For 93.75 percent of NFL teams their season is over. Those 80,000-seat stadiums will be largely empty until Taylor Swift’s tour makes its visit. The team facility, however, that’s a different story. It will be buzzing with activity between now and September, as NFL franchises look to improve.
Once free agency opens up the money machine will be spraying harder and faster than ever before in the NFL. The NFL salary cap will be taking a significant jump in 2023, from $208.2 million to an all-time record high of $224 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.
The NFL redid its media rights deals in 2021, and the new terms begin for the 2023 season. While television rights are in flux in many other North American sports with Diamond Sports Group — the company that owns the Bally Sports Stations — appearing to be structuring a bankruptcy deal, the NFL is bringing in money like “Push it to the Limit” is playing in the background.
That 17th game that the NFL added in 2021 is another large step towards Roger Goodell’s goal of the league generating $25 billion in revenue. Still though, for all of the wear and tear of this longer season that just saw the San Francisco 49ers have to play a quarterback in a playoff game who was not capable of throwing a football downfield, a $22 million increase in cap space comes off like overtime pay as opposed to true revenue sharing.
The 2011 lockout
Back in 2011, before franchise valuations went on a space shuttle launch, NBA and NFL ownership were on a mission. They wanted to flip the way that revenue was split back in their favor. At that time, players were taking home close to 60 percent of revenue in both sports. The owners locked the players out in both leagues prior to the start of the season that year.
The NFL lockout did not last into the regular season, and how much did the owners shift the revenue split back in their favor? When the NFL and NFLPA signed their newest agreement in 2020, the players getting 48.5 percent was an “uptick,” with an extra game being added to the schedule.
So yes, contracts for the stars are going to continue to set new records. Also, minimum salaries will slightly increase, and few mid-level veterans will get to play longer at a more respectable salary.
But we just saw a player suffer a near-death experience on the football field just a few weeks ago. Damar Hamlin has played two NFL seasons, and did not make a million dollars in either one. To qualify for any post-career healthcare or qualify for a pension NFL players have to play a minimum of three years. During the 2020 CBA negotiations, lifetime healthcare was a non-starter.
It’s wonderful that Hamlin is walking and talking, but what is his financial future going to look like? None of us know what kind of care he is going to need going forward. The doctors in the New York Times story about the emergency work done to save his life said he is looking at weeks and months of recuperation, not recovery. They also did not say anything about him returning to a football field.
The NFL did what many industries have done since the 1980s, and that is take back a much larger share of the profits. They do this under the whole “rising tide lifts all boats” theory. If the company is worth more and makes more money, then the employees will be better off in the long run.
A few NFL laborers will certainly be better off this spring as the music of the day in NFL facilities will be contract negotiation talk. Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are about to set a new record, while a fresh crop of rookies on slotted salaries will be taking the jobs of other veteran players.
There will be a lot more money in the pot in 2023. Fans will be thoroughly informed about where that extra $20-plus million goes in the coming months. But the cap is going up because the NFL is profiting a great deal more $20 million per team. Be sure to think about that when the quarterbacks get their new contracts, and also when SoFi stadium is sold out when Taylor Swift comes to town.