Adam Schefter tweeted something today that seemed to confuse many of his followers. The man who has broken news time and time again, providing us with new information on the daily and getting to the NFL scene before many other reporters, seemingly stated the obvious.
It’s okay if you’re like the many followers who were confused. And given the headline of this article, it may not seem immediately obvious why I mention it even if you do understand the implications of the tweet, so bear with me.
The first reason this isn't an obvious statement is because NFL players haven’t been able to enter team facilities due to the pandemic for a prolonged period of time. This isn’t normal. The Giants and Jets literally just reopened their facilities on Wednesday, according to NFL writer Nick Shook, but not for players or practices.
And that’s the other thing that’s important to know about Schefter’s tweet. His tweet implies that there may be no OTAs or minicamps. The Jets have already announced that they’re not going to hold a mandatory minicamp, even if it’s allowed (via Darryl Slater of NJ Advanced Media). Coronavirus is scaring people off, for good reason, and it’s drastically changing the way things will be done.
Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi views Schefter’s tweet and the various developments around the league as a scary sign for things to come, especially when money comes into the equation. All this limited travel dictates that the league is "tightening up", as Lombardi framed it, and this could translate into playing without fans. And playing without any fans leads to a major decline in league revenue. Teams like the Cowboys and the Patriots would lose a massive amount of income without any fans.
Though this is all hypothetical for now, Lombardi doesn’t see league finances, especially the salary cap, as an exception to what the NFL will need to “tighten up” for the 2020 season and beyond. Schefter had already strongly hinted that the salary cap could take a massive hit in 2021 due to the absence of fans and the subsequent lack of any stadium revenue. Based on various estimates, he shared on his podcast and on the My Sports Update podcast that the figure could be anywhere from a $30 million to an $80 million cap hit across the league.
Lombardi fears the worst if this is the case.
“This salary cap issue that’s going on, because of the lost revenue, it could be a huge shortfall and I think it’s going to take some time to get it back,” Lombardi said on the latest episode of The GM Shuffle, available as part of RADIO.COM's vast selection of podcasts. “I think that what we’re headed for next offseason is a huge, huge problem because if Schefter is right… the cap will go down.
“This is going to cause complete panic. This is going to have an unemployment rate in the NFL of quality players beyond anything you’ve ever seen [sic].”
Lombardi pointed to the Eagles as an example. Under normal circumstances, they’re already in a dicey situation, as the team’s current payroll puts them $50.7 million over the salary cap in 2021. But Lombardi suggests that you could cut ties with aging receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery after the season, and Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap explained that restructuring some of the team’s larger contracts, such as Carson Wentz’s, could easily free up the space needed.
No problem, right? Wrong. These aren't normal circumstances, and Lombardi puts us in the worst case scenario, which takes into account the $30 to $80 million extra that could be decreased from the league salary cap.
“If you’ve got to cut [$50 million) plus another 70, you’ve got to cut $120 million off your cap,” Lombardi said. “Good luck. They’re not going to have a team, and you could say, ‘well the owners need to make concessions.’ No, because the owners and the players are partners in this. How do you make a concession when it’s your partner?”
So, what, are the Eagles just going to vanish? I sure hope not as a Philadelphia native. But it goes back to Lombardi’s previous point of seeing an especially high unemployment rate for quality players. A team like the Eagles can restructure contracts in all the fancy ways they want, but $120 million is a monster that’s going to be tough to take down. You could see guys who are fully deserving of jobs under normal circumstances getting released because the money just isn’t there.
Lombardi turns to the Rams as the next example, seeing as they’ve already moved a significant chunk of Todd Gurley’s dead cap into their 2021 payroll.
“Say [the cap] is $80 million less than it was this year,” Lombardi said. “You can forget Andrew Whitworth, you can forget Leonard Floyd, you can forget (A’Shawn) Robinson and (Rob) Havenstein and (Michael) Brockers. You can forget them all.”
Getting released for financial purposes is harsh reality of the NFL, sometimes necessary even without an unprecedented drop off in the salary cap. Now, especially, these cuts could come frequently, which is what Lombardi fears for teams like the Rams.
“It only does you good to trim the guys who have some meat on the bone,” Lombardi said. “The Rams are just going to keep going from bad to bad to bad. What’s going to be left is (Jared) Goff, (Aaron) Donald and a bunch of rookies.”
And that doesn’t even get into the problem of teams looking to sign long-term deals or extensions with stars. Three eminent quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott, all face these contractual concerns with varying levels of urgency. Lombardi finds the situation with all three of those guys “very complex” and thinks it will largely be a strategic war between the players’ respective agents.
While MLB has stolen the show during this extended offseason as the league most affected financially -- MLB insider Jon Heyman says that the owners' latest proposal would result in an ‘absolute war’ with the players -- Lombardi’s gloomy outlook shouldn’t leave football fans feeling much better.
“I think we’re headed into the abyss,” Lombardi said. “I think it’s going to be apocalyptic in terms of where this league is going.
“Someone is going to pay a price for not having fans in the stands and it’s not going to be the owners. It’s going to be their partners (the players), and I don’t think people understand that.”