Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (2024)

For a few blessed years, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta had the NFL’s best asset: a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. Lamar Jackson never counted more than $3 million against the salary cap over his first four seasons, when the team won over 75% of his starts. Even over the past two years, Jackson’s cap hit was never among the four highest at the position.

But when the bill (finally) came due last offseason, it was substantial. Jackson’s five-year, $260 million extension made him (briefly) the NFL’s highest-paid player. In 2024, his cap hit will rise from $22.2 million to $32.4 million. In 2025: $43.7 million. In 2026 and 2027: $74.7 million. When a Ravens player’s financial footprint starts to resemble recent Orioles payroll figures, it’s hard to call any deal a bargain.

DeCosta’s big investment on Jackson, though, has already paid off in the short term — Jackson’s second NFL Most Valuable Player award is proof positive of that — and now might age gracefully in the long term as well. With the league’s announcement Friday that the 2024 salary cap would rise to $255.4 million per team, a record jump of $30.6 million, the Ravens will have their most important contract locked in for a period of potentially skyrocketing spending.

Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (1)

“It was nice to see that number,” DeCosta told reporters Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “It helps us this year, but it also helps us in the coming years as we project what we think that salary cap is going to be moving out in years ’25 and ’26 as well. It does give you a bigger picture of the landscape of football and what that means, salary cap-wise, from a roster-building standpoint. I think we’re excited about the potential that we have to be a good team this year, and we think that we’ll have some flexibility to remain good in the coming years.”

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Jackson’s rising price tag underscores the paradox of roster construction: It’s hard to win the Super Bowl without a top-10 quarterback, but top-10-quarterback contracts make it hard to win the Super Bowl. Only one QB this century has won an NFL title with a deal taking up more than 13% of his team’s salary cap. He happens to be maybe the most talented passer in league history. The Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes did it in 2022 (17.2% of the cap) and again this past season (16.8%).

Jackson’s 2024 cap hit (12.6% share) is far from onerous, but that was by design. His contract was back-loaded to accommodate more spending in these early years. The longer Jackson plays under his deal, the tougher it will be for him to deliver surplus value. To keep their Super Bowl window open down the road, the Ravens will either need Jackson to remain a superstar — especially one who stays off the injury report — or the league’s salary cap to start a torrid climb. Or, ideally, both.

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That goes for other teams with megadeals on their budgets, too. In all, 14 quarterbacks have a cap hit of at least $25 million in 2024, and the top seven all check in at over $47 million.

“You’ve got to be really judicious with your money,” said Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, who in September signed quarterback Joe Burrow to a five-year, $275 million contract extension, making him the new highest-paid player in league history. “You’ve got to determine what’s needed and what’s just wanted. Like I’ve said before, it’s a finite pie, and we slice it up a lot of different ways. We want to keep as many good players as we can, but there’s always hard decisions to make as you go through roster building.”

It’s tough to know just how big the pie might grow from year to year. New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen told NBC Sports that the team’s “conservative” projection for the 2024 cap was about $243 million — more than $10 million off the actual figure.

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The surge was partly the result of unique economic forces that had limited the cap’s growth in recent years. While the cap is tied to rising league revenue, the NFL’s now-modest $42.3 million increase from 2021 to 2023 accounted for its repayment of player benefits that had been deferred during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The unprecedented $30 million increase per club in this year’s Salary Cap is the result of the full repayment of all amounts advanced by the clubs and deferred by the players during the Covid pandemic,” the NFL said in a statement announcing the 2024 cap, “as well as an extraordinary increase in media revenue for the 2024 season.”

With the NFL finding ever more lucrative revenue streams from those broadcast partners — Amazon’s Prime Video reportedly paid an estimated $120 million for the exclusive rights to one postseason game next season — spending on the league’s most important position might soon stabilize. Relatively speaking, anyway.

According to Spotrac, the median cap hit a decade ago for one of the NFL’s 10 highest-paid quarterbacks was about 14.5% of the total cap. By 2020, the year before the pandemic sent the league’s cap plunging, the median for a top-10 QB was 16.9%. Last season, despite the cap’s rebound, the average had jumped to 22.9%, its seventh-straight year of growth. Ahead of free agency, the 2024 median remains 22.9% of the cap. More $30 million cap jumps could keep it around there in the near future.

Yet even as the new wave of megadeals more accurately reflects the outsized importance of modern quarterbacks, the scale of their financial commitments can leave little margin for error.

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“The quarterback numbers have jumped more drastically than the cap has, which really makes it hard, because you have to have a franchise quarterback,” said Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, whose star QB, Josh Allen, will count $47.1 million against the cap in 2024 and $56.6 million in 2025.

“I mean, it’s proven. You look at most years, the final four, eight teams, most of those teams each year ... they have a franchise guy. So we feel fortunate to have Josh. But you’re building your whole team around that contract, and you’re trying to massage it. And so that’ll continue to be something we have to look at, and the numbers continue to rise drastically, and it’s probably not going to slow down.”

Neither will the NFL’s money machine, of course. That’s why the Ravens were willing to pay for Jackson, and the Bengals for Burrow, and the Bills for Allen. There are only so many players who can lead a franchise to glory, and with that glory comes, yes, even more money.

Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (2)

But it never hurts to have a little more spending power. The only thing better than having a superstar quarterback is a bigger budget to get him another star or two.

“I think as the salary cap grows, obviously, all contracts are going to grow,” said former Ravens director of player personnel and new Los Angeles Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz. He could speak from experience. After he was hired away from Baltimore last month, Hortiz inherited one of the few contracts richer than Jackson’s. Quarterback Justin Herbert’s five-year deal, signed almost three months after Jackson’s, is worth $262.5 million.

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“The perspective of Lamar’s contract — I mean, I think both sides felt really good about the deal when it got done, and I think they’re both happy it got done. And I expect them to be happy going forward, for sure.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Giana Han contributed to this story from Indianapolis.

Jonas Shaffer


Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (3)

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (4)

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Why the NFL’s surging salary cap could help Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (2024)


Why did the NFL salary cap go up? ›

The unprecedented $30 million increase per club in this year's Salary Cap is the result of the full repayment of all amounts advanced by the clubs and deferred by the players during the Covid pandemic as well as an extraordinary increase in media revenue for the 2024 season.

What is the Ravens salary cap right now? ›

They could reduce that number if they can sign Madubuike to a long-term deal. The deadline for Madubuike to sign his franchise tender isn't until July, so the Ravens will have to make some moves.In the meantime, they have several options to either cut or restructure to be under the record-high $255 million salary cap.

What happens if an NFL team exceeds the salary cap? ›

The NFL's cap is a hard cap that the teams have to stay under at all times, and the salary floor is also a hard floor. Penalties for violating or circumventing the cap regulations can include fines of up to $5 million for each violation, cancellation of contracts and loss of draft picks.

Who has the most available cap space in the NFL? ›

New England Patriots, Washington Commanders have most cap space entering NFL free agency.

How is NFL salary cap legal? ›

There is actually a salary floor as well as a salary cap. Teams do not have to spend all the allowed money, but they must spend at least 89% over a four-year timespan. The NFL as a whole must spend at least 95% of the cap. Any money that is not used in the allowed cap space can be rolled over to the next season.

What is the salary cap trend in the NFL? ›

The NFL salary cap went up a record 13.6% this year, from $224.8 million to $255.4 million per team. The jump could be a huge benefit to players hitting free agency in the coming week, as teams will have more cap space to spend.

What is NFL dead cap? ›

The dead cap is a charge for a player who is no longer on the roster. The number is calculated from the remaining signing bonus and any guaranteed salary. This is not a cash payment but rather a charge to the salary cap.

What is the dead salary cap? ›

"A dead money charge is a charge on an NFL team's salary cap for a player who is no longer on the roster. It represents any remaining signing bonus proration that was not accounted for prior to the player's release or trade.

What is the Ravens salary cap for 2024? ›

Ravens' biggest winners from NFL raising the 2024 salary cap to $255.4M. The 2024 NFL offseason is underway for Baltimore, and the Ravens' focus will shift to reshaping the roster on both sides.

Who is the lowest paid player in the NFL? ›

While Tyrone Swoopes won the reigning title of the lowest-paid NFL player in 2021, looking at the low end of league earners isn't as simple. NFL players face different minimum values that depend on their contract and designation as active or inactive players.

What is Travis Kelce salary? ›

How much money does Travis Kelce make in a year? Before his other ventures, let's talk about Travis Kelce's NFL salary alone, he is currently on the third year of a four year contract that is worth $57.25 million that secures him an annual $14.3 million per season until 2026.

Do NFL players get paid weekly? ›

NFL players are generally paid weekly during the regular season with their annual salaries spread across 18 weeks. When the playoffs begin, these checks stop. Players participating in playoff games are compensated, but playoff checks are often drastically lower than regular season game checks.

What is the 2024 NFL salary cap? ›

The salary cap for the 2024 NFL season is set at $255.4 million per team — an increase of around $30 million per team. Here is how all 32 NFL teams currently stand, keeping in mind that cap space is a constantly changing number as teams maneuver throughout the offseason.

What is the Chargers cap in 2024? ›

The NFL's official 2024 salary cap is set at $255.4 million. As of Monday morning, the Chargers are currently projected to be roughly $21 million over the cap, according to Over the Cap, a site that tracks each team's approximate cap space.

How much cap space do the Buffalo Bills have in 2024? ›

Buffalo Bills Salary Cap, 2024

The Buffalo Bills have $10.0 million in available cap space according to Over the Cap as of 3/17/2024. The Bills have the 27th-most salary cap space in the NFL as of 3/17/2024.

Does the NFL salary cap go up every year? ›

The NFL cap increased 27.6% from 2016 to 2020. It increased 28.9% from 2020 to 2024.

Has a salary cap in the NFL improved competitive balance? ›

We utilize two different measures for competitive balance across the three major professional sports leagues in the United States that have salary caps. We find no evidence to suggest that salary caps have improved competitive balance in a statistically significant manner.

How did the NFL salary cap start? ›

With the beginning of modern free agency in 1993, the 1994 NFL season was the first one in which there was a universal amount in which teams could not go over in their spending on players. This first salary cap for the 1994 season was set at $34,608,000.

What is the dead cap money for 2024? ›

The NFL announced the 2024 salary cap is set at $255.4 Million.

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