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NFL sets 2021 salary-cap floor, and it's higher than expected

Eric Edholm
·3-min read

The NFL issued a memo Thursday morning that indicated the league's salary-cap floor would be $180 million for the 2021 season.

That's up at least $5 million from projections of a $175 million cap in 2021 previously, which had been agreed upon by the league and the players' union. This determination was made following the NFL's “discussions with the union that addressed both actual 2020 revenues and projected attendance for the 2021 season.”

The official salary-cap figure will be determined, according to the memo, once there has been a full audit on 2020 league revenues. The final number, which will be at least $180 million in cap space allotted per team, must be determined before the start of free agency on March 17.

That's a drop from the 2020 cap figure of 198.1 million per team, or about a 9 percent drop.

Although the league lost a shocking amount of money during a pandemic-affected 2020 season — a figure likely in the billions — the league likely is accounting for revenue that will be generated through an expanded regular-season schedule that's expected (plus last season's expanded playoffs), new media deals and sponsorship renewals.

Some of the top 2021 free agents include Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, plus a slew of talented receivers, including Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay.

Who does this cap-floor increase help most?

It's fair to say that it helps all 32 teams on varying levels, along with a sliver of veteran players who could have been salary-cap casualties this offseason but might now be spared — or have their deals renegotiated.

But it's also very notable to the teams in the most dire cap shape.

That list begins with the New Orleans Saints. Currently, they have $258.6 million in active-player contracts, although that figure is adjusted by more than $4 million in cap rollover from 2020 and just over $1 million in dead money.

It also included the contract of Drew Brees, who might be set for retirement this offseason. His contract currently contains a 2021 cap hit of $12.2 million, according to Spotrac.

The next three teams with the most accounting work ahead of them to get under the reduced cap are the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons. But the increase most certainly helps quite a bit with that effort.

Then again, it also helps teams at the top. 

The teams with the most projected salary-cap space prior to the new league year are the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, all of whom now have an even bigger advantage over other teams when it comes to spending this offseason.

And there's a surprising team in the fourth spot: the New England Patriots. Although historically the Patriots have been fairly prudent when it comes to dishing out cash to outside free agents, the Patriots might be in a position to make more moves than in a typical offseason cycle. 

And coming off a 7-9 season — the Patriots' first losing campaign since 2000 — it might be more needed than it has been in a long time.

The Cowboys are currently slated to have the 14th-most cap space next year, and this adjustment certainly helps their efforts to re-sign Prescott or issue him the franchise tag again.

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