Despite a raised salary cap, several NFL teams are facing a financial cliff. The pay ceiling in the National Football League is more akin to a predatory loan deal than a hard-and-fast financial constraint. It is riddled with loopholes that allow teams to splurge lavishly while deferring the financial penalties for years. However, bills must be paid at some point.
The wage limit is anticipated to rise to $208.2 million in 2022, the maximum sum agreed to in May by the National Football League and its players’ union. That’s a 14% rise over this year’s cap, which is wonderful news for the majority of the league. The New Orleans Saints, on the other hand, are in risk of having a large portion of their roster repossessed. The Saints, whose Week 14 win over the Jets improved their record to 6-7, have so many large long-term contracts on their books that they are now predicted to be $61 million over the 2022 salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com.
Estimates of future capitalization can be deceptive. A club that is a few million dollars in the hole may have minimal financial concerns. A $61 million shortage, on the other hand, cannot be made up by rearranging contracts and laying off a few seasoned backups.
The Saints’ long-term financial condition is even worse than the raw stats indicate. Taysom Hill, 31, is the lone quarterback on their roster beyond this season. He is a veteran backup/gadget specialist/receiver/punt returner who is most suited to the run-heavy offensive philosophy preferred by military academies. Jameis Winston, who led the club to a 5-2 record as a starter before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and Trevor Siemian, who replaced Winston before giving way to Hill, will both be free agents at the end of this season.
Hill led the Saints to a victory over the Jets primarily by handing off or rushing into the line himself, and he may have modest success if accompanied by a pile-driving offensive line, exceptional playmakers, and a tough defence. Unfortunately, Terron Armstead, the perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle, is also a free agent, as are several of this year’s starters at receiving and on defence.
The Saints can’t even ease their future debt burden by dealing two-time All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who is presently out with an ankle injury and may be at conflict with the club. In fact, selling Thomas might make matters worse since the Saints would be obligated to pay the remaining $22.7 million from his 2019 signing bonus, which is presently being amortised over the life of his deal. Furthermore, transferring a great player to make ends meet is like to selling your vehicle for groceries.
Regardless of how inventive its bookkeeping is, New Orleans will be forced to part ways with several effective starters in 2022. It’s a good thing Hill has expertise at numerous positions since he could have to play them all at the same time next year.
When the healthy 2022 cap projection was published, the majority of the National Football League exhaled with relief. The wage ceiling is closely linked to league income, which plummeted dramatically in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 pandemic limitations, which resulted in empty or limited-capacity stadiums. The cap was reduced from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million in 2021, and it would have been reduced to $182.5 million had the league and the players’ union agreed to spread revenue shortfalls over two years, lest teams be forced to field penny-pinching rosters consisting solely of irreplaceable quarterbacks, minimum-salary rookies, and accounting department inrookies, next year’s cap increase leaves only three teams in the red. The Cowboys are $12 million above the cap, but quarterback Dak Prescott and several key players are under long-term contracts, so a touch of Jerry Jones’ financial necromancy will enough to keep their first-place roster intact. The Packers are $39 million above the salary ceiling, but they may be able to address the problem by dealing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and starting again: the football equivalent of downsizing after a nasty divorce, or possibly renunciating worldly belongings to scavenge for berries in the woods.
On the opposite side of the ledger, the Miami Dolphins have $77 million in cap space for 2022, while the Los Angeles Chargers have $73 million. Future cap projections that are too optimistic can be just as deceptive as those that are too pessimistic: A club with millions of dollars in the future to spend frequently has no one on the roster worth spending them on.
The Dolphins (6-7) are on a five-game winning run behind second-year quarterback Tagovailoa, while the Chargers (8-5) are headed by Justin Herbert, who is already one of the league’s brightest rising talents in only his second season. Both teams will be allowed to bid on the services of players who are being released by teams such as the Saints. Free agency spending sprees seldom improve teams, but pay cuts nearly always make them worse.
The Saints got into this situation by keeping their experienced nucleus together during Drew Brees’ final seasons. In fact, $11.5 million of next year’s shortfall is “dead money”: the amortised remnants of Brees bonuses paid years ago when the Saints were balancing their budget like a unicycle on a tightrope.