A reckoning is coming to the NFL.
The league, thanks to the luck of having the calendar on its side, has largely sidestepped many of the issues that have arisen from the global pandemic. But that's going to change at some point. Even if the season starts and the NFL plays a full, uninterrupted schedule — possible but not definite — the league's revenue is going to take a huge hit. And that kicks in a provision in the CBA that will affect the salary cap:
(xii) Cancelled Games. If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or AR (all revenue) for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of AR and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that AR for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.
How much is the NFL going to lose? There have been some estimates that $4-5 billion could be lost if NFL stadiums are empty this fall. I don't think it's going to be that bad, but let's just look at some round figures.
Let's say the NFL, which bases that year's salary cap on expected revenue, projects closer to $2 billion in losses. That's about $62.5 million per team, and the players basically get half of that. So you're looking at, ballpark, the actual cap being about $30 million less per team this season.
Now, the NFL is not going to adjust this year's cap — the hay is in the barn.
How do you make up for the 2020 loss? You basically take the hit and spread it over three years, like the signing bonus on a three-year contract. In some way, you take about $10 million off the cap over three or four seasons, which would result in the cap being flat (or worse) next season. Something along these lines:
This isn't unprecedented. After the 2011 lockout, the cap went from $123 million per team in 2009 (the last year with a cap because 2010 was uncapped), to $120 million two years later in 2011.
Now, the NFL wouldn't want a big leap of $20 million from 2023 to '24, but additional TV revenue and other ventures (the NFL campus at the new Los Angeles stadium) by 2023 could start the upward trend and smooth things in the opposite direction.
One thing I can definitely tell you, before we get into how this affects the Patriots, is the NFLPA is not going to go for this insulting NFL Media trial balloon: