We are just a few short days away from the NFL announcing it’s 2021 salary cap. The situation which was rumored to significantly drop now has cause for optimism with deals between the NFL and TV networks reportedly nearing completion. The influx of cash may just save the salary cap, and keep it headed in a positive direction. However, there is still a real opportunity in which that number drops. No matter where it falls, between $180 Million and $190 Million, the cash crunch will be felt league wide.
It isn’t just teams who will feel the squeeze, but the NFL middle class. The middle class of the NFL is made up of the players who are not superstars, but are still impact/role type players. Guys that are good enough to get a second and third deal, but not reset the market type players.
This is a serious issue. Now a large chunk of NFL players will be faced with playing for veteran minimum dollars, and risking injury, or taking a year off and hoping there is another contract waiting for them in a years time. This leaves the league susceptible to NBA-like ‘super-teams’ where the vets that choose to play will team up in hopes of at least winning a championship while they play on smaller deals.
The National Hockey League has laid out the blue print of exactly what will happen if the salary cap lowers. In the NHL’s case, top level players were quickly snatched up for their normal prices, but after that almost no moves were made. For a couple months the league’s free agent pool looked like an all-star lineup. Slowly, those players were snatched up, but mostly on one-year deals around the veteran minimum amount of money. Almost all of 2020’s free agent will be free agents again in 2021.
One other point of worry is if the NFL’s cap slips this year, but then skyrockets to a number like $220 million next year, which is a reasonable estimate with new TV contacts and adding another game. The league would inflict a double reset on talent. The teams that are currently being crushed by the cap will see a majority of their free agents leave on mostly one year deals, but then in 2022 those same teams should have loads of money to bring guys back in. It will be a talent swing unlike any other. When you look back on rosters from 2020 to that of 2022, I wouldn't be surprised if you had thought the league had put themselves through a fantasy draft.
As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are some ways the Steelers can take advantage of these mid tier players. Basically, they just have to wait out other teams as money quickly dries up. Players like Alex Mack, Todd Gurley, and many others will be desperate to stay in the league and could potentially be had for not much more than the veteran minimum. In this scenario the team that waits the longest could clean up on the remaining talent. The Steelers can fill all of their holes with starting caliber players that missed out on early free agency spending.
But what do you think? Are you worried the state of the NFL’s salary cap could alter the NFL forever? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.