The NFL salary cap this season will be at least $180 million, the league said Thursday in a memo to teams. It’s an increase of $5 million from NFL owners’ previous agreement with the NFL Players’ Association.
That was good news for players, agents and teams who were bracing for the worst as the league comes up with a salary cap number for the 2021 season.
The NFL lost billions of dollars in revenue — roughly $4 billion — according to a league source, because of the coronavirus pandemic that kept fan attendance minimal or non-existent at games.
Because of that, the salary cap will decrease for the first time since the NFL’s 2011 lockout season.
The salary cap in 2020 was $198.2 million. The NFLPA and the NFL’s owners previously agreed that the figure for 2021 would be no lower than $175 million. That would prevent a huge drop in the salary cap, which could have resulted in more players than normal being cut this offseason.
Free agency begins in March, and NFL teams and agents were preparing as if the salary cap would be $175 million. A final cap number is still to be determined, but the higher figure floated this week suggests that the loss in revenue wasn’t as bad as expected.
It also gives some relief to teams hoping to re-sign free agents. The Panthers are one of those teams.
After Kawann Short’s release Tuesday, the Panthers saved about $8.6 million in salary cap space.
They will also carry over $4.27 million in unused money from the 2020 season to 2021, according to a league source.
If you base things on a salary cap minimum of $180 million, the Panthers will have roughly $24 million in cap space. It could be more if the salary cap is higher.
That gives the Panthers more flexibility to re-sign players like right tackle Taylor Moton, who is expected to become one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league after a successful 2020 season.
Moton should be the Panthers’ top priority in free agency. Four of the Panthers’ five starting offensive linemen are expected to become free agents. Moton was the team’s most consistent offensive lineman.
In 1,032 snaps played, he allowed only three sacks and committed two penalties.
If the Panthers can’t sign Moton this offseason, they have the option to place the franchise tag on him, which would cost approximately $14.5 million against the salary cap.
That number was far more daunting than it would have been had the NFL not increased the minimum for the salary cap.
But that new figure at least gives teams a little more wiggle room, especially the Panthers.
— Jonathan M. Alexander