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New report suggests NFL salary cap might drop to $180 million in 2021

Related: Patriots are in good financial shape heading into the offseason. Other teams, not so much.

Pensioner sitting on stack of US Dollars Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Virtual offseason work, player opt-outs, empty stadiums — the Coronavirus has left its mark on the NFL’s 2020 season. The pandemic’s full impact on the league will not be on display until this year, however, when the revenue lost over the last few months will be reflected in the salary cap. Less revenue usually means a lower spending cap for teams to use.

But what does this mean for 2021? A new report by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggests that the league might reduce its cap this season by quite a bit after setting it at $198.2 million last year. The belief is that it might end up “in the range of” $180 million for the upcoming season.

This goes in line with a prior agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association last summer that the cap will not drop below $175 million regardless of how revenue develops during the 2020 season. While the number will not be announced until closer to the start of free agency in mid-March, we therefore already know that those $175 million will serve as the basis of negotiations between the two parties that have to agree to a final cap.

As Florio noted, however, this process will not be an easy one:

The players surely will want the cap to be as high as it can be. Multiple teams will want that, too, in order to avoid having to create the space necessary to comply with a $175 million spending limit.

Plenty of owners, in contrast, don’t want to delay the full brunt of the impact of the 2020 losses. They view it as an interest-free loan to players. And that mentality would push the final number closer to $175 million.

Regardless of where the cap ends up being set, we already know that the New England Patriots will be among the most financially potent teams in the league in 2021. According to Miguel Benzan, they have current cap commitments of $140.7 million as well as a carryover of $19.3 million and an incentives adjustment of $6.3 million. Add it all up and compare it to a league-wide cap number of $180 million, and you get a cap space of $64.9 million for the Patriots to work with.

That number is obviously still a flexible one, though. Removing players such as Marcus Cannon and Dont’a Hightower from the equation — both are candidates to retire after opting out of the 2020 season — would create roughly $17 million more cap space for New England, for example. The same goes for any potential contract extensions or restructures orchestrated before the start of the new league year on March 17.

Then again, the Patriots will need every dollar they can get their hands on. Not only do they have a high-profile list of players set to enter free agency, the team currently is understaffed at some key positions such as quarterback, wide receiver and defensive tackle.

That said, it is in a good financial position compared to the rest of the league. Only two other teams in the NFL — the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars and the 2-14 New York Jets — are currently projected to have more money to spend than the Patriots in 2021. On the other end of the spectrum are up to 13 organizations that could be over the cap if it is indeed set at $180 million.