According to reporting by Mike Florio last night, the 2021 salary cap should not be expected to be any higher than $183 million, which would be a more than $15 million drop off from last season. He followed up by citing a source claiming it will very likely fall at $182.5 million.
It’s ironic that this is not the number that either the players or the teams necessarily were hoping for, but it’s an economic reality that the owners are adjusting to. One could even mince words and argue that it’s not the reality, as a more realistic figure that would have addressed the economic toll of the pandemic would have been in the range of $160 million.
But while this is a short-term setback, the league is bracing for long-term prosperity, propelled by extremely lucrative new broadcasting contracts, particularly with its apparently new favorite partner in Amazon—no surprise there—and an eventual expansion into a 17-game regular season schedule.
This would have been no surprise if stated a year ago, but looking at the reality now, it’s notable that there are those who now believe, in light of the television contracts coming together and anticipating largely-full stadiums around the country, that the salary cap will steadily rise and reach the $250 million mark in five years.
That’s a steep climb from $182.5 million, a jump of nearly $14 million per season, which is beyond even what we were seeing after the last round of negotiations, but the stakes are higher than ever as well. Were it not for the setback, of course, we would have already been on that course, but you do have to account for the pandemic effect.
The league was on the verge of hitting the $200 million mark last year, with the salary cap number for 2020 ultimately settling in at 198.2 million. That was a $10 million jump from the previous year at $188.2 million, which exceeded the prior year’s mark of $177.2 million by $11 million. The largest jumps came in 2016 and 2017, when the cap rose by roughly $12 million each year.
As said, the increases would have to be even larger than that, and considering that the league has been coaxed into not bearing the full brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic right off the bat, we have to prepare for further accommodation in that regard over the next couple of years.
Taking that into consideration, the prediction of a salary cap hitting $250 million five years from now is all the more notable, and illustrates just how precipitous the growth is expected to be as a direct extension of the broadcasting rights, the extra eight regular season games, and a slow return to normalcy inside of stadiums.