Some NFL teams face financial cliff despite raised salary cap

The NFL salary cap looks more like a predatory loan deal than a tight budget restriction. It’s filled with loopholes that allow teams to spend lavishly and push the financial consequences years into the future. Inevitably, however, the bills come due.

The salary cap is expected to increase in 2022 to $ 208.2 million, the maximum figure agreed to by the NFL and its Players Association in May. That’s a 14% increase from this year’s cap and great news for most players in the league. The New Orleans Saints, however, are at risk of seeing much of their roster taken over. The Saints, whose Week 14 win over the Jets took their record to 6-7, have so many big, long-term contracts on their ledger they’re currently valued at $ 61million above the cap. of 2022, by OverTheCap.com.

Future cap estimates can be misleading: a team that is a few million dollars in the red may actually have few budget worries. A shortfall of $ 61 million, however, cannot be made up by restructuring some contracts and removing a few veterans’ safeguards.

The Saints’ long-term financial situation is actually worse than the raw numbers suggest. The only quarterback on their payroll beyond this season is Taysom Hill, 31, a backup specialist / gadget specialist / receiver / punt returner best suited to the favored high intensity offensive philosophy. by service academies. Jameis Winston, who led the team to a 5-2 record as a starter before his season-ending knee injury, will be a free agent at the end of this season, as will Trevor Siemian, who has replaced Winston before giving way to Hill.

Hill led the Saints to victory over the Jets primarily by handing the ball over or diving into the line himself, and he could likely have modest success if surrounded by an offensive hitting line, pointers. exceptional play and strong defense. Sadly, perennial Pro Bowl offensive lineman Terron Armstead is also an impending free agent, as are many of this year’s starters at the receiver and defense level.

The Saints can’t even alleviate their future debt by swapping All-Pro dual receiver Michael Thomas, who is currently on the list physically unable to play with an ankle injury and can also disagree with the organization. In fact, trading Thomas could make matters worse, as the Saints would immediately be at the mercy of the remaining $ 22.7 million of his 2019 signing bonus, which is currently being amortized over the term of his contract. Plus, trading an outstanding player to make ends meet is like selling your car for groceries.

No matter how creative she is in her accounting, New Orleans will be forced to part ways with a lot of productive starters in 2022. It’s a good thing Hill has experience in multiple roles, as he might have to. to play them all simultaneously next year.

Most NFL members sighed in relief when the strong cap estimate for 2022 was announced. The salary cap is directly linked to the league’s income, which declined significantly in 2020 when restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in empty or limited capacity stadiums. The cap rose from $ 198.2 million in 2020 to 182.5 million in 2021, and it would have fallen further if the league and players’ union had agreed to spread the revenue shortfalls over two years, lest the teams be forced to line up pinched lists composed only of irreplaceable quarterbacks, minimum wage recruits and accounting interns.

Next year’s cap increase leaves just three more teams of the Saints in the red. The Minnesota Vikings cross the $ 7 million cap, but can easily restructure some contracts and continue their traditional state of bland mediocrity. The Cowboys break the $ 12 million cap, but quarterback Dak Prescott and other top performing players are locked into long-term deals. The Packers break the $ 39million cap, but can fix their problem by swapping quarterback Aaron Rodgers and starting over: the football equivalent of downsizing after a messy divorce, or perhaps giving up the earthly possessions to look for berries in the desert.

On the other side of the ledger, the Miami Dolphins lead the NFL with $ 77 million in 2022; the Los Angeles Chargers are second with $ 73 million. The garish future ceiling numbers can be as misleading as they are disastrous: A team with millions of future dollars to spend often has no one on the list worth spending them.

The Dolphins (6-7), however, are enjoying a five-game winning streak behind emerging sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, while the Chargers (8-5) are led by Justin Herbert, already one of the youngsters. brightest stars in the league. in its second season only. Both teams will be able to bid for the services of players that teams like the Saints are forced to part with. Free agent spending doesn’t often make teams better, but salary purges almost always make it worse.

The Saints have worked their way through this predicament keeping their core veterans together during Drew Brees’ final seasons. In fact, $ 11.5 million of next year’s shortfall is “dead money”: the amortized remnants of bonuses paid to Brees years ago as the Saints balanced their budgets like a unicycle. on a tightrope.

The Saints went 49-15 and won the NFC South four in a row from 2017-2020, so the franchise likely has few regrets about its financial choices during Brees’ golden years. However, they might wish they had devoted the 2021 season to more intensive credit repair. The Saints lost five straight games before defeating the Jets, and they are visiting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (10-3) on Sunday night. Even if New Orleans does manage to qualify for the playoffs, it will be an unsatisfying coda for an era of excellence, and the Saints will pay for it for years to come.

Not too many years, mind you. The league’s 11-year, $ 110 billion media rights deals with various broadcasters will take effect in 2023. The salary cap will then be put into orbit, and every team – even the Saints – can start spending money again. as if there was no tomorrow.

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