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2021 salary cap may not be known until hours before new league year begins

The only thing currently known about the 2021 salary cap is that it will be no lower than $175 million per team. Beyond that, no one knows anything -- including when we’ll know more.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, who also serves as chairman of the league’s financing committee, says that the 2021 salary cap won’t be set any time soon, via Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal.

The 2020 cap climbed to $198.2 million, and all teams have negotiated long-term deals under the impression that the cap will continue to increase. The pandemic, which saw 2020 regular-season attendance drop from more than 17 million to roughly one million, will likely push the final number closer to $175 million than to $198.2 million.

“There are so many uncertainties as we look at the 2021 season, which of course is now seven or eight months away, that answering those questions is very challenging,” Hunt said, via Fischer. “It’s going to be difficult to set the cap this year because we don’t know as many of the answers to those questions as we’d like. But that’ll be a collaborative process that happens with the union over the next two or three months. Certainly from a team perspective, we all hope to have something higher than the floor of $175 million, but we just don’t know the answer at this point.”

Some within the league think the final number will come in at $180 million. Ultimately, however, a negotiation between the NFL and the NFL Players Association will drive that decision, as it always does.

This time around, the decision could go down to the wire. Hunt said that the cap could be set only “hours before the start of the league year.”

If that happens, it won’t leave teams with much time to make their final plans for compliance, increasing the likelihood that plenty of key players will be cut by their teams.

Before striking a deal with the union, management must have a consensus as to what the cap should be. Teams with cap space won’t mind if it falls. Teams without cap space will be inclined to keep it higher, pushing the reckoning for 2020 losses into future years.

However it plays out, the league year begins on March 17 at 4:01 p.m. ET. By then, everyone will know what the league and the union are doing.