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How Will COVID-19 Affect Players Salaries?

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The NFL salary cap increases have worked like clockwork for the last six years: you could reliably expect the number to go up by exactly $10 million each year. The figures didn’t change in 2021 either, going from $188.2 to $198.2 million. However, the pandemic threatens to drop that bar by tens of millions for the year 2022, which poses a risk to the players salaries.

Why Is The Salary Cap Necessary? 

In a nutshell, a salary cap is a way to balance the NFL teams by giving them an equal ceiling that they can spend on player’s salaries annually. 

For example, the Chiefs are going to pay Mahomes more than $24 million in 2021. If there was no cap, they could easily assemble a dream team of top-tier players and pay them what they deserve. But they can’t keep a couple of Mahomes-like players simply because there won’t be any money left for others.

What Will Happen If the Cap Goes Down? 

There isn’t “force majeure” in the players’ contracts. As long as the contract is active, they seem to be in a good position. But the long-term scenario is a bit concerning.

Everything boils down to competition. Teams might start doing cuts to keep the veterans and high-value players with them – cuts that will affect the “middle-class” players. 

Those are the ones earning a couple of million a year. They are good at what they do, but not crucial to their team. Around 60% of NFL players can be put in that “middle-class” category, and their careers might be in danger. 

What Can Be Done?

There are some potential agreements that are reasonable for both the teams and the union. One way to deal with the crisis is to borrow the money from the future seasons. That would mean no increases for a few years, but at least the initial hit wouldn’t be so devastating. 

Alternatively, the situation could be saved by a combination of fortunate events. The 2020 season will have extended playoffs and more games overall. With broadcasting contracts in full power, it is a healthy sign.

The Super Bowl is set to be played in either February or March, and the overall delay of the season suggests that the fans might be allowed in the stadiums if COVID-19 is contained or treated by then. That alone would give teams an additional $60 to $70 million in revenue, which is definitely a coin toss towards the 2022 salary cap.


The NFL seems to be in a tricky position, but it is far from being a desperate one. The NFL Players Association will have to reach an agreement with the league, but as long as both sides are being strategic and aware of the effect on the football ecosystem, the consequences of the pandemic might be less severe than we think.

How can lowering the salaries of players affect the quality of the game? Write your opinion in the comments.

Also, you can read What will happen to the Salaries of the NBA Players?

What do you think?


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