The impact of the 2021 NFL Cap

Dayna O’Gorman
Senior NFL Reporter
NFC West/AFC West

By Dayna O’Gorman // @DaynaOG

We’ve heard about it all season. The 2021 NFL Cap was going down. Way down. Teams who were going to be in cap trouble are now in REAL cap trouble, and teams who thought they had the room to go get every free agent they wanted are now having to reevaluate.

I went straight to the source to try to help us figure out how teams were going to manage this difficult cap year. Miguel Benzan, also known as @PatsCap on Twitter, is one of the most respected NFL cap space minds out there. While he mostly focuses on the New England Patriots cap, he is extremely well versed in intricate details of the NFL cap. Go follow him. Now.   I’ll wait. Welcome back.

First and foremost, the actual dollar number of the cap is still to be determined, but Miguel thinks he has an idea of where it will land. “I think the 2021 League Cap number will end up being $180.5 million.” That is in line with what most believe. I’ve seen everything from $180 -$182 million. That is a huge drop from where it was supposed to be this year, which was over $200 million.

As I mentioned before, this will have a big impact on teams. I asked Miguel which teams had the worst and best cap situations. “The Saints are in the worst cap situation. The Jaguars have the best. According to the February 15 NFLPA salary cap report (Public Salary Cap Report | NFLPA (nflpawebv2.azurewebsites.net) the Saints’ cap commitments ($278,259,473) are more than double than the Jaguars ($127,183,942).”

Read that again. The New Orleans Saints are almost $100 million OVER the estimated cap, while the Jacksonville Jaguars have about $53 million in space. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. So what are teams, like the Saints, to do to help fix their situation? Well, cutting players isn’t the only option.

Miguel gave me 4 ways that teams can work within their system to find cap space, putting them in order of how teams traditionally use these options.

A: Converting salary into signing bonus. For example, the Saints could create over seven million in cap space by converting most of Cameron Jordan’s salary into a signing bonus.  This is the most common move.

B: Extend a player while also converting salary into the signing bonus. This is the next common maneuver.

C: Extend a player while adding voidable years to the deal which allows the team to prorate the signing bonus over those voidable years.

D: Extend a player while using an option bonus for the 2022 season. This defers the cap hit for the option bonus until 2022 and the years covered by the option.

Now many of these options just push cap issues out a few years, but with 2021 being an outlier year and teams expecting the cap to have a huge jump starting in 2022, they are willing to take that risk.

So I asked Miguel what this means for free agents? Other players? What does this look like for the men on the field?

“The biggest trend will be the use of one-year prove-it deals like the deal signed by Devin Funchess with the Colts in 2019.  Other trends we will see are the increased use of voidable years and option bonuses.”

“If the 2021 League Cap ends up closer to the $175M floor than to the 2020 League Cap number of $198.2M, I expect to see several wide receivers and safeties tagged as their projected tag numbers ($15.8M and $10.5M, respectively) are several million dollars less than the top players are receiving in deals ($20M and $14.5M, respectively).  If the 2021 League Cap ends up closer to the $175M floor than to the 2020 League Cap number of $198.2M we will see further destruction of the NFL’s lower middle class (players in the $5M to $8M APY range).”

It’s obvious that 2021 is going to be a struggle for teams when it comes to the cap and paying their players. Teams who can navigate through this year are likely to be set up well going forward. Teams who don’t could be paying for this season for years.

Follow Dayna on Twitter // @DaynaOG

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