The offseason has yet to arrive for the handful of NFL teams that will play in the conference championship games Sunday, however, that has not stopped much of the talk around the league from focusing on the salary cap issues going into next season. Specifically, with the COVID pandemic having effectively eliminated in person attendance at games this season, the impact to the salary cap during 2021 is expected to be significant.
Reports have been all over the place, with a December report optimistic the 2021 cap could come in around $195M, while a more recent report had the number potentially around $180M. Where it truly ends up is anyone’s guess at this point, and even Joe Douglas, general manager for the New York Jets, recently stated that everyone should know more following a league conference call a week from Monday.
There are reports the NFL salary cap is going down this year. What is Joe Douglas hearing? pic.twitter.com/z05G7u3P2D— Dan Leberfeld (@jetswhispers) January 21, 2021
That said, kicker Brandon McManus, the player representative for the players union for the Denver Broncos, had this input on social media Saturday.
Expect the Salary Cap to be higher than $175 Million as well. My guess is 188. https://t.co/yjIO0IsnH7— Brandon McManus (@thekidmcmanus) January 21, 2021
Where the official cap number comes in will, of course, determine exactly how much cap space each team has. That said, many sites, such as OverTheCap.com, continue to use a projection of $176M and will likely do so until such a time as the league provides sufficient reason to stop doing so. Thus, while looking at any kind of cap space analysis in the coming weeks there is one very important caveat to keep in mind, and that is that the league has yet to provide guidance to teams regarding the anticipated cap. Typically each December the league provides teams with a range that estimates the cap for the next season and then provides a final, official number in February.
With so much up in the air this year, and negotiations between the league and union regarding where to set the cap for 2021 ongoing, it is key to remember that all of the numbers in this post are based on that $176M as used by OTC. If, as seems possible based on the reports from ProFootballTalk and McManus’ guess, it comes in higher, the amount by which it comes in higher will simply increase the amount of projected cap space for all 32 teams by however much the cap winds up above $176M. So, if it winds up being set at $180M, then every team will see their estimated cap space increase by $4M. If it is set at $188M, every team would see their cap space estimate increase by $12M. And so on.
So, jumping right into the numbers, the starting point to use will be where OverTheCap.com projects the Seattle Seahawks for 2021, and that number is currently $2.78M ($2,782,229 for readers wanting the exact number). That number already includes the 2020 cap rollover, so there is no need to add that in, and it includes the 47 players currently under contract with the Seahawks for next season. However, there are a pair of key items missing.
The first is the raise from $920k to $3.422M that Michael Dickson earned by hitting his Proven Performance Escalator, and the second is the fact that the Hawks will need to fill out the roster. Specifically, the Hawks have 47 players under contract, while the salary cap during the offseason accounts for the 51 players with the largest cap hit. That means that simply filling out the roster with minimum salary rookies on UDFA contracts given out without signing bonuses the team will add a minimum of $2.64M in contracts based on the 2021 rookie minimum salary of $660k. Accounting for both of those things reduces the space the Hawks are projected to have for 2021 by $5.142M, and would leave them at $2.36M over a cap that is set at $176M.
In addition, that $2.36M over the cap figure also fails to account for several other expenses, including:
- signing draft picks ($445k needed based on current roster construction, this amount will decrease as the offseason progresses),
- tender offers to exclusive rights free agents and restricted free agents (likely in the $4M ballpark)
- practice squad (minimum of $1.878M, potentially in the $2.75M-$3M range depending on whether COVID amendment to the CBA is kept in place for 2021) and
- injured reserve pool for replacement players (around $3M-$4M).
Neither of the last two items on that list, the practice squad reserve or the IR pool are needed until after roster cuts are made on September 4. That means that they can largely be ignored for the duration of the offseason, but placed in the back of the mind so that when it comes time for cap casualties and teams have the ability to exert maximum leverage on veterans to accept a pay cut on the brink of the season, they can be retrieved.
In short, how much cap space the Hawks are looking at having this offseason will depend on where the cap comes in. Here are the rough estimates based on three different cap projections:
- $176M cap (OTC estimate): Roughly $7M over the cap
- $180M cap (recent PFT report): Around $3M over the cap
- $188M cap (McManus guess): Around $5M in cap space available
Any of those numbers are workable for the team, as they have the ability to create a significant amount of cap space through any of a number of moves. The only questions are regarding where exactly the cap comes in and how the team decides to create the space it needs for the 2021 season.