFLPA detailed, the league will rollover $315.1MM from the 2020 season, an average of $9.8MM per team. The Browns lead the league with a whopping $30.4MM, and they’re the only team in the top-five to make the playoffs. The NFC East ($68.8MM) and AFC East ($65.3MM) are the two divisions will the largest carryover amounts.

The full list is below:

  • Cleveland Browns: $30.4MM
  • New York Jets: $26.7MM
  • Dallas Cowboys: $25.4MM
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: $23.5MM
  • Philadelphia Eagles: $22.8MM
  • New England Patriots: $19.6MM
  • Denver Broncos: $17.8MM
  • Washington Football Team: $15.8MM
  • Miami Dolphins: $15.2MM
  • Detroit Lions: $12.8MM
  • Cincinnati Bengals: $10.8MM
  • Houston Texans: $9.2MM
  • Indianapolis Colts: $8.3MM
  • Los Angeles Chargers: $8.1MM
  • Chicago Bears: $7MM
  • Los Angeles Rams: $5.7MM
  • Kansas City Chiefs: $5.1MM
  • Arizona Cardinals: $5MM
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: $5MM
  • New York Giants: $4.8MM
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $4.6MM
  • Minnesota Vikings: $4.5MM
  • Carolina Panthers: $4.3MM
  • New Orleans Saints: $4.1MM
  • Buffalo Bills: $3.8MM
  • Green Bay Packers: $3.7MM
  • Las Vegas Raiders: $3.6MM
  • Tennessee Titans: $2.3MM
  • San Francisco 49ers: $1.9MM
  • Atlanta Falcons: $1.8MM
  • Seattle Seahawks: $956K
  • Baltimore Ravens: $587K

NFL Raises Salary Cap Floor

The NFL has raised its salary cap floor to $180MM for 2021 (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). Previously, the cap minimum was set to be $175MM for the coming year.

The raising of the minimum could be a promising sign for the salary cap maximum in the coming year. The limit is still set to drop for the first time in years, but a higher floor could mean for a higher ceiling. Over the last few months, we’ve been hearing cap estimates of $180MM. Now, that’s the minimum spend, which, speculatively, could mean a cap of $190MM+.

Last year, the salary cap was $198.2MM for each of the league’s 32 teams. The league had been steadily increasing the cap every year since 2010, when the NFL was uncapped. If not for the pandemic, the 2021 cap would have easily exceeded $210MM.

There’s no word on when the cap max will be set, but it will be determined sometime between now and the new league year, which begins on March 17th. If the NFL is able to iron out new television deals with their broadcasting partners in the next few weeks, the cap could be positioned for a substantial jump in 2022. Reportedly, the league is aiming for a total of $100 billion over the next ten-year extension.

Latest On 2021 Salary Cap

Feb. 7: League sources expect the 2021 salary cap to come in between $180MM-$181MM, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. That is not much higher than the worst-case scenario of $175MM, so there are are plenty of teams that will have a lot of work to do to get below the new cap. That includes clubs like the Saints, Eagles, Steelers, Packers, and Falcons, all of whom are projected to have over $200MM in cap obligations.

Feb. 4: The 2021 salary cap remains expected to drop significantly from its $198.2MM 2020 place, causing extensive fallout. But the cap might not fall to the agreed-upon $175MM floor.

Preliminary NFL-NFLPA cap discussions began last month, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, who adds some team officials expect the cap to come in around $185MM and potentially a bit higher. Others, however, are a bit less bullish, expecting a cap of around $180MM, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes.

Union chief DeMaurice Smith indicated a “decent chance” exists the cap will come in somewhere above the $175MM floor, per Albert Breer of SI.com (on Twitter). The reduction estimates would move the cap back to the neighborhoods of 2018 ($177.2MM) or ’19 ($188.2MM).

Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt, who is also chairman of the NFL’s financing committee, said the final number may not be known until hours before the start of the 2021 league year on March 17. Considering the NFL’s CBA negotiations prompted multiple postponements to the start of the 2020 league year, it would certainly not be out of step to see these discussions go down to the wire. The NFL did not provide teams with a cap projection this week.

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to attendance falling from over $17MM to around $1MM, the NFL is set for a rare development. While the cap plateaued in the early 2010s, the number dropping to the degree it might will force teams to make unusual moves to be in compliance. But this has been the expected development for many months; teams have had time to prepare. As of Thursday, however, 11 teams are projected to be more than $10MM over a $175MM cap.

The pandemic interfered with the reality of the cap soaring after the latest round of TV deals. While those contracts and potential mass vaccinations taking place in 2021 may move the cap back to its previous track after this year, the league continues to brace for a historic reduction.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.