Tightroping The 2021 Cap
With the 2020 NFL season coming to a close, all but two teams are now entering off season mode. Conducting exit interviews, replacing coaching staffs, reorganizing front offices. Most teams are getting ready to dive into the most critical part of the offseason, and more so this year than most, creating a plan of attack for dealing with the 2021 salary cap reduction to $176 million. For many teams, this upcoming season will be extremely constrictive and for a very select few, a bright spot to an otherwise catastrophe of a year, both in the football world, but more importantly, the personal world.
Let’s start with the teams that have properly planned for this eventuality and have managed to secure vital cap space going into a very uncertain off season. The Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Jets and the New England Patriots can breathe a huge sigh of relief as they are the only 4 teams with more than $50M of available cap space going into the 2021 league year. Jags are at the top with $79.6M in space, Colts close behind with $78.4M, Jets in 3rd with $75.5M and the Patriots sitting at $68.6M. These four teams will be some of the most active teams in free agency as the new league year begins. The reason for that, is because of the other end of this spectrum. The 12 teams that are currently negative in cap space with the New Orleans Saints especially in trouble sitting at $94.6M negative in the upcoming cap. Other teams like the Bears and the Lions aren’t too far in the red being less than $1M negative currently, which can easily be cured with a couple roster cuts making room enough to get their draft class signed, but that does still limit their ability to really play around in the free agent market. Texans, Vikings, Chiefs and Raiders will likely be cutting several players to clear out their negative space which ranges from -$4M up to -$9M. Not horrible, but you will not see these teams making free agent offers in 2021.
Of the 12 teams negative in cap space, 6 of those teams are negative by nearly $20M or more. That would be the Steelers (-$18.7M), Packers (-$21.8M), Falcons (-$23.2M), Rams (-$25.2M), Eagles (-$41.4M) and Saints (-$94.6M). These are the teams that you will see a ton of big name, bad contract players being traded, released, or maybe a couple contract restructures occurring. You could potentially see Michael Thomas hit the trade market. Patriots, you paying attention? Alvin Kamara possibly getting a change of scenery. Brees retiring helps, but not nearly enough. New Orleans has some work to do and it is looking like a rough year down in Louisiana.
Philadelphia keeps saying they’re not wanting to trade Carson Wentz, but he wants out and they need to clear out some room so why they are balking at the idea of dealing Wentz is a question I cannot answer. Fletcher Cox is another one, they could clear out $17M roughly as he only has a couple years left on his deal, he will likely be gone for 2021. Look for Alshon Jeffrey and Desean Jackson to be leaving the city of brotherly love as well.
Another factor to think about here are those free agents and their motivations. How many agents out there are going to be willing to have talks with teams about back loading contracts to help teams throughout this question mark of an off season? Think about Allen Robinson, who is absolutely worthy of a $20M per year contract. How likely is Robinson to maybe take $13M in
2021 if the remaining years are $21M? These are the hurdles that teams will be negotiating moving forward.
If I could get a little personal here, with all respect for every person out there dealing with this awful Covid pandemic, for struggling teams like my Jets, this could actually prove to be the break the team needed when talking football. A ton of cap space, a new coaching staff, an easier schedule for 2021 compared to the brutality of 2020. This situation could be exactly what the Jets needed. The Jags as well to be honest. We could see the bottom teams that properly planned ahead make some really great strides to competitiveness moving forward.
2021 may be a tough go for most of the NFL, but the light at the end of this tunnel is that the salary cap being $176M is the floor and can never be lower than that. And the cap is predicted to rebound to more than $220M in 2022 so we will see the resurgence of a lot of teams in the near future. What this off season means, is the real GM’s will rise to the occasion, and there will be others that are exposed. This is the true test for front office management and there are some on the right track. Ultimately, I believe that we will soldier on through the adversity and the NFL will come out the other side solidifying the reasons on why it is the biggest sports league in the country. For all the faults the NFL has, they do produce a quality product and the growth after 2020 will be assured, so respect where respect is due.
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