The estimates keep rising. Most recently, ESPN's John Clayton reported that the NFL's 2014 salary cap will rise to $132 million per team. That's about $9 million more than it was in 2013 and around $6 million more than projected earlier this winter.
It's not clear exactly why the cap will rise so significantly after three years of minimal growth. The cap is determined by a pre-agreed percentage of total revenue, but it is also negotiable from that point. As we discussed recently, the NFL Players Association has in the past swapped out future money destined for benefits to get the modest cap raises it achieved since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA). We don't know yet if that is the case in 2014 or if league revenues came in higher than initially projected.
Regardless of the reason, the NFL is moving toward quite a surplus of cap space as its new league year approaches. Based on estimates from ESPN's Roster Management tool, there was about $600 million in cap space available across the league at the beginning of the week, based on that $132 million projection. That averages to around $19 million per team.
The chart estimates space for each team before this week's moves. You'll see only the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are over the cap, while 13 teams have at least $20 million in space and four have at least $40 million. Obviously, these numbers will change over the next few weeks as teams release and/or re-sign their players before the free agent market opens.
How will this cap space get spent? I wouldn't assume a huge frenzy in free agency next month. If anything, teams will take the opportunity to continue locking up their key players so that they never hit the market.
That process began Wednesday, when the Philadelphia Eagles -- who entered the week with about $25 million in projected cap space -- signed left tackle Jason Peters to a four-year contract extension that included $19.55 million in guaranteed money. (Per ESPN's Adam Schefter.) Full details are not yet available, but if the Eagles were as smart as they normally are, they devoted a big chunk of Peters' total cap hit for this year to consume their excess space and provide flexibility to sign other players in 2015 and beyond.
The NFL will announce the actual 2014 cap figure in a memo to teams once calculations and negotiations are complete. It's possible we won't know that number until shortly before the league year begins March 11. Until then, we'll do our best to make semi-educated estimates.