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NFL’s 2021 salary cap set at $182.5 million; Falcons are $16 million over

Terry Fontenot has some work to do.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has slow-walked their final calculation of the NFL’s 2021 salary cap. Thanks to decreased income from the pandemic, dramatically limited paying fans inside of stadiums meant the league took a hit from their expected revenue. The salary cap, tied to league earnings, was expected to dip dramatically from 2020. We usually see this number go up, typically bailing out Atlanta’s poorly planned contract structures.

Those lucrative television contracts which means you need half a dozen subscriptions to watch all NFL games has resulted in the cap bumping up over $10 million per year for the last seven years. In 2020, the spending cap was a nice $198.2 million per team. In 2021, the cap shrank significantly, all the way down to $182.5 million.

This means big trouble for teams that have consistently needed that cap increase to stay afloat. The New Orleans Saints have kicked the can too many times and will have to make some exceedingly tough decisions. The Falcons still have a number of moves to make, however, as they remain about $16 million over the cap.

The problem is, unlike other teams that may have half a dozen potential cuts and another half a dozen possible restructures, the Falcons have very few moves they can make to clear up space.

A quick glance at the roster shows maybe a few potential cuts, such as Dante Fowler and Tyeler Davison, who could clear up some significant space. After that, the Falcons are stuck restructuring deals. The problem there is restructuring will make it harder to cut those players next year (or the year after). So new general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith need to make some decisions about who they want to keep both in 2021 but also into 2022 and 2023.

Even after some significant restructures and some cuts, the Falcons will still be pretty short on spending money. They need to get under the cap by the new league year on March 17th. More importantly, they need at least $20 million in cap space just to sign the rookies, cheaply fill out the roster, and have an emergency fund for injured players.

The Falcons are a far cry from there, even with the releases of Ricardo Allen, James Carpenter and Allen Bailey. Now that they know where they need to be, watch the new staff work quickly to get the team under that number, which should mean a busy week ahead.