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There is hope the 2021 NFL salary cap won’t drop as low as once expected

The Pittsburgh Steelers are right up to the salary cap as it is, but there might be good news on the horizon.

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-Commissioner Roger Goodell Press Conference Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

There has never been a season like the 2020 season in NFL history. The empty stadiums, masks worn and protocols taken place made this year stand out like a sore thumb in NFL history.

Playing during a pandemic was never thought to be something the league would have to logistically do, yet here we are on the cusp of the Super Bowl and preparing for the offseason leading up to the 2021 season.

While some things will change, and are pretty cut and dry, like the NFL Scouting Combine, there is one area of the new league year which might not be known until the final hours before the free agency period begins.

That would be the NFL salary cap.

The NFL and NFLPA came to terms on an agreement which stated the cap wouldn’t drop below $175 million dollars, no matter what. However, that cap floor is a far cry from the $198 million the current cap resides.

With teams not sure what the final number will be, some organizations are scrambling to figure out a way to create space to not just become cap compliant, but also to be able to sign some free agents in the process.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are among the league’s bottom feeders, as it pertains to projected salary cap space heading into 2021. Take a look at the bottom of the league in this category, per Sportrac (Top 51):

18. Buffalo Bills$-6,130,657
19. Tennessee Titans$-8,690,343
20. Chicago Bears$-10,510,748
21. Detroit Lions$-10,919,041
22. New York Giants$-12,073,604
23. Houston Texans$-16,447,867
24. Minnesota Vikings$-14,614,284
25. Kansas City Chiefs$-18,760,898
26. Las Vegas Raiders$-19,237,636
27. Pittsburgh Steelers — $-28,778,547
28. Atlanta Falcons$-33,216,845
29. Green Bay Packers$-31,851,617
30. Los Angeles Rams$-35,230,627
31. Philadelphia Eagles$-51,459,911
32. New Orleans Saints$-104,630,767

So, is there hope in the salary cap not dipping down to $175 million? Could the number be higher, and provide some necessary relief to teams like the Steelers? According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, there is a sentiment resonating around league circles the cap could end up around $185 million for the 2021 season.

“The NFL and NFLPA began preliminary negotiations last month on the 2021 salary cap. Some team officials believe (and surely hope) the cap will ultimately land closer to $185 million per club — if not a little higher — than the $175 million minimum the sides agreed to last summer as they braced for empty and mostly empty stadiums.

“The league didn’t provide clubs with its annual cap projection at the delayed labor seminar Tuesday, nor has it committed to exactly how to spread the impact of an unprecedented multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall in 2020 over the next few years. (Each year’s cap is based on revenue projections for the following season, as well as a “true-up” from the prior year projection. Had the sides not agreed to the $175 million floor for 2021 as part of an overall package on COVID-related economic matters, spreading this year’s shortfall into future years, the cap would have plummeted much further from this season’s $198.2 million per club.)”

If what is being reported is true, and the salary cap doesn’t plummet as far as expected, the Steelers will be in a much better situation heading into 2021. When you throw in the elephant in the room of Ben Roethlisberger’s huge salary cap hit, and if the team can maneuver their way around it, the Steelers could actually be in a position to bring back some of their free agents and add more from the open market when the new year begins in March.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes as the team prepares for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.