High cap will be good news for strapped teams

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the first time in history, the NFL salary cap will top $80 million in 2004, league and union officials confirmed.

At a meeting in Dallas late in the 2003 season, club officials were told to plan for a cap of about $78.7 million. Instead, the spending limit for the '04 season will be nearly $80.6 million.

While that might not seem a very significant amount, the nearly $2 million bump from the anticipated ceiling represents some more breathing room for franchises struggling to come into cap compliance. The league-wide cap was $75.1 million in 2003, and the actual number this year will be $80.582 million.

Teams must spend at least $67.3 million under the cap rules.

Teams must be under the cap by the end of business on March 2. The new cap number was announced Tuesday.

"We've tried to identify every dollar [of designated gross revenue] that should count toward the cap," said one high-ranking NFL Players Association official. "And we feel like we do a pretty good job of it. But this year, we made up our minds to be better than we've ever been, to find every dollar coming to us."

It is not unusual for the cap limit to grow a bit from the anticipated amount but in the past the increase has been negligible.

This year's cap is 64.75 percent of the league's defined gross revenues, which is made up of radio and television revenue and gate receipts from all games.

Two representation agencies, both held in high regard by the NFLPA, told ESPN.com this week that they had learned the cap would be set at $80 million to $81 million. Officials at one of those agencies, with close ties to NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, agreed the increase could help solve cap woes of a few clubs.

Executives from some teams acknowledged they had heard the cap might grow but said they were surprised by the size of the increase.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.