Without new CBA or last July’s deal, 2021 salary cap would have been $160 million

A year ago this week, the NFL Players Association was inching toward a final vote on a proposed 10-year labor deal. Fair questions and concerns can be raised about some of the specific terms, including the agreement by the union to stage 17 regular-season games per year, which is expected to begin in 2021.

Regardless of nits that can be picked or larger problems that can be debated, one thing is fairly clear: if the players had rejected the league’s offer, the 2011 CBA currently would be just a few weeks away from expiring, and the owners would be in position to use a lockout to leverage a much better deal for themselves, as they did a decade ago.

Moreover, as one source with knowledge of the situation explained it to PFT, the 2021 salary cap under the 2011 CBA given the losses incurred during the pandemic would have been $160 million per team. That’s at least $20 million less than what the salary cap will be under the 2020 labor deal.

The final salary cap represents, as always, the product of a broader negotiation between the league and the union. There could have been an effort by some teams to pump up the number as part of those talks. However, with no CBA for 2021 and beyond into which losses from last year could have been nudged, it would have been very hard to borrow from Peter to pay Paul.

Even under the 2020 CBA, the absence of a revised deal from last July would have pushed all losses into 2021, keeping the cap in the range of $160 million. With more years locked in, however, a negotiation could have happened in an effort to spread the pandemic losses into multiple years, as the NFL and NFLPA agreed to do last summer.

Whether under the 2011 CBA or the 2020 CBA, a $160 million salary cap would have created chaos for teams and for players. Widespread cuts of veterans would have happened. Free agents would have had a hard time getting paid. Teams carrying extra cap space would have been in position to load up with a bunch of great players, at least for a year.

It still won’t be easy for plenty of teams. But it will be a lot easier at $182 million than it would have been if the cap had plummeted all the way to $160 million.