As we get closer to the start of NFL free agency during the 2016 offseason, talk of the salary cap becomes more prevalent. With more talk of the salary cap seems to come more confusion and misunderstanding of how everything works. Rather than wade through comments trying to explain everything over and over, I decided to make this guide for you to reference when you have any questions about the salary cap as it pertains to the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you have any other specific questions, ask them in the comments and I will update as I see fit.
Here we go...
What is the salary cap?
The salary cap is the maximum amount that an NFL team can spend on its roster in given season. A players salary does not necessarily equal their number against the cap, as it’s a combination of base salary and bonuses. The current projected salary cap figure for the 2016 season is roughly $156 million, a significant increase from the 2015 figure.
How much salary cap space do the Jaguars have?
Currently, the Jaguars are projected to have $74 million in cap room. This is without making any of the potential veteran cuts, which will increase than number. This also includes the recently reported $32.7 million in unused roll over cap from the previous season.
Can the Jaguars spend a lot of money in free agency?
Yes. Easily. The Jaguars will have a lot of cap room to play with for the offseason, the most in the NFL. This means that if they really want a player, they can easily afford to over pay for them. They can also be aggressive with contracts and front load them to count for the most in the first few years of the deal, scaling down the cap hit on the back end.
Can the Jaguars sign only one expensive player?
No. The Jaguars can sign multiple expensive players without much concern for their salary cap. That doesn’t mean the Jaguars can sign five elite level players on the open market, but the can sign a couple of elite level free agents and multiple upper tier free agents without much worry of damaging their future cap space health.
Shouldn’t they worry about saving money for their young players?
No. The Jaguars do not have to worry about saving money and cap space for the future to pay young players like Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The Jaguars cap situation is that where it’s setup for the long haul. The vast majority of the big money deals they have currently can be dumped after the 2016 season and were essentially two-year deals to begin with.
That’s why the Jaguars can cut players like Chris Clemons, Zane Beadles and Toby Gerhart and save a lot of cap room, because they structured the deals to be team friendly and not have any dead money after the first few years. The deals for Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick and Jermey Parnell are structured in the exact same way. I would expect any other free agents they sign to be structured in the same manner.
Not only that, but those young players are cost-controlled for a while because of the new NFL CBA rules regarding rookies. For Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, the Jaguars cannot to begin renegotiating with them until the 2017 league year. For Bortles, the team can activate a fifth-year option and extend the control even more. For a guy like Robinson, the franchise tag becomes an option and for Allen Hurns, since he was an undrafted free agent he will have the restricted free agent tender option for the team to use at some point if they really need to.
Fortunately though, the way the contracts the Jaguars currently have are structured they will also dump a lot of occupied cap next season. With no signings, the Jaguars are projected to have around $94 million in cap room in 2017 if the salary cap does not increase, which it will.
Don’t the Jaguars HAVE to spend money?
Simply, no. They do not have to spend a single dime in free agency. When people ask this, they’re usually referring to the 89 percent cash spend rule under the new CBA, which it’s likely the Jaguars will not be in compliance with. Now, the Jaguars to have to spend if they want to get better and win more games, but they do not have to spend because they are required to by the CBA or some rule.
What is the 89 percent rule?
There is a belief that NFL teams must spend 89 percent of the salary cap to be in compliance with the new collective bargaining agreement. That is both simultaneously correct and incorrect. The rule does not apply to a singular season for teams, but applies to an aggregate total over the course of four seasons. Specifically through the course of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. This means the team must hit the mark by the time the league rolls into the 2017 year, so March of 2017.
What happens if you don't hit the 89 percent mark?
The penalty for not reaching the 89 percent spend requirement over the four-year cumulative period isn’t anything you should be worried about. A team will have to give the money they're short by to their own players (via NFLPA-determined distribution). This means there really isn't much of a penalty, other than your own players get somewhat of a bonus, for a lack of a better word. You do not incur fines, you do not lose draft picks. You just have to spend the required money in some manner as determined by the NFLPA.
Basically, don't worry about it. It's not that big of a deal.