The NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to a salary-cap ceiling of $208.2 million per team for the 2022 season, a source told ESPN on Wednesday, as part of the league's continued effort to project the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its short-term business.
That doesn't mean the 2022 salary cap will be $208.2 million -- just that that's the highest it can possibly be, according to the agreement the NFL's team owners approved Wednesday afternoon. It's still possible that the league's 2022 revenue projections and/or 2021 revenue shortfalls could result in a lower cap. But if the revenue-based 2022 calculations call for a cap higher than $208.2 million, then any excess revenue will be used to pay back the roughly $17 million in 2020 player benefits that were canceled as a result of the pandemic.
The 2021 salary cap is already set at $182.5 million per team, which is a significant COVID-related drop from the 2020 cap number of $198.2 million per team. The 2021 cap number is based on the league's projected revenue for the upcoming season and the revenue lost in 2020 due to the pandemic, which kept teams from filling up their stadiums. Before the pandemic, the cap had been growing reliably by about $10 million per year. Had that pace continued, the 2021 cap would have been about $208 million and the 2022 cap about $218 million. So even this high-end $208.2 million number in 2022 wouldn't mean cap growth has "caught up" to its pre-pandemic pace. But it would represent a roughly 14% increase from the 2021 cap and the highest one-year jump in the nearly 30-year history of the NFL salary cap.
At this point, the exact 2022 cap figure remains difficult to project. It's possible that the league's 2021 revenue projections end up being low, since they may not have factored in the possibility of full stadiums all year, and the league now says full stadiums are the expectation. Should 2021 revenues outpace projections, that difference would be added to the 2022 calculations and could result in the 2022 cap getting to or close to that $208.2 million ceiling.
Should the figure go beyond that, the extra money would be used to accelerate the timetable for paying back player benefits that were canceled last year. As part of the July 26, 2020, agreement between the league and the players on COVID-related amendments to the collective bargaining agreement, $17 million in 2020 player benefits were canceled, including the second career savings plan, severance pay, performance-based pay and others. The initial agreement said that those benefits would be repaid to players as a new benefit established after 2023 (when, it was assumed, there had been enough time for the league's economics to recover). The new agreement allows for the possibility of those benefits being repaid to the affected players as early as 2022.