Falcons' salary cap to have major roster impact, but not set yet

NFL sends memo informing teams that the minimum salary cap for the coming season will be $180 million 

The NFL sent a memo out Thursday informing teams that the league and the NFL Players Association have agreed on a minimum salary cap of $180 million for the 2021 season.

Before getting into how all of this impacts the Atlanta Falcons, there a couple of things worth noting about that number.

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First, the NFL and NFLPA agreed a year ago that that the minimum salary cap would not be lower than $175 million – so this is a $5 million increase. Second, this is not the final number, as noted in the second paragraph of the league memo (below). They just wanted the clubs to know that the minimum is now $5 million higher and that they "will promptly advise all clubs as soon as the salary cap is set."

So, if you haven't been paying close attention to the salary cap recently (or at all), here is the significance of that number.

  • In 2020, the NFL set the salary cap to $198.2 million.
  • In 2019, the salary cap was $188.2 million.
  • The salary cap has increased every single year since having an uncapped year in 2010.

Why the lower number? NFL teams attributed almost $4 billion in revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to this CBS News report.

Instead of the salary cap going up once again – and teams banking on that annual increase when structuring contracts and forecasting budgets – the league has informed clubs to prepare accordingly because the minimum will now be $180 million. According to one report, the final number is "likely to be between $180 million and $185 million, though almost certainly on the lower end of that range."

Falcons have work to do

That's a significant decrease, especially for teams that already over the projected cap number have to make significant cuts and restructure deals just to get in line with the cap.

And the Falcons are one of those teams.

Atlanta has already started to make some necessary moves to get in compliance with the salary cap. On Thursday, the team announced that it had released safety Ricardo Allen, defensive end Allen Bailey and waived quarterback Kurt Benkert. As Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac tweeted, the move cleared up "a much-needed $10.75M of cap space for the Falcons."

As far as NFL salary cap rankings on Spotrac go, the transaction moved the Falcons up from No. 29 to 26th. Still, there's much work to be done. The estimated space available for the Falcons at the moment is -$12,274,824.

General manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith will have to make some decisions with the Falcons roster over the coming weeks and months, especially with the new league year (and free agency) set to begin on March 17. And they won't be easy ones.

Some room, and a possible game-changer

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however.

For starters, the league allows teams to roll over the unused cap space from the previous season, and the Falcons will have an additional $1.8 million. While that's below the club average of $9.8 million, it's still something.

Perhaps the biggest salary cap game-changer would be new TV deals for the NFL, and the league would certainly like to finalize those before setting its 2021 salary cap and the new league year begins. According to Jabari Young of CNBC, the new media rights pact could reach $100 billion via a 10-year deal.

"Other options," Young writes, "include a seven-year deal at $14 billion per year or an eight-year deal at $12 billion per year."

What would a deal like that mean for the league and the Falcons? Well, according to Young, the salary cap "is projected to skyrocket to over $200 million for the 2022 season." And it would certainly help knowing that, especially as teams scurry to restructure deals, make tough cuts and consider moves for free agency.

In case you are wondering, here is the full list of Falcons players scheduled to become free agents:

Unrestricted free agents

  • Todd Gurley II, running back
  • Damontae Kazee, free safety
  • Alex Mack, center
  • Steven Means, defensive end
  • Keanu Neal, strong safety
  • Matt Schaub, quarterback (retired)
  • Luke Stocker, tight end
  • Darqueze Dennard, cornerback
  • Brian Hill, running back
  • John Wetzel, tackle
  • Charles Harris, defensive end
  • Justin McCray, guard
  • Sharrod Neasman, safety
  • LaRoy Reynolds, linebacker
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback
  • Edmond Robinson, linebacker
  • Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver:

Restricted free agents

  • Matt Gono, tackle
  • Brandon Powell, wide receiver

Exclusive rights free agents

  • Younghoe Koo, kicker
  • Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, defensive tackle
  • Jaeden Graham, tight end
  • Christian Blake, wide receiver
  • Tyler Hall, cornerback
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