NFL Salary Cap History Throughout the Years

How much has the NFL salary cap increased throughout history? We take a year-by-year look.

The NFL salary cap has restricted player salaries and guided roster-building for three decades. Let’s look through the year-by-year history of the salary cap before answering a few pressing questions about how the cap works.

NFL Salary Cap History

  • 2023: $224,800,000 ($16,600,000 increase)
  • 2022: $208,2000,000 ($25,700,000 increase)
  • 2021: $182,500,000 ($15,700,000 decrease)
  • 2020: $198,200,000 ($10,000,000 increase)
  • 2019: $188,200,000 ($11,000,000 increase)
  • 2018: $177,200,000 ($10,200,000 increase)
  • 2017: $167,000,000 ($11,730,000 increase)
  • 2016: $155,270,000 ($11,990,000 increase)
  • 2015: $143,280,000 ($10,280,000 increase)
  • 2014: $133,000,000 ($9,400,000 increase)
  • 2013: $123,600,000 ($3,000,000 increase)
  • 2012: $120,600,000 ($225,000 increase)
  • 2011: $120,375,000
  • 2010: Uncapped
  • 2009: $123,000,000 ($7,000,000 increase)
  • 2008: $116,000,000 ($7,000,000 increase)
  • 2007: $109,000,000 ($7,000,000 increase)
  • 2006: $102,000,000 ($16,500,000 increase)
  • 2005: $85,500,000 ($4,918,000 increase)
  • 2004: $80,582,000 ($5,575,000 increase)
  • 2003: $75,007,000 ($3,906,000 increase)
  • 2002: $71,101,000 ($3,696,000 increase)
  • 2001: $67,405,000 ($5,233,000 increase)
  • 2000: $62,172,000 ($4,884,000 increase)
  • 1999: $57,288,000 ($4,900,000 increase)
  • 1998: $52,388,000 ($10,934,000 increase)
  • 1997: $41,454,000 ($701,000 increase)
  • 1996: $40,753,000 ($3,653,000 increase)
  • 1995: $37,100,000 ($2,492,000 increase)
  • 1994: $34,608,000

NFL Salary Cap FAQ

When Did the NFL Salary Cap Start?

The NFL salary cap came to fruition in tandem with the beginning of NFL free agency. In 1992, the NFL was determined to have violated antitrust rules by refusing to grant players the opportunity to become free agents.

MORE: 2023 NFL Salary Cap Space by Team

The NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) eventually agreed to begin free agency in 1993. The salary cap would take effect for the 1994 season. That year, the salary cap was supposed to be $32 million per team. But after the league sold expensive television rights to networks, the inaugural cap was set at $34.608 million.

Why Was There No Salary Cap in 2010?

In 2008, NFL owners voted to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NFLPA. The CBA has historically called for an uncapped year the season before the agreement is set to expire. With owners deciding to exit the CBA in March 2011, the 2010 season had no salary cap.

The uncapped year was supposed to entice both sides to agree to a new CBA before the current agreement expired. That strategy had largely worked, as the NFL had never had an uncapped season until 2010.

Although there was no salary cap that year, most NFL teams still spent as if a cap was in place. Washington and the Dallas Cowboys spent heavily and frontloaded contracts in 2010, but the NFL eventually docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, from their 2012 salary caps.

What is the Most Dead Cap in NFL History?

“Dead money” refers to cap charges for players no longer on a team’s roster. When a club releases or trades a player, any future guaranteed money or prorated bonus money will immediately accelerate onto the team’s salary cap. It’s an accounting mechanism that ensures NFL teams can’t overly manipulate the cap.

The Atlanta Falcons absorbed the largest single dead cap hit in history — $40.3 million — when they traded quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in 2022. Ryan signed a five-year, $150 million extension with the Falcons in 2018, and the deal had been restructured so many times that ample dead money remained when Atlanta traded him.

In 2023, the Philadelphia Eagles are projected to lead the NFL with $54.7 million in dead cap. Expiring contracts for players such as Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Isaac Seumalo, and James Bradberry will all leave dead money on the Eagles’ cap next season.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles