The top agenda for the NFL this offseason isn’t figuring out what the salary cap is, though it is heavily involved. The top agenda is, instead, completing new broadcasting rights contracts, which will directly influence what the salary cap number is, not just for this season, but for many years to come.
They actually took a major step in this direction last year already, when they agreed to terms on a 10-year extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFLPA, which runs through the course of the next decade. That CBA also included an expanded postseason, which has already been implemented, and the right to expand the regular season to 17 games, which could happen in 2021.
Offering labor stability and more opportunities for revenue are huge cards for the NFL to play in negotiations with their broadcasting partners, hoping to secure similarly long-term deals, and obviously for very high dollar amounts, especially in a diminishing broadcasting landscape in which it has become increasingly clear that football is king.
According to Peter King in his Football Morning in America column, the league is already hard at work in negotiations, and is said to be closing in on a long-term partnership. What he doesn’t expect is much changing of dancing partners. He writes:
The NFL is close—“within a month,” one source told me at the Super Bowl—to inking new 10-year contracts with its network partners that could result in an aggregate increase of 70 to 100 percent in rights fees from the last contract. The new contract may not be a revolution; I’m hearing most major packages will likely remain with their current broadcast partners, with the exception of a possible streaming package on Thursday nights. Amazon is the favorite there. Whether the Thursday night package, if streamed, would include a cable element like NFL Network, or simply be telecast on local channels of the two participating teams, is something I don’t know.
King also notes that, while most of the current deals don’t actually run out until the end of the 2022 calendar, the NFL wants to get them done now in order to bring in an influx of cash, which could help stem the tide of the financial losses suffered this past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The league operated under a salary cap of nearly $200 million during the 2020 season, the highest of all time, but next season’s salary cap could come in as low as $180 million, the first time that the cap number would move backward in nearly a decade—and by the largest dollar amount ever.
More recent speculation has predicted that the cap will come in somewhere between $180-85 million, though some have been even more optimistic, going so far as to predict that the cap will end up roughly flat. Should that scenario come to pass, then the new broadcasting deals will be the reason for it being possible.