Dimitroff dealing with upside-down 2021 salary cap

Team is projected to be $45 million over the cap
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff watches the team prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game on Sunday, October 27, 2019, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff watches the team prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game on Sunday, October 27, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

With the projected loss of revenue in the NFL because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Falcons are dealing with a strapped salary cap situation for 2021.

The NFLPA (player’s union) and league reached an agreement recently to set the salary cap floor at $175 million for next season. The salary cap is at $198.2 million for the 2020 season and was projected to reach $210 million in 2021.

However, because of the pandemic, each NFL team is projected to lose at least $130 million in revenue this season, according to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

Falcons salaries currently total $195 million for their top 51 players. The team is assessing the future projections with the lost cap space.

“We’re in the middle of that right now,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday. “We are looking at so many different scenarios.”

The Falcons have $220 million in contracts on the books for 2021. They are projected to be $45 million over the salary cap.

“We are spending a lot of time on that, making sure that we have our ducks in line,” Dimitroff said. “You know how I am, we will never look at something as catastrophic. We will find a way to navigate through like a lot of teams out there.”

The Falcons have paid market-value contracts for quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, center Alex Mack, left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.

“Any team that has high-prized players, as we do, we’re going to have to be smart about how we navigate going into a season, unfortunately if the cap were to fall, we would have to make adjustments,” Dimitroff said.

Last offseason, the Falcons had to get creative after they were not able to re-sign tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. They also cut running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Desmond Trufant, both former Pro Bowl selections.

Dimitroff said both of the cuts were football and salary-cap related. In 2021, the Falcons may not be able to re-sign players, will have salary cap casualties and will have to possibility re-structure some of their big-money contracts with the players taking pay cuts.

“I’m not worried,” Dimitroff said. “I’m only really, really focused on how we would adjust. We can only project so much. I don’t want to get caught up in worrying about it over and over and spending so much time on something that far out in the future because we really don’t know what it’s going to be.”

Director of football operations Nick Polk is the team’s salary-cap specialist and chief negotiator. He’s assisted by Kirsten Grohs, the manager of football operations. Dimitroff and president Rich McKay also get involved.

“We are mindful and aware and again very, very confident with the people that we have around here,” Dimitroff said. “When we start discussing finances, we have it all laid out. It will play out the way it’s supposed to play out. I think in the end, we’ll be in a sound spot.”

Polk has the cap planned out into future years, but this seismic shift downward could not have been projected.

“So, we are always discussing opportunities (and) ideals,” Dimitroff said. “We mull them over all the time. We have great conversations about what the next steps are, different scenarios like we do in the draft with the personnel people. We do that on the finance side with Nick and Kirsten.

“Some great ideas are thrown around. Again, I think there is some really good mental power going on there in those rooms when we are up on the board discussing scenarios. In the end, we don’t just whimsically make decisions.”

Dimitroff knows that it will be difficult to get under the cap. The New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles are in similar situations.

“I think we’ll have to use all of our tools moving forward giving where we are right now,” Dimitroff said. “Again, what I’m talking about is when you have your veteran quarterback and veteran receiver and a few other players that make top dollar, upper echelon football players, an organization is going to have to use all of the tools in their bag.

“The great thing here is that we have people that are very open and mindful in talking about it. I understand that it’s not easy for a player to talk about re-structuring and potentially (take a) pay reduction. That’s not ideally where we want to be, but at times those discussions can occur, of course, because they have to. That’s all of our responsibility.”


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