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The NFL salary cap and NFL contracts can be tough to understand. It seems, at times, like the cap doesn’t matter. Teams can be millions of dollars over, then restructure a few deals and get under. But the cap does matter. Look at teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs in the last few years and what kind of team you can build with a quarterback on a rookie deal. Look at how many more Super Bowls Tom Brady — who took less than max money on his contracts — than Peyton Manning did, getting all the money he could. The NFL salary cap does matter, and now that the 2023 cap is set, teams like the Chicago Bears are in a great position, while teams like the New Orleans Saints are in trouble. 

NFL salary cap got much bigger for 2023

The official NFL salary cap in 2023 will be $224.8 million for each team. That represents a $16.6 million increase from 2022 when the cap was $208.2 million. 

That $16.6 million jump represents the second-biggest jump since the league implemented the cap in 1994 and truly the biggest jump if you throw out the COVID-19-affected seasons. 

In 2020, the NFL salary cap was $198.2 million, which was a $10 million rise from the year prior. However, with the global pandemic slashing clubs’ revenue with no or limited fans allowed in stadiums, the league cut the cap for (basically) the first time ever. The 2021 cap was lowered to $182.5 million, $15.7 million less than the year before. 

When things got back to “normal” in 2021, the cap saw the largest increase in history ($25.7 million) to get things back on track for 2022 and beyond. Now, with new TV rights deals kicking in, the $16.6 million increase is the biggest non-COVID-impacted increase ever. 

The other outlier cap seasons came around new TV rights deals. 

In 2006, the cap jumped from $85.5 million to $102 million for a $16.5 million increase after a historic TV deal. Before the 2011 TV deal kicked in, the cap actually dropped $2.6 million from 2009, but there was a collectively bargained uncapped year in 2010 so teams could cut big deals from their ledgers without hurting the product on the field. 

The Bears and Saints are in the best and worst cap situations 

NFL salary cap, 2023 salary cap, New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, NFL
New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, the teams with the least and most NFL salary cap room in 2023 | Cooper Neill/Getty Images
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With the new $224.8 million cap figure in place, the Chicago Bears have the most room to operate with $98,656,266 in cap room, according to Spotrac. That’s over $40 million more than the team in second place, the Atlanta Falcons. The top five teams with the most room heading into the 2023 offseason are: 

  • Chicago Bears: $98,656,266
  • Atlanta Falcons: $56,408,608
  • New York Giants: $44,419,480
  • New England Patriots: $37,988,722
  • Houston Texans: $37,121,466

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the New Orleans Saints are still paying for the Drew Brees and Sean Payton glory days. The team finished with just four more wins (7-4) than the Bears, yet come into 2023 with $-57,381,434 in cap space. The bottom five teams with the least NFL salary cap space are: 

  • New Orleans Saints $-57,381,434
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $-55,714,949
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: $-32,271,191
  • Tennessee Titans: $-23,687,933
  • Minnesota Vikings: $-21,199,469

The league average with the $224.8 million NFL salary cap in 2023 is $5,028,488 in room.