Tackling What The NFL’s 2021 $182.5 Million Salary Cap Truly Means

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

The NFL has announced that the salary cap for the 2021 season is set at $182.5 million. What exactly does that mean?

  1. It is the first time that the salary cap in the NFL has ever decreased year-over-year (the cap was $198 million for the 2020 NFL season). However, take into consideration that the salary cap has only been around in the league since 1994. Furthermore, the NFL has never had to react to a major pandemic, resulting in hefty losses, during that span.
  2. NFL teams are still able to go above that salary cap figure, the extent of which is to be determined on a team-by-team basis. That overage is set after taking into consideration carryovers and adjustments from the prior season. For instance, the Miami Dolphins’ salary cap for 2021 is set at $197 million, while the Cleveland Browns can spend up to $212 million. None of the NFL teams will actually be capped at that $182.5 million number.
  3. NFL teams will not be permitted to add to their salary cap number for 2021 based on “borrowing” money from future years.
  4. Franchise tag values have now been set on players that teams are comfortable with locking up for one season, preventing those players from hitting the open market in exchange for the teams paying a large price tag. Offensive tackles like Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cam Robinson and Carolina Panthers’ Taylor Moton are set to receive $13.754 million each based on being slapped with the franchise tag. New York Jets safety Marcus Maye and New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams can each expect to receive $10.612 million for a year of service unless they are able to negotiate longer-term deals in the meantime.
  5. The NFL and the NFL Players Association avoided an escrow provision, which would have required that some money be set aside in a trust account to be used to rehabilitate the league in the case of further complications from the pandemic or otherwise.

The reality is that the situation could have been far worse than it is for NFL players entering into free agency before the start of the 2021 NFL season. That said, it is not an easy pill to swallow for players and their agents, who have taken it for granted that the salary cap would rise on an annual basis.

Written by Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. You can reach him by email at heitner@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DarrenHeitner.


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