Salary cap for 2017 season is $167 million, up $12 million
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) The NFL salary cap for the upcoming season will be $167 million per team, up more than $12 million over last year.
The league and the NFL Players Association compile the cap from specific revenues, and it has risen annually. It was $143.28 million two years ago.
This is the fourth consecutive year the cap has risen at least $10 million.
Player benefits also are included under the 10-year labor agreement reached to end the 2011 lockout. That comes to $37 million per team, bringing the players' total compensation package to over $200 million per club for the first time.
In comparison, baseball had 12 teams with luxury-tax payrolls beyond $167 million in 2016.
Since 2011, the cap has increased by $47 million.
Also, 2017 is the first year of a four-season minimum spending period of 89 percent per club and 95 percent leaguewide.
The added cap room should have a major impact on teams' spending when the NFL's new year begins next Thursday.
"A lot," Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "It's an ongoing process, trying to make sure you can hang on to your top players all the time, what we view as our core players. A lot of times when we do those deals we're like: `Hey, look, there's going to be some tough decisions that are made. There's going to be some guys that have to leave.' It's just part of the game.
"This year in particular I think you see there's a huge discrepancy in terms of cap space with a number of teams. It's what the NFL's about. It's about parity, and so you have those teams that are just going to be able to that much more than you possibly can. It's all about trying to move those pieces around and try to stay in the game with the free agents and your own free agents as much as you possibly can."
Seven players were given franchise tags this year: Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and Rams CB Trumaine Johnson, both for the second straight year; Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell; Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul; Cardinals LB Chandler Jones; Chargers LB Melvin Ingram; and Panthers DT Kawann Short. Only Cousins and Bell got exclusive tags, meaning no team can talk to them except their current club. Compensation would go to any team losing a non-exclusive franchise player in the form of two first-round draft picks.
Quarterback, of course, has the highest franchise tag tender at $21.268 million. Next is defensive end ($16.934 million), followed by wide receiver ($15.682 million). Then it's linebacker ($14.550 million), offensive line ($14.271 million), cornerback ($14.212 million), defensive tackle ($13.387 million), running back ($12.120 million), safety ($10.896 million), tight end ($9.78 million) and kicker/punter ($4.835 million).
Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert believes more teams are taking the path the Steelers usually do of developing players they draft and rewarding their own free agents.
"As a result, you're seeing less and less quality free agents (on the market)," Colbert said. "There's an inherent danger in that, because some of the players who are hitting the market with the number of dollars that are available might not be quite worth what they're going to get paid because of the supply and demand. And I think that's reflective in a lot of the early cuts, the five- and six-year-deal guys who usually get cut after two or three, because maybe they were oversigned.
"I think that it reinforces that you're wanting to sign your own and keep your own. But again, you have to be careful about the free agent market and not overpay for maybe an average player."
Yet, beginning next week, the money will flow to many free agents, even though this crop seems lacking in franchise-type players.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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Updated March 1, 2017