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Some Misconceptions And Things To Know About The Salary Cap

Once new league year starts, everyone is under the cap

Yes, I know that using Twitter conversation as a jumping off point for a post isn't always the smartest move, but over the weekend, after Kyle Fuller was cut and was briefly on the market, there was clearly some confusion by some about how the salary cap works.

I get it, fans can get anxious and maybe even angry. I am aware the Cardinals, for instance, need a cornerback (or two. Or three.) But it doesn't mean you can sign whomever for whatever. No, other teams are not allowed to break rules to get players. So in the interest of clarity, here are some key things to know about the salary cap, and some misconceptions some apparently have about the rules.

-- You're not allowed to be over the cap. This is a big one, and admittedly it can get confusing because all the reporting in the weeks and even months leading into the new league year will talk about teams being so far underwater with the cap, especially this year with the salary cap drop. You see news that the Saints and Rams and whichever team is millions and millions beyond the cap. But when that is being talked about -- including in the two-day "tampering" window when free agent deals begin to leak out -- teams do not yet have to be cap compliant under the new cap. Teams didn't have to be under the cap until March 17 at 1 p.m. Arizona time.

-- Therefore, you can't sign anyone to a deal that puts you over the cap. The Rams with Leonard Floyd's reported four-year, $64 million contract really got some going, because they couldn't understand how a mega-contract would fit on a team over the cap. Floyd's deal would be rejected by the NFL if it put the Rams in violation of the cap, so they were compliant with the cap in the first place, and again with his deal. Also, the structure of the deal matters greatly.

-- Cap numbers for players can be manipulated greatly. Without getting too far in the weeds, take J.J. Watt as an example. The Cardinals will pay him in actual cash this season a total of $14.5 million in salary and bonus. But his cap number this year is only $4.9M because of the way the deal is structured. That's a significant difference and why teams can find ways around cap problems.

-- While there are a few sites/reporters that work hard on cap figures, not every contract adjustment is known right away, or even at all. The news about Justin Pugh's paycut came out Tuesday (which he confirmed after I posted about it) but we don't actually know that it happened this week. It could've been last week or two weeks ago. Agents like to leak contract details when their guys sign but often it's for the max value (which players rarely fully collect) because it looks better. No one has much reason to talk publicly about paycuts, or even restructures. So that news trickles out at best and at worst, stays hidden. (So anytime someone reports about cap space, it's an educated guess, never gospel.)

Speaking of which, here is the Cardinals' estimated available cap room as of this posting by various sites. I am guessing the new Brian Winters contract isn't yet inputted:

  • NFLPA $7.2M
  • $4M
  • Spotrac $1.3M (yet to compute the Pugh contract change)
JJ Watt signs his contract in March of 2021 with Michael Bidwill and Watt's wife looking on

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