I wrote most of this last offseason when people were worried about how much the Jaguars would spend in free agency and if they could run into issues down the line. I decided to repurpose it for this offseason and likely will be doing that going forward since this is the time of the year it always seems to crop back up. People are worried about what the Jaguars can spend in free agency, despite the fact that they have massive amounts of salary cap room for the foreseeable future and the fact that the salary cap actually continues to rise. The fact of the matter is it's tough for teams to run themselves into salary cap issues in the current structure of the NFL and typically the only teams who have an issue with it right now had an issue with it in the past and have continued to float salary to keep certain players (i.e., Tony Romo, Drew Brees).
There have been more and more questions about the Jaguars salary cap, even some concern, so I wanted to explain it all again.
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 2017 season is roughly $170 million, a significant increase from the 2016 figure.
How much salary cap space do the Jaguars have?
Currently, the Jaguars are projected to have roughly $74 million in cap room. This is without making any of the potential veteran cuts, which will increase than number. This also includes 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 Brandon Linder, Allen Robinson and Telvin Smith. 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 2017 season and were essentially two-year deals to begin with.
That’s why the Jaguars can cut players like Davon House, Dan Skuta Roy Miller 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 Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson 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 players like Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, the Jaguars can now begin renegotiating with them, but for players like Jalen Ramsey they have to wait until after the 2018 season. For Bortles, the team can activate a fifth-year option and extend the control even more.
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? (Does not apply anymore)
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.
If you have any specific salary cap questions, ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.