We’re about to witness perhaps the craziest start to a new league year in the NFL’s history. With the legal tampering period set to begin in under a week, some things remain unsettled. Big-name players are set to hit the market, and many more will become cap casualties. The landscape of the NFL could change even more dramatically if certain trades come to fruition. Let’s layout what to expect in the coming months.
What’s Going on with the Cap?
For some reason, the NFL still hasn’t set on a hard number for the 2021 cap. This means that teams don’t fully know how to budget their spending. And in the case of something such as the franchise tag, that’s a big deal. Since the tag is technically a one-year deal, and the full amount counts towards the cap, teams have been hesitant to apply it. So far, only three teams have used the tag: the Broncos with Justin Simmons, Washington with Brandon Scherff, and the Jets with Marcus Maye.
This also means that some teams might actually have to pass on using it, whereas any other year they already would have. In the case of a team like a world champion Buccaneers, who have multiple players worthy of a tag, they have a tougher decision to make. One of Shaq Barrett or Chris Godwin might just be taking their talents elsewhere next season.
Cuts Left and Right
Along the same cap uncertainty lines, teams will have to make unfortunate cuts in the coming weeks. Reports are already surfacing of players that are on the trade block, and unless you have a true star player on your hands, front offices know you might just release them. And that’ll happen much more often this year. This means that teams will be able to play the compensatory formula game more this year, assigning those cut players doesn’t count against it.
The increase in cuts will also lead to a robust market for many positions, and that will lead to a frenzy and bidding wars across the league. Serviceable players like DeSean Jackson and Carlos Dunlap have already been released; the pool will increase, leading to a more exciting first wave of free agency than in recent years.
Big Names Galore
Whether it’s via a record-setting signing or a trade, many household names will swap jerseys. Let’s look at the “sexy” positions like wide receiver. You have a guy with all the potential in Corey Davis, or a guy who hasn’t even hit his prime yet in Kenny Golladay. A team like the Saints, who are way over the cap, could have to resort to trading Michael Thomas. And the Odell Beckham Jr. saga in Cleveland could come to an end.
A steady presence on the offensive line in Trent Williams is available, and an unheralded star at running back is too in Aaron Jones. Leonard Williams, Hunter Henry, and Lavonte David are among other franchise-type players who could be on the move. As we discussed, salary cap issues could lead to more of these guys becoming available. But, even if they are tagged, the whole tag-and-trade scenario is very much in play.
Don’t Forget the Draft
It’s hard to look past free agency, with all the moves that await. But, many teams are smart enough to prioritize building through the draft. This year’s draft will bring all the shocks and surprises. Due to the pandemic, certain seasons got cut short, certain players missed some games, and certain events like the combine didn’t happen.
Evaluations are rougher around the edges this time. Mock drafts and the real thing will be as far apart as ever, but this will make for some more excitement on draft night. A stronger market in free agency will also allow players to go for luxury or best-player-available picks. Some teams will make what appear to be questionable choices, so don’t read too much into those post-draft grades this year.
What this All Means
Basically, just buckle-up and enjoy the ride. We’re in for a wild roller-coaster ride with highs and lows. Some players will make less money than they were hoping for as options abound at their position. Some teams will have much to celebrate with the addition they didn’t see coming. The quiet months of the off-season will end with a bang.
There will be plenty of winners and losers both on paper and in real life. It’ll just be harder to predict them this time around with all the uncertainty. But for fans, it’ll be a show for the ages.