ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that the NFL's salary cap projects to be about $133 million, which would be a $10 million jump from last season. There were fears around the league of another year of a "flat" cap, inching up slowly as it has in the past two offseasons following the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011.
But fueled by higher revenue streams, including the new TV money from the CBS investment for Thursday night football, the cap should see its first significant bump in several years. And it doesn't appear to be a one-year spike, either — Schefter projects similar bumps for 2015 and 2016, too.
Salary cap projected to rise to about $133 million this year, expected to break $140 million next year and $150 million by 2016, per source
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2014
The free agency landscape should change dramatically because of this.
[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]
There will be more money in the marketplace, which of course pleases the players, and per the CBA teams must spend most of the money (89 percent) of the space they are allotted. That certainly will make some free-agents-to-be more rich if teams feel they are but a few players away from contending for a Super Bowl, eager to add a few final pieces.
At least 12 teams are expected to have at least $20 million in salary cap space with the new projection. Leading the way are the Oakland Raiders at more than $66 million, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars ($55 million) and Cleveland Browns ($51 million). Other comfy teams in terms of space include the Indianapolis Colts ($40M), Miami Dolphins ($38M), Green Bay Packers ($34M), Minnesota Vikings ($30M), Cincinnati Bengals ($29M), Washington Redskins ($28M), New York Jets ($25M), Philadelphia Eagles ($25M) and Buffalo Bills ($24M).
But the increase is relative, too, so that previously cap-challenged teams — to borrow a favorite phrase of Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman — now have more wiggle room to keep their own free agents and perhaps even now franchise players they didn't think they could before. That likely means that a top free agent such as the Panthers' Greg Hardy or the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham will be harder to pry away from their current teams.
Even with the increase, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers currently would remain the only two NFL teams over the cap prior to any player transactions they will have to make. Every other team would project to have at least $4 million in space under the 2014 cap.
It's important to keep in mind not only this year's cap increase but also the larger-than-expected projections for the next two seasons. This will affect contract negotiations, especially for the banner draft class of 2011, which will be able to negotiate long-term extensions in the new calendar year, per the CBA restrictions.
That partial list includes quarterbacks Cam Newton and Kaepernick, receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones, cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson, and a slew of defensive linemen pass rushers — J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Muhammad Wilkerson, Justin Houston, Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan, Marcel Dareus and Ryan Kerrigan.
It's going to be fun to watch how NFL teams spend their money this offseason. That said, we know not all of it will be done so wisely.
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