NFL Beware, the Salary 'Capocalypse' is Coming | Opinion

The word "capocalypse" brings to mind images of total NFL chaos, complete with footballs on fire and Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman chased by an army of angry fans holding pitchforks. Admittedly, the NFL's salary cap crisis probably won't result in Roseman running for his life. Nevertheless, this year's reduced cap could have major consequences for the league, the teams and the players.

A salary cap is the amount of money a team can spend on their players' salaries. The calculation of the cap is based on many factors, including revenue. Last year was a lot of things for the NFL, but lucrative wasn't one of them.

A team's cap space—the amount of money they have to spend on players—isn't exactly set in stone. Many NFL teams will attempt to manipulate the cap, as they have in past years. One of the options they can employ is to spread the cap hit over time by giving players bonuses and incentives.

This, however, is a logical fallacy. By spreading this year's loss onto 2022 and 2023, they are exponentially exacerbating the same issues in the future. Some of the teams facing the worst crises this year are the ones who chose this method of cap manipulation.

"The running joke is that the salary cap is a 'myth' and that it can be easily manipulated by redistributing guaranteed money," Dolphinswire's lead editor Kyle Crabbs explained. "Eventually the deferred cap will catch up with all teams, as it has with the Philadelphia Eagles."

The salary cap is not the villain of this story. It is one of most important safeguards in the NFL. Originally, the cap was created to level the playing field between teams with different spending power.

This year, caps could backfire and worsen inequality between teams.

"It might force some teams to draft more for need and target players who can make an immediate impact—as opposed to the prospects with high upsides, but require time to develop," said Dane Brugler, NFL draft analyst for The Athletic.

If a team has enough cap space this year, they may be able to draft these "high-potential" players with little competition and secure a long-term contract. This could result in an increased divide in the division standings that is likely to last past 2021.

The diminished cap will not just affect the team, but the players as well. The lack of cap space is likely to result in a lower salary. The general public may not consider millions of dollars a year "underpaid," but it's important to consider how much money these athletes make for the league. In 2020, the NFL made approximately $12 billion, $4 billion less than the year before. Players receive around 48 percent of the revenue.

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The NFL logo is pictured. Nic Antaya/Getty Images

To some, salaries represent more than just a figure.

"It would be like if I told somebody, 'You are qualified for this job. And this is what the other people at that job are making. But you can't make that,'" Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson told NBC. "The narrative of the story is so muddied up for no reason at all, when players just want what their value is."

Teams will need to use up a significant portion of their cap space to keep their star players, leaving less money for everyone else. Running back Aaron Jones is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Jones was scheduled to become a free agent March 17, due to failed contract negotiations. The Packers secured a last-minute deal with Jones, an offer that was allegedly under what he may have commanded in free agency.

While it's important to pay top players what they're worth, Crabbs believes that the NFL's biggest issue will be increasing the pay of the "lower class" of players. Chances are, it's this group that will be hit the hardest in 2021.

"I think the biggest inequality is that a number of good players are going to get forced into pay reductions that they really don't deserve. That lower end of the middle class probably has a chance to get hurt this year more than most," said author Jason Fitzgerald from Over the Cap.

It's important to keep in mind that consequences are relative.

Will the diminished cap ruin the NFL? Probably not. Could it potentially affect a player's career? Absolutely.

That alone is reason enough to fear the cap.

Jules Schulman is a Los Angeles-based sports journalist and researcher.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.