Even with teams getting ready to return coaching staffs to their facilities, and, at a yet unspecified time, their players as well, the full impact that the current Coronavirus pandemic will eventually have on the NFL remains to be seen. Given the current health crisis, it does seem highly unlikely that the league will be able to operate in a normal fashion even in case the full number of games can be played over the course of the 2020 season.
With fans not anticipated to be in the stands this year — unless there are some unforeseen changes over the next few weeks and months — the NFL’s revenue could take a major hit compared to the fruitful last few years, even if broadcasting contracts get paid in full. The question at this point in time does not seem to be if the league’s revenue decreases in 2020, but rather by how much. It seems like it could be quite a bit.
If a recent report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport turns out to be accurate, the salary cap for the 2021 season could therefore be adjusted down for just the second time since it was introduced in 1994 (the first came after the uncapped 2010 season): Rapoport recently noted that the cap could dip by around “$40 million or a lot more per team” — meaning that the league might have to prepare for a combined losses of $1.28 billion.
That is, to speak in strictly financial vernacular for a moment, a s--tload of money.
What would such a decrease in salary cap mean, though? For starters, the 2020 cap, which has been set at $198.2 million, would not be affected. The expected rise into next year, however, could very well not happen and bring the number down to around $158 million if the decline as stated by Rapoport indeed takes place. And if this scenario becomes true, a lot of teams could be in financial trouble given their current commitments for 2021.
According to calculations by Over The Cap, only 10 of the league’s 32 clubs would currently be scheduled to stand under a $158 million threshold — among them the New England Patriots, who would have around $33 million in cap space to work with even after accounting for that drastic a drop. Other clubs, meanwhile, would be staring into the financial abyss: the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints would be over a $158 million cap by a whooping $107 million and $91 million, respectively, next year.
It remains to be seen whether the revenue decrease is as dramatic as portrayed, and what kind of mechanisms the NFL and the NFLPA will introduce in order to soften the blow, but the league’s teams could still find themselves in difficult situations after a prosperous few years. That said, the Patriots appear to be in a good financial position either way and will not be hit as hard in case the cap does not increase at the same average annual growth rate of 5.8 percent ever since 2011.