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Baker Deal Done, Contracts And Cap Management Will Get Tougher

Uncertainty of 2021 salary cap will impact Cardinals

The contract extension for Budda Baker was necessary -- he is a Pro Bowl safety after all, and only 24 -- and while some seem to think it was a hefty price tag, it was the going rate for someone with his resume and will soon be pushed down the list for biggest safety contracts, given the amount of young talent due for new deals over the next 12 to 18 months.

How General Manager Steve Keim works the books at this point is going to be interesting to watch. We still don't know how Baker's deal is structured -- reports have a $10 million signing bonus, which with the four-year extension, adds $2 million a year to Baker's cap number, but there are no other details yet -- but how it fits into 2020 is important. And any deal at this point can have significant implications on future rosters.

It is impossible right now to know what the effect the pandemic will have on the 2021 salary cap. This year's cap remained as it was supposed to, at $198.2 million. While the NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to spread out any revenue loss over the next three years, it still could get sticky. The two sides agreed that the 2021 salary cap could be no lower than $175M. It could be higher depending on how things shake out, but given that most teams are set up in such a way to assume cap increases year to year (or at least a flat cap), if the cap truly dropped to $175M, tough decisions are coming. (Before the pandemic, the 2021 cap was likely going to be around $208-$210M.)

"Because of the issues we are dealing with and knowing next year the floor is going to be $175 million and we're already tight there this year, we have to be creative we're going to try and do moving forward," Keim said. "Time will tell. We will try to stay aggressive and have sustainable success, which has been our goal all along."

Baker's deal, Keim said, allows for "cost certainty," at least in his situation. According to overthecap.com, in a normal year the Cards figured to have more than $60M in cap space next year. A big part of that is the number of impending free agents -- guys like cornerback Patrick Peterson, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, running back Kenyan Drake, defensive tackle Corey Peters, guard J.R. Sweezy, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and kicker Zane Gonzalez are all in the last year of their contract -- that won't be accounted for if and when they get new deals.

(The Cardinals, who are listed by the NFLPA at having about $5.5 million in cap space right now, presumably before the Baker contract is figured in, can roll over any unused space into next season -- although they don't figure to have much by the time the season ends.)

The issue is that, according to overthecap, that the Cards already have almost $152M in cap space accounted for in 2021 already -- for only 42 players. Even if next year's cap is, say, $180M, that's not a lot of space left to build up the roster. One big benefit: Kyler Murray on his rookie deal -- and lower salaries -- allows the Cards a much better situation with their quarterback than many teams.

Again, this is something every team is and will be facing. But when Keim says the Cards have to be creative, it isn't hyperbole.

Cardinals GM Steve Keim, masked, at a training camp practice in 2020

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