The potential loss of up to $3 billion, and maybe more, arising from the absence of fans in 2020 could result in a major mess for 2021. As previously explained, the salary cap for next year could be impacted by the reduced revenues from this year.
Ultimately, it’s all negotiable between the league and the union. Even though an affirmative obligation to engage in discussions regarding the impact of the lost revenue on the next salary cap doesn’t arise unless games are canceled this year, the league and the union always set the salary cap through negotiations. And it’s possible that the reduction in 2021 spending will be spread out over several years, borrowing against the expected boost from the next wave of TV deals to keep the cap at a level that hurts neither players or the teams — especially since the teams won’t regard a reduced cap as a good development.
That said, some may prefer it. In a recent item that takes a broad look at the potential coming cap crunch, Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston points out that the Patriots are projected to have $124 million in commitments to 55 players under contract for 2021. Which allows the Patriots to keep the guys they have and, if a drop in the cap forces teams to unload expensive players, to pursue available veterans.
That’s why it remains unlikely that, even if no fans attend games this year and $3 billion disappears from the bottom line, the salary cap will drop significantly, if at all. The shortfall more likely will be made up in future years, with the expected spikes not being as sharp. And that will keep most teams from having to do major payroll surgery to field a competitive team in 2021.