NFL Network is reporting that the NFL salary cap is expected to reach $208.2 million in 2022, confirming that the salary cap will reach the max threshold agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA back in May. The report is not very surprising and this is the estimate that we have been using for cap calculations since last May as well. Once it was clear that Covid would have minimal impact on gameday operations it would be difficult for the sides to not reach the max number given the steady year over year revenue growth since 2013.
One thing I am noticing since this report is a rash of comments about how everything is back to normal now. That really is not the case. While the rise in the salary cap looks massive since the cap was a Covid influenced $182.5 million this year the fact is the cap this year would have been expected to be between $208 and $210 million. In 2022 the number would have been between $218 and $221 million, so realistically we are still about $10 million off from where the cap should be.
Just as the decrease in salary cap space this year barely impacted contract extensions or free agent signings I would not expect this increase to impact the numbers in 2022 either. While there is some correlation between the salary cap and contract values the teams themselves operated under the same assumptions that the salary cap was steadily rising. While teams did have to perform “salary cap gymnastics” at times there was minimal impact on the market, especially at the top which is what most people pay attention to when it comes to contracts.
The real tangible increase in the salary cap that should create a meaningful jump in contract value will come in 2023. The new TV deals kick in that season and that should move the cap significantly higher and to the point where a contract shift should occur. How high it will be is anyone’s guess. The players are still paying back Covid losses and it is possible some payback still will exist in 2023. It is also possible that the NFLPA has to account for some benefit borrowing that could also impact the cap.
Whether or not 2023 will be the big year for contract growth will depend on what we see with the cap that year. If it reaches between $228 and $230 million it will likely still be considered flat for contract purposes. Anything above that number will show more growth over the old CBA rates and thus impact contracts. It may not be until 2024 that we actually see how the salary cap and NFL revenues settle for the balance of the CBA.
Teams have already begun dumping millions of salary cap dollars into 2023 by frontloading prorated bonuses into 2021 and 2022 in lieu of base salaries or by using void years for the 2023 season so they have clearly planned for 2023 to be “the year” for the cap to really return. It would not be surprising to me if, in 2022, we see a large number of extensions as teams try to get contracts in ahead of a meaningful jump that should impact the markets for players. Teams can still claim uncertainty about the 2023 cap probably through the first few weeks of the 2022 regular season.
Cap space will still be at a premium next season. We project the average cap room per club to be just $29.4 million with a median of $31.5 million. That includes carryover from 2021. Once rosters are brought to 51 players those numbers will plummet to $17.6 and $19.4 million respectively. We project the Dolphins to be at the top of the NFL with $77 million followed by the Chargers at $72 million, and Jaguars at $70.2 million.
Here is a snapshot of our estimates for next season. The cap space is just based on players under contract for next year while the effective space takes into account a full 51 man roster.
|Team||Cap Space||Effective Cap Space|
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.