NFL teams are flush with salary cap space for free agency

NFL teams are flush with salary cap space for free agency

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

INDIANAPOLIS — NFL teams are flush with salary cap space as free agency nears. That will give them the ability to spend more freely on available players if they wish, although it remains to be seen how much additional spending the abundance of cap room actually will produce.

The league announced last week that the salary cap for 2024 will be $255.4 million per team. That is a record increase of $30.6 million per team from last season’s cap of $224.8 million. The NFL attributed the jump to the full repayment of amounts advanced by teams and deferred by players during the coronavirus pandemic, when leaguewide revenue plummeted, and increases in broadcasting rights deals.

Most teams had been planning for the salary cap to be about $5 million to $10 million per team lower.

“It impacts us,” Denver Broncos General Manager George Paton said Tuesday in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. “It just provides more flexibility than we thought we had. We felt like we were going to be able to do what we needed to do. And then we got the spike, and now maybe we can do more or plan more for the future.”

“I wouldn’t think it has a fundamental impact in terms of our planning,” Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry said Tuesday. “But obviously there are more available dollars across the league.”

The free agent negotiating period for NFL teams begins March 11. The top players expected to be available include Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones.

“We’re going to be strategic,” Paton said. “We’re not going to be as aggressive as last year. We have flexibility. But we’re going to just be more measured and try to fill specific positions, specific needs throughout the team.”

Bears have ‘no master plan’ for No. 1 pick

The Chicago Bears still are not tipping their hand about their plans for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and their incumbent quarterback, Justin Fields.

The Bears could keep the pick and use it on Southern Cal quarterback Caleb Williams, in which case they probably would trade Fields next month. Or they could retain Fields and trade the pick to gain additional draft choices — and perhaps players — to fortify their roster around Fields.

“Contrary to reports out there, I have no master plan to present to everyone today,” GM Ryan Poles said at a news conference Tuesday. “This is an opportunity for us to continue to gather information, learn about the different players in the draft, listen to what opportunities could come up. And then, at the end of the day, we’re going to make the best decision that we can for the Chicago Bears.”

Broncos’ QB decision to come ‘fairly quickly’

The Broncos widely are expected to release quarterback Russell Wilson before a $37 million payment in his contract becomes fully guaranteed next month. But Coach Sean Payton did not disclose the team’s plans Tuesday.

“We go through the combine week here,” Payton said. “Next week — Tuesday, Wednesday — we’ll be in meetings with ownership. So I expect that we’re going to know fairly quickly. … But I think more specifically, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of next week. … There’s a couple factors here. Obviously the cap projections came out. We’re further down the road with the draft class [and] obviously the pro free agents. So I would anticipate it being within the next two weeks.”

Paton said the Broncos have not spoken to other NFL teams about a prospective trade involving Wilson.

“I haven’t heard anything from any teams,” Paton said. “So we’ll see.”

The Broncos benched Wilson with two games remaining in the season. According to Wilson and the NFL Players Association, the team threatened in early October to bench him for the remainder of the season if he did not agree to adjust his contract and address an injury guarantee tied to the $37 million offseason payment.

“We’ve addressed that,” Paton said Tuesday. “We’ve moved forward. Everything we did was above board.”

The Broncos have the 12th choice in the NFL draft and could use it to address their quarterback situation.

“I think it’s vital,” Payton said. “I saw this, like, humorous meme the other day where there’s a Bronco fan with a shirt on, and there was, like, eight quarterbacks’ names with a cross through it. … Our job is to make sure that this next one doesn’t have a line through it.”

Hip-drop tackles, push-the-QB play

NFL leaders remain intent upon banning the hip-drop tackle as part of their rule-change deliberations this offseason.

“That’s certainly my hope,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “The tricky part is in the definition. … We want to get those sorts of behaviors out of the game if we can.”

Miller and other NFL health and safety representatives — including Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer — met this week in Indianapolis with members of the competition committee. Miller said the group is in “the rough, rough, rough drafting stages” of crafting the wording of the rule that would prohibit hip-drop tackles.

The definition of the technique in the rule probably will include elements of the tackler using a “swivel” or “pivot” before landing on the back of the ball carrier’s legs, Miller said.

The league’s health and safety team studied about 20,000 tackles over recent seasons to formulate its data related to the hip-drop tackle and other issues, according to Miller. The injury rate on hip-drop tackles is about 20 to 25 times greater than that of standard tackles, Miller said, and the frequency of hip-drop tackles increased 50 percent year over year.

“We’re seeing now about an injury a week that leads to lost time as a result of a pivot-type hip-drop tackle,” Miller said.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill suffered injuries on hip-drop tackles during the 2023 season.

The competition committee also is discussing the push-the-quarterback sneak popularized by the Philadelphia Eagles. There appears to be little momentum to ban that play. Miller said the injury rate is not a factor in that discussion.

The competition committee discussed the kickoff at length this week and might make a proposal, according to a person familiar with the deliberations, that the league implement an XFL-style kickoff model as soon as next season.

Any proposals must be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 team owners. The owners could consider rule-change proposals at the annual league meeting next month in Orlando.

Player representatives of the NFLPA met Tuesday with the NFL competition committee. Player participation in the competition committee meetings had decreased in recent years. But the players were back this year under their new executive director, Lloyd Howell.

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