The NFL Management Council informed clubs this past week that it won't provide a projection for the 2024 salary cap at the Winter League Meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the cap is unlikely to be set until after New Year's Day, according to sources.
But people familiar with the matter say surging revenue and diminishing aftershocks of the 2020 pandemic are on track to yield significant cap growth over the next several years, with a 2024 cap likely to land north of $240 million and additional revenue rolling into future caps.
As one source put it: "Business is booming, and everyone is finally out of the COVID debt."
Sources say revenue projections could support a 2024 salary cap well above the $240 million range -- another enormous increase from a record $224.8 million per club this year, up from $208.2 million in 2022.
However, the cap has been set in recent years via settlement between the NFL and NFL Players Association, and the union historically has wanted to smooth out cap growth rather than having a one-year spike so that one class of free-agent players doesn't disproportionately benefit or suffer.
The NFL Management Council's memo sent on Thursday indicated that could be the case again.
"The Management Council and NFLPA are in the process of addressing open matters that will impact the 2024 Salary Cap and therefore will not be able to project a range for the 2024 Salary Cap until those issues are resolved," the memo said. "The 2024 Salary Cap will be announced by memorandum, as has been done over the past two years, as soon as we are able to reach agreement but we do not anticipate that occurring until after the New Year."
Sources say several factors are driving the probable increase in the next several years. There are still some COVID-delayed benefits left to pay out at the NFLPA's discretion, but this is the first year it's not in large chunks. Revenue this year is exceeding projections. And the NFL expects new revenue streams next year. If it chooses, the union can effectively defer some dollars that would go toward the 2024 cap into 2025 and 2026 to even out the growth, avoiding a situation where the cap has a massive spike this year and then goes flat.
Lucrative new TV deals that kicked in this year are a significant factor in revenue growth, and, in turn, a players' share. The 2020 collective bargaining agreement includes a "media kicker" that can increase players' share of projected revenue from 48% up to as much as 48.8%. (The CBA is a revenue-sharing deal in which the cap is based on players' share, divided into salary and benefits.)
An agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA called for the union to pay out player benefits -- such as performance-based pay, Pro Bowl pay and tuition assistance -- that were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic to help buoy the salary cap sometime after 2023. Those have now mostly been paid off.
The record 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million was the maximum agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA in May 2021 to expedite repayment of what amounted to a low-interest loan that allowed players to continue making full salaries in 2020 despite empty stadiums. The cap had been $198.2 million in 2020 before dropping to $182.5 million in 2021 as part of that process. From 2013 to 2020, the cap had been growing at a pace of $10.74 million a year. The jump to a $224.8 million cap this year marked a new high increase, and the growth in 2024 likely will be similar.
The free-agent negotiating period opens at 12 p.m. ET on Monday, March 11, and the 2024 league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13.