The NFL (in other words its teams) could lose up to $5.5 billion if 2020 games happen without fans.
And so if revenues are down the solution is simple: Reduce expenses. But with the salary cap set and contracts signed, it’s incredibly unlikely that the league and the union would agree to reduce the per-team spending limit.
There’s another way for teams to save money without a reduced cap. They can simply unload more non-guaranteed veteran salaries at some point before those salaries become as a practical matter guaranteed as of Week One of the regular season.
It happens every year for more than a few teams. Veterans with bloated salaries find themselves squeezed to take less under the threat of being released and replaced by a younger, cheaper option. This year, perhaps at the express directive of the powers-that-be with their hands on the pursestrings, teams could be more willing to jettison veterans in order to reduce the cash going out in a season of reduced money going in.
Of course, teams will need to be sure that the younger and cheaper options will be ready to contribute. With no offseason programs or rookie minicamps, young players will have a harder time persuading coaches that they can be trusted. But those who do may be more likely to get the benefit of the doubt.
If a team can swap out a $6 million salary for a six-figure obligation, the team not only reduces its expenses in 2020 but also creates cap space that can be pushed into 2021, in the event the salary cap drops due to decreased revenues this season. So don’t be surprised if more than a few teams start slashing payroll for the coming season as the start of it approaches, especially if that team fears it will be making significantly less money during the pandemic.