In any normal NFL offseason, good armchair GMs always come to the water cooler armed with salary cap information. This is not a normal NFL offseason. However, NFL owners and players are sending very positive signs that we might be approaching a return to (a new) normal, complete with a salary cap that will shape how a free agent period with a game show pace will happen.
What the St. Louis Rams will do in free agency has been the tiny packet of glucose-filled goo that has kept Rams fans alive during these 40 days locked out in the Sinai. Thanks to the progress of ongoing settlement talks and leaky owners in Chicago yesterday, we are starting to have a clearer idea about the salary cap and implications around it for 2011.
The cap gets divided among salaries and benefits. In 2009, the last year that the NFL had a cap, the total salary portion was $128 million, out of $148 million. Under the old system, this year's cap would have been about $155 million, but that number figures to come down according to reports yesterday. The salary portion of the cap could be below that $128 million number this year. What will offset that in order to satisfy players is a cash minimum, a floor for salaries, not total cap as it was previously, fixed above 90 percent. In fact, that cash minimum could range from 95 to 98 percent, which is why small market teams chortle at the deal still.
One known element in this equation are the committed dollars already on the books. That varies from team to team, with Tampa Bay having the smallest amount committed at $59.7 million and the Dallas Cowboys (who else!) at the other end with more than $136 million on the books.
The Rams have $102.4 million committed dollars that count against the cap. A large part of that belongs to Sam Bradford, due some hefty bonuses this year. A cash cap of $121 million would leave the Rams with less than $20 million in wiggle room this year. A 95 percent floor translates to about $114.9 million in required salary dollars this year.
There you go armchair GMs, you can now start talking about free agency again with a little better idea about the NFL salary cap for 2011 and the Rams commitments. To the break room!