what is salary cap in the NFL
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NFL Salary Cap & Contract Restructure Explained

In the NFL, a salary cap is a predetermined limit on the total amount of money a team can spend on player salaries in a given league year.

The league set its 2024 salary cap at $255.4 million, a $30.6 million increase over the NFL’s $224.8 million cap for the 2023 campaign.

This cap is implemented to maintain competitive balance among teams by preventing wealthier franchises from significantly outspending others on player contracts. The cap is calculated as a percentage of the league’s total revenue and is designed to promote fairness and parity in the league.

NFL Salary Cap Explained

The NFL salary cap is a cornerstone of the league’s financial structure, designed to ensure fairness and parity among teams.

The NFL salary cap is essentially a financial constraint placed on teams, limiting the total amount they can spend on player salaries in a given league year. This cap is calculated as a percentage of the league’s total revenue, with the objective of preventing wealthier teams from gaining a significant financial advantage over others.

Introduced in the early 1990s, the salary cap has evolved to become a crucial element in maintaining competitive balance within the league.

The NFL’s financial structure is governed by a revenue-sharing agreement between the NFL, team owners and players (NFLPA), as outlined in their collective bargaining agreement. This arrangement ensures that both parties benefit from the league’s success, though historically, owners have enjoyed a marginally larger portion of the earnings. Under the current agreement, players receive 48% of the profits, while owners claim the remaining 52%.

The league’s income streams are threefold: broadcasting/media, league-wide ventures/postseason earnings, and local team revenue. To determine each team’s salary cap, the players’ share is divided equally among the 32 NFL franchises.

In recent years, the NFL salary cap has shown consistent growth, typically increasing by 5-8% annually. This upward trend reflects the league’s overall financial health and expanding popularity.

However, the 2021 season proved to be an anomaly in this pattern. The global COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the NFL’s revenue, resulting in a rare decrease in the salary cap for that year. How much money the NFL brings in as a whole directly impacts what players can be paid no matter how wealthy an individual franchise may. be.


A look at the NFL salary cap over the years.

How the Salary Cap Works

The calculation of the salary cap is a process, taking into account the league’s total revenue, projected growth, and various financial considerations. Once determined, the cap is then applied to each of the 32 teams, setting the spending limits for player contracts, roster management, and overall team finances.

Calculating the NFL Salary Cap

  • Team Salary Cap : (Base Salary Cap) + (Carryover) +/- (Adjustments)
  • Cap Space : (Team Salary Cap)(Active Cap Spending) (Dead Money)
  • Carry Over : how much the team saved in the previous year (the team must notify the NFL how much of this money it wants to transfer for the coming year) 

Teams must carefully navigate these financial constraints, making strategic decisions on player contracts and roster composition. The structuring of contracts becomes an art, as teams use mechanisms like signing bonuses, incentives, and base salaries to optimize their roster within the confines of the salary cap.

How Does Restructuring an NFL Contract Work with Salary Cap

NFL teams have a financial tool called “restructuring” to manage their salary cap. This method involves changing how player payments are distributed over time.

Here’s a simplified explanation:

Restructuring basics:

  • It converts immediate payments into signing bonuses
  • These bonuses are then spread out over several years (up to five)
  • This helps create more cap space for the current or upcoming season

There are two main types of restructuring:

Simple restructure:

    • Works within the existing contract
    • Usually can be done by the team without player involvement
    • Redistributes scheduled payments over the remaining contract years

    Maximum restructure:

      • Creates more cap space by extending the payment period
      • Can involve adding extra contract years or “void years”
      • Typically requires the player’s agreement
      • “Void years” are placeholder years for spreading out payments, not actual playing time

      Teams use these methods to balance their finances and stay within the league’s salary cap while managing player contracts. The potential cap space created through restructuring varies for each team.


      Implications for Violating the Salary Cap

      Violating the salary cap can lead to severe consequences for teams. Penalties may include hefty fines, loss of draft picks, and even the voiding of player contracts. These measures underscore the league’s commitment to maintaining financial integrity and preventing any team from gaining an unfair competitive advantage.

      Has a team ever violated the salary cap?

      In 2023, the Houston Texans were fined $175,000 and forfeited a fifth round pick for failing to report “undisclosed compensation in the form of a membership at an alternative athletic facility” given to Deshaun Watson back in 2020.

      What is A Salary Cap in the NFL ?

      Frequently Asked Questions

      The salary cap is calculated as a percentage of the league’s total revenue, factoring in projected growth and other financial considerations.

      Teams can manipulate their cap space through mechanisms like rollover cap and league adjustments, providing some flexibility.

      Violations can result in penalties such as fines, loss of draft picks, and voiding of player contracts.

      Players and agents negotiate contracts with a mix of base salary, signing bonuses, and incentives to maximize earnings while staying within the salary cap limits.