Even if the NFL manages to make the 2020 season a reality, the financial fallout associated with COVID-19 is going to have a lasting effect. This is reflected in the NFL’s recent agreement with its players association setting the 2021 salary cap at $175 million. (The 2020 salary cap is $198.2 million.)
The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter addressed this issue at length in a recent piece. It’s definitely worth a read, if you have a moment. And here’s a couple of particularly juicy quotes from general manager and pomade aficionado Thomas Dimitroff (a big hat tip to Ledbetter for the quotes):
“We are spending a lot of time on that, making sure that we have our ducks in line,” Dimitroff said. “You know how I am, we will never look at something as catastrophic. We will find a way to navigate through like a lot of teams out there.”
“Any team that has high-prized players, as we do, we’re going to have to be smart about how we navigate going into a season, unfortunately if the cap were to fall, we would have to make adjustments,” Dimitroff said.
The Falcons have nearly $220 million committed in 2021. That puts them $45 million over the 2021 cap. It’s worth noting that the total cap committed for 2021 breaks down as $123 million committed to the offense and only $89 million committed to the defense. They only have $180 million committed to the cap in 2022 and $90 million committed to the cap in 2023, so this situation isn’t permanent, particularly as the NFL makes its inevitable financial recovery.
It’s anyone’s guess who would be on the chopping block headed into 2021, but Jamon Brown (cap savings of $5.5 million), James Carpenter (cap savings of $4 million), Ricardo Allen (cap savings of $6.25 million), and Allen Bailey (cap savings of $4.5 million) come to mind. Cutting some or most of that list will afford the Falcons some much-needed cap flexibility next March. Takk McKinley and Keanu Neal are both headed for free agency as well, and it’s not yet clear if either will remain with the Falcons.
The bottom line is this: There are difficult decisions ahead and there will be odd men out. The aforementioned cuts would put a dent in the problem, but the Falcons may need to look at restructuring a few contracts as well. NFL teams have an uncanny knack for cap-related creativity, so I won’t say this problem doesn’t have a solution. But it’s time for us to start preparing for the distinct possibility that the solution, whatever it is, will be difficult to swallow.