The NFL’s salary cap will be $182.5 million per team in the upcoming season, a drop of 8% from 2020.
The league’s loss of revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic caused the first decrease in the cap since 2011, which followed an uncapped season.
Free agency begins next Wednesday, though the “legal tampering” period starts Monday.
The NFL is close to agreement on extensions of its broadcast contracts, but those deals will not affect the 2021 season.
Last summer, the players union and league agreed to a cap minimum of $175 million, but that number jumped by $5 million in February and was set at $182.5 million on Wednesday.
Now the scrambling begins for a number of teams that are significantly over the cap. For example, the Rams were a projected $41 million beyond the number, the Eagles were over by about $35 million and the Saints by $33 million.
On the other side of the ledger, the Jets, Patriots and Jaguars had the most money available, ranging from $65 million to $67 million.
“I would say, obviously, we’re better positioned than we were this time last year,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said of free agency. “I would say that our philosophy and stance has not changed however. I think our goal and our plan is to be ... a team that really builds this through the draft and hitting on draft picks, obviously using free agency to supplement our roster. If the opportunity and the value meet, that’s going to be the point where we’re going to be aggressive and get someone that we feel good about, helping this team not only on the field, but with the culture and inside the building.”
Nine players having been given franchise tags: receivers Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay) and Allen Robinson (Bears); offensive linemen Taylor Moton (Carolina), Cam Robinson (Jacksonville) and All-Pro Brandon Scherff (Washington); safeties Marcus Maye (New York Jets), Marcus Williams (New Orleans) and Justin Simmons (Denver); and defensive tackle Leonard Williams (New York Giants). Their cap numbers are set by the tag designations.
The rest of the free agency crop will be seeking big bucks from a diminished pot.
“If you look league-wide at the available cap dollars, it is like 40% of what it has been in the past,” Andrew Berry, Cleveland’s executive vice president of football operations, said last week. “Look, a year ago at this time, generally speaking, I think everybody across the league thought the cap would be around $210 (million). We were likely $30 million dollars north of that. That means everybody across the league is going to feel that squeeze. We are not excluded from feeling that effect.
“Now that all being said, I do think that we are in a healthy position where we can adapt, adjust and continue to improve the team and retain more talent, but to suggest that is going to have zero impact on us when it is going to impact really every team in the NFL, I think that that would be disingenuous.”