Salary-cap uncertainty could slow NFL business to a trickle

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As the NFL’s news cycle slows to an enlarged-prostate trickle, those of us who cover the NFL for a living will be scrounging for anything we can. Regardless of whether admitting it makes it OK (and I definitely admit it), there’s one specific type of news that should not be regarded as alarming, at least not in isolation.

In the coming days, there surely will be reports that a given team has yet to engage in serious negotiations with a given player who is heading to free agency. That doesn’t mean that the team is giving the player the cold shoulder and/or the shaft. It means that it’s very difficult if not impossible for teams to finalize their 2021 budgets when it comes to signing players unless and until they know what the salary cap will be.

It can’t be any lower than $175 million, thanks to the agreement reached last year between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Some think it will land at $180 million. The new TV deals could bump it even higher. More information regarding anticipated attendance, as one source recently observed, remains the biggest factor that could drive the final numbers.

Regardless, until teams know what the cap will be, they won’t know how much they have to spend — on the players they have under contract (some of whom could be cut or could have their contracts renegotiated), the players who are due to become free agents, and the players from other teams who will be available, either because they’re becoming free agents or because they’ve been cut. Until teams know how much they have to spend, it will be very difficult to engage in meaningful discussions, with anyone.