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NFL Salary Cap May Drop by $23 Million in 2021; Impact on Cowboys?

The biggest NFL news item of the week was that the 2021 salary cap could drop as low as $175 million due to projected lost revenue this year. That would be a $23 million decrease from the current cap; a major adjustment and obstacle for teams like the Dallas Cowboys who are currently spending close to the current cap figure.

The agreement between the NFL and the players’ union only established that the minimum cap for 2021 will be $175; it won’t drop below that number no matter what 2020 revenue looks like. And there’s still a good chance that it could be higher depending on how things go this year.

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The proposal being discussed by the NFL and NFLPA would spread the impact of any revenue shortfall in 2020 over four years, with a 2021 salary cap of at least $175 million, sources tell me and @MikeGarafolo. No change to the 2020 cap despite owners’ proposals.

But after many years of about $10 million increases annually, having the cap drop even a little will shake the way teams have been used to doing business. The usual yearly inflation won’t be as easy to manage and big free agent deals could be extremely challenging.

That puts the Dallas Cowboys and QB Dak Prescott, who is playing on the franchise tag in 2020, in what could be a very tough spot.

The easy solution is for the Cowboys and Prescott to get a long-term deal signed and then work an immediate restructure into the first year, dropping the cap number significantly for 2021. There should also be about $13.5 million in cap relief coming when Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee’s contracts expire.

But if Dallas and Dak are still unable to agree to that contract extension, using the franchise tag a second time would bump Prescott’s cap number up from $31 million to over $37 million next year. That will be a big hurdle to get over in the face of a reduced cap.

Thankfully, the Cowboys don’t have any other premium free agents coming up next year. Unless they’re about to have big seasons, none of Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, or Xavier Woods stand to command major money after their rookie deals expire.

All of the other major figures on the team are signed through at least next season. That will big a big help to Dallas as it weathers this potential financial storm.

Obviously, the Dak Prescott contract looms over everything. And because they missed the July 15th deadline to reach a long-term deal, the Cowboys can’t resolve that issue until after the 2020 season. So that question mark, and all the others it creates, will have to sit unanswered for a while.

Hopefully, the NFL still draws enough revenue this year that we won’t see such a huge dip in the 2021 salary cap. If the worse-case scenario comes, Dallas will be held over a barrel in their talks with Prescott and perhaps have to make some very tough decisions throughout the roster.

What do you think?

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Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. Would think that “all contracts” would be revisited… But, the Joneses are hell-bent on devaluing Dak. They should spare us all the drama and either trade him or let him hit free-agency. Especially, if you’re looking at moving forward with a dysfunctional marriage.

  2. I dnt see the Cowboys in a bad position at all, what I’m saying is that of they stand to gain 13.5 mil after this season with Lee and Crawford contract expiring and letting Chido, Lewis and Woods walk into free agency. The way I see it is, if the Cowboys dnt want a long term deal done with Dak than transition tag him next season and see if a team out there willing to give up 2 first round picks for him. I’m nt sure but the transition tag is a few mil less than the franchise tag.

  3. Just because Mahomes signs huge contract why is it assumed that Dak is entitled to the same. If Dak had been drafted by the Jaguars would we even be having this convetsation? The Cowboys should have traded him, drafted Jalen Hurts and played Dalton this year. Dak’s salary will break the cap Remember, when it counted Dak put up 3 field goals against a decimated Philly team for the division title. They were 8-8 last year and 1-6 against playoff teams. Alot of empty stats against bad teams

    • It wasn’t Dak that went 8-8 it was the team!! And Dak was hurt in the eagles game too!! If you paid attention you would know that!! His throwing shoulder was hurt in the game before the eagles game and he still played the whole game against the eagles!! But either way, the TEAMS record shouldn’t have anything to do with how Dak gets paid!! Dak balled out last season rather you like it or not, so Dak deserves to get paid!! Now if Jerry wants to put the non exclusive tag on Dak next season and see if some other team wants to give up two 1st round picks for him and pay him more, I wouldn’t be against that either!! But either way, Dak WILL get paid!!

  4. As a Cowboy fan since the Dandy Don era, I have never seen such a mess. This is a Quincy Carter fallout, not trusting a black quarterback with a large contract. If Tony Romo, the intercepter would walk into the Star, Jerry would offer him a four year, fully guaranteed contract. Jerry, I hate to say this but this bullcrap should have been handled two years ago. Please think back concerning all the quarterback since Troy that money was thrown out with the trash. One last thing, with the waste of have been personnel on the team, what made you think that the team was going to the playoffs. And the release of Jason Garrett was also an embarrassment to the Dallas Cowboys.

    • OMG…this has nothing to do with skin color…geez…they offered him a fair deal (devalued???). Love Dak; he was a no-show vs. Philly, they need to pay others (overwhelming majority BLACK). Plz stop with the race card when talking $31M – $40M…it’s really sad.

  5. First off Dak was “legitimately ” injured during the eagles game, but played anyway and never made excuses. 2nd it doesn’t matter what he thinks he’s worth as when he is a FA the market will likely make him the highest pd QB in the league (which is apparently his goal). Could haves and should haves don’t matter anymore should’ve started Dalton could’ve signed Dak to a reasonable contract earlier when we had a chance. As far as the 8-8 record last I checked it’s a 53 man roster. The whole team gets a pass except Dak right. One of the worst coaches in the league who enabled inept play calling, the worst special teams in the league, two OTs (Smith/Martin) hobbled all yr LVE out most of yr Lawrence never healthy, J Smith a down yr Cooper inconsistent, Elliott holds out and comes in out of shape I could go on and on, but the 8-8 is all Dak’s fault right. Alot blame go around and if others had done their job better ur looking at making the playoffs and having a different conversation.
    All Dak has done is as a 4TH ROUND ROOKIE makes the pro bowl and takes his team to the playoffs. 2 pro bowls, 2 playoff appearances in 4 yrs and again could have been more if the rest of the team had performed better. The football gods aren’t just gonna just drop another quality QB in our laps just cuz we’re the cowboys. Our best chance is do something next 1-2 yrs while Dak is here, and then hopefully we can find a good draft partner with some quality draft capital and/or get lucky and draft our QB of the future. Pretty weak class of FA QBs available in 2021 and 2022 . All u guys that can’t wait to get rid of Dak never have a alternative plan. By the way I’m not in favor of
    trying to sign Dak and breaking our cap (that ship has sailed).

  6. A lower salary cap, hurts most teams. Having space under the cap should be helpful. There should be tremendous bargains next off season as most teams will have to cut or not resign players to get under the cap. if Dak doesn’t resign next off season, Cowboys should/will trade him. Dalton, and bargain paid stud players from other teams could be a really nice roster for one Or two years. Then use the picks to get Daks replacement.
    I love Dak, but I think Dak (and the team) made a mistake not signing. Dak left 4 or 5 million on the table this year. If he gets hurt, or he under performs like he did at the end of last year his value could go down. Football careers tend to be short, take big money when you can. Dallas QB,s tend to be able to do better after retirement and endorsements then other teams QBs. See Stauback, Aikman, Romo, etc.. Signing Dak long term next year should make it easier to hit a lower cap number. Having cap room could be good with a lower cap. 2020 off season had the best QB,s available for low prices, in Cam, Winston, Dalton, etc… If we loose Dak, and the cap is truly lower, there should be good value again at QB available. I would hate to loose Dak, but it maybe the best time in NFL history to loose a good QB.

  7. I had thought Dak would be a lifelong Cowboys QB. Why Jerry didn’t pay him is puzzling since he paid Zeke, who plays a far less impactful position in the current NFL, way too much money. Maybe Jerry paid Zeke and Stephen took over the Personnel reins to try and show daddy how it’s done. If that’s the case, all he’s shown is that he REALLY knows how to f*** things up.
    They better get a deal done or take a HUGE chance and trade 2 First Round Picks to move up in the Draft and get a QB.

  8. U both make good points Jon/James . Since Dak’s arsenal of weapons has improved even more it’s doubtful though that his production goes down much if at all. Think the time to trade him is next yr as teams will know cowboys won’t tag him again for the projected 54 mi in 2022, thus negating any leverage at that point. Dalton/Winston/Cam (all fringe journeyman at this point) could be a decent stop gap while we wait for a (hopefully high drafted) QB to develop. We really need to find a good draft partner (no small task) who might give us some good capital to try move up in the top 10 where most franchise QBs are found. Agree with u James didn’t like the huge Zeke signing (with 2 yrs left on contract). Zeke is due to start a slow decline in his 5 yr while Dak like most QBs should be entering prime age 26-30. Just saying

  9. Transition tag at best. Let market set the price and take 2 first rounders if price too high. Could possibly package those 2 first rounders with their own and move up to sign Clemson QB.

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