Arthur Blank and Rich McKay
Atlanta Falcons

NFL sets salary cap, Falcons desperate to make space

Falcons fans holding out hope for a salary cap miracle didn’t receive one when the league released its salary cap for the 2021 season on Wednesday. The NFL announced the cap will be $182.5 million, which is almost $16 million less than the cap for 2020.

With this announcement, the Falcons are about $14.4 million over the cap according to Spotrac. Only five teams — the Rams, Eagles, Saints, Chiefs and Bears — are in a bigger salary cap hole than the Falcons.

But Atlanta’s cap situation is far worse when looking at another barometer. The Falcons only have 39 players signed for the 2021 season, which is at least seven fewer than any other team. 

On Spotrac, there are two different ways to measure cap space — the salary of the top 51 players on the roster or the total salary of all players signed. Heading into free agency, at least half of the teams in the league have at least 57 players signed.

Looking at the top 51 players on each roster, the Falcons still have the sixth-smallest salary cap space but are in arguably a worse position than the other teams that have even less space. For instance, the Eagles are more than $25 million over the salary cap, but they have 65 players already signed. 

More players on the roster not only means teams don’t necessarily have to open up more space to sign additional players, but there are also potentially more contracts for the front office to restructure in order to create space.

The Falcons have already released safety Ricardo Allen, guard James Carpenter and defensive lineman Allen Bailey. Edge rusher Dante Fowler and defensive tackle Tyeler Davison could be next. The Falcons are probably going to need to restructure contracts for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and tackle Jake Matthews as well.

General manager Terry Fontenot could also consider restructuring deals for quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, but that could potentially put the team in a bind with the 2022 salary cap. Restructuring contracts pushes the big part of those deals to next year and even the following season.

The NFL lowered its salary cap for the first time in years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the lucrative television contracts, the league suffered revenue losses due to very limited fans attending games during the 2020 season. There was also zero revenue from the preseason due to the cancellation of August’s games.

Every team is subject to the new cap crunch, but more than $14 million over the cap and with only 39 players on the roster, Fontenot faces some very difficult decisions this month. The Falcons have a week to get under the cap before the new league year begins.