North Texas Daily

The NFL becoming looser with its cap space rules is a good thing

The NFL becoming looser with its cap space rules is a good thing

The NFL becoming looser with its cap space rules is a good thing
April 16
12:00 2022

Much commentary has been made about the waning authority of the National Football League’s salary cap this offseason. Whereas in the past teams would obey the salary cap restrictions down to the letter of the law, the cap is now being manipulated by multiple teams across the league.

When the NFL free agency period began this year and multi-million-dollar deals started getting handed out, people began to wonder aloud just how heavily the cap space rules are being enforced. Not only were teams handing out record-breaking contracts, but they were also executing contract-savvy moves to manipulate the cap and create more financial flexibility. For example, the New Orleans Saints entered the offseason with a whopping $74 million over the cap, which was marked as the smallest available cap space in the NFL.

A few contract restructurings later and the Saints boasted over $30 million in cap space without the need to release a single player. The Saints aren’t the only franchise to use contract restructures to dance around the salary cap though, as teams across the league have engaged in similar activities.

By restructuring the contract of Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, the Philadelphia Eagles were able to create an additional $9 million in cap savings. In Los Angeles, the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams were able to free up $12 million by restructuring the contract of linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Again, it isn’t just one or two franchises sending money under the table to get around the salary cap. Instead, the entire league is taking advantage of the dwindling control of the cap space rules — and that is a wonderful thing.

For decades, spanning back to the inception of the NFL, players have been grossly underpaid. In the past, teams’ owners and executives would rely on salary cap restrictions to justify being too cheap to pay to attain or retain talent. Now, with the salary cap being enforced less with each passing year, players are cashing out and receiving contracts more reflective of their work. In 2017, then-Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was the highest-paid NFL player and was awarded a contract worth $27 million for the season. That same year, an NFL team was valued at an average of $2.5 billion (about $8 per person in the U.S.).

Five years later, with the stress of staying under the salary cap fading, both figures have jumped dramatically. At the time of publication, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the highest-paid player entering the new league year and will be paid north of $50 million this upcoming season, nearly double the salary Stafford received.

As for franchise valuations, teams are worth an average of just over $3 billion. The Dallas Cowboys, the world’s highest-valued franchise according to Forbes, experienced a valuation growth of nearly $2 billion in the five years starting from 2017.

These numbers signify that the looser cap space restrictions are benefiting both the players and team executives. The players, who are the engine and heartbeat of the NFL, are being paid salaries that reflect their massive impact. Furthermore, team owners can rest easy knowing their investments were not made in vain.

Some may wonder if the salary cap being phased out could lead to big-market teams cashing out in free agency and trying to buy their way to a championship (French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain or the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers). Although this is a valid concern, I do not think it is as easy to do in the NFL, where rosters carry 53 players. Teams can sign a few high-priced players, but they cannot load up at every position by way of spending big in free agency.

Additionally, the NFL salary cap would still technically exist as it does now, setting up a boundary that teams cannot blow through and preventing big-market clubs from financially overwhelming the competition. Plus, players would still choose where they play in free agency, so the lack of a salary cap would not necessarily signal the end of the competition.

For now, the guise of the salary cap is still lingering around. Hopefully soon, the league abandons the unnecessary financial restraint for good.

Featured Illustration By J. Robynn Aviles

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Jalyn Smoot

Jalyn Smoot

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