$15.7 million drop is only part of the salary-cap story
The reduction in the 2021 salary cap from $198.2 million to $182.5 million — an unprecedented $15.7 million reduction per team — creates obvious challenges for NFL teams. Those challenges are exacerbated by the fact that NFL teams have in recent years become accustomed to minimum cap growth of $10 million per year.
Thus, the difference from expected to actual 2021 cap isn’t $15.7 million. It’s at least $25.7 million. Teams negotiate contracts in reliance on the anticipated cap growth. Before the pandemic, there was no reason to think the cap wouldn’t continue to climb, by at least $10 million.
Indeed, in every year from 2013 through 2020, the cap increased by at least $10 million annually. That growth quite possibly will return in 2022.
But even if the cap goes up by $10 million from 2021 to 2022, it’ll still be at least $25.7 million behind where it would have been, since the growth in 2022 would have been added to the growth in 2021.
That’s why so many teams are scrambling to deal with a shrinking cap. whether they’re trying to get up the cap or trying to have enough cap space to do business in free agency and then to sign draft picks, this $25.7 million change is creating a major pinch for most teams.