With the NFL Combine wrapping up and hundreds of prospects on the road to the 2016 NFL Draft, all the collective media attention is about to turn to March 9th; the start of Free Agency. With an approximate increase of twelve million dollars from 2015, the 2016 salary cap sits at $155.27 million, and that means that a lot of teams are in a position to spend in a big way once the new league year begins.
But who will they be spending on?
2016 represents an interesting situation for the NFL. While many teams are absolutely flush with cap space, it’s looking like a lot of the elite free-agents-to-be aren’t going to get anywhere close to the open market. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, Josh Norman, Comeback Player of the Year Eric Berry, Alshon Jeffery, Cordy Glenn, and others are all very likely to receive the franchise tag and thus won’t hit the open market. So what will come of all this cap space?
It’s not an easy answer, but ultimately it illustrates the very nature of the game. The fact is, the NFL is designed for parity. The capped structure of the league levels the playing field and forces a lot of teams to make difficult choices about which players they can afford to keep in order to remain cap-compliant. Teams do a lot of restructuring, however, and often move money around to fit all their players into the budget (although this usually comes back to bite them down the line), but what happens when the salary cap is constantly increasing like this?
Simply put, teams have an easier time retaining their players.
Yes, inflation of the cap leads to inflation of contracts, but the fact is, it also tends to retroactively improve the already established deals teams have made with their players. A long-term market value deal signed a mere two years ago can become a bargain in no time as the cost of contracts increases and more cap space is found on a year-to-year basis.
Basically, the league is structured so that franchises are in a position to retain the star players they have drafted and developed, while the middle and bottom of the roster sees a ton of turnover. All of this is a really fancy way of saying that it’s very rare that a game-changing player finds his way to the open market like Ndamukong Suh did last year.
This, however, will not stop teams from opening up their pocket books on the slew of very talented players that are a part of the 2016 free agent class. While it would be foolish to discuss possible outcomes before we can know for certain which players will be tagged, the fact remains that dozens and dozens of highly valuable players are about to flood the market looking for a fair deal. How wisely teams spend their resources at this time of year will have a huge outcome on how their seasons’ play out.
They say you can’t win or lose a championship in March, and that’s correct. An entire off-season of drafting players, team-building and player development is on the horizon, and it would be foolish to single out Free Agency as the only important off-season activity. With that said, a team can do a lot to enhance or harm it’s chances of contending into the future at this time of the year.
Which teams will open their checkbooks? Which teams will play it safe? It’s too soon to say, but in just a little over a week, we’re going to have a very good idea, and equipment departments all over the league will be printing new jerseys. The league is about to change in a big way.