The NFL new league year is scheduled to begin at 4:01 PM on March 17, roughly a month and a half away at this point. According to Clark Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and the chairman of the league’s finance committee, it’s possible that teams won’t know what the salary cap will be for the 2021 season until just hours beforehand.
“There are so many uncertainties as we look at the 2021 season, which of course is now seven or eight months away, that answering those questions is very challenging”, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk quotes Hunt via a Sports Business Journal article from Ben Fischer.
“It’s going to be difficult to set the cap this year because we don’t know as many of the answers to those questions as we’d like”, he added. “But that’ll be a collaborative process that happens with the union over the next two or three months. Certainly from a team perspective, we all hope to have something higher than the floor of $175 million, but we just don’t know the answer at this point”.
It’s mindboggling to consider the prospect that teams will have to navigate the next month and a half without knowing what the salary cap will be, and thus what they need to do, or what they would be able to do, to get into or remain in compliance with the cap, but these are not ordinary circumstances.
The Covid-19 pandemic drastically altered, among many other things, the financial landscape of the NFL, torpedoing in-stadium revenue. Florio quotes numbers as typical fan attendance during an NFL season being around 17 million. They had roughly 1 million fans attend games this past year.
Owners want to bear as much of the financial hit as they can get as quickly as they can, but the players union, and likely those who manage the rosters, don’t want to see that happen. Last year, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a salary cap floor of $175 million, which, if set upon, would be $23.2 million beneath the 2020 salary cap of $198.2 million.
The salary cap has steadily risen by several million dollars annually for the better part of the past decade, and teams have made contract decisions based upon the premise that it would continue to rise, but unpredictable global crises like a pandemic have set the economic landscape back.
If it comes to a situation where the decision over the final salary cap number really comes down to the wire, then I would imagine there will be some sort of exception put in place that gives teams a more extended period of time before they are required to be in compliance with the Rule of 51 salary cap parameters. But hopefully we know the number weeks before then.