BALTIMORE -- Every day, the NFL's pot of gold seems to get a little smaller.
In only the past week or so, league owners approved a proposal to cover the first six to eight rows of stadium seating and offer signage space to corporate sponsors. Then some teams began offering full 2020 refunds to season-ticket holders. Then the NFL's four-game preseason schedule was cut in half.
The financial impact of a season transformed by the coronavirus will be staggering. NFL Players Association officials reportedly told player agents last month that the league could lose about $3 billion in revenue if teams play in empty stadiums in 2020. And where the NFL's money goes, its salary cap will follow.
The Ravens' challenge next offseason won't be unique, even if the circumstances will be: Make the most of their resources. Spend wisely. Build the best team possible.
"To me, that's like golf," coach John Harbaugh said in a conference call last month. "You play the shots as they're presented. The more shots you hit in the middle of the fairway, the cleaner the shots are going forward."
Of course, if a pandemic is going to turn salary cap management into the NFL's version of a windy weekend at Augusta National Golf Club, it helps to play from the set of tees closest to the hole. And the Ravens, even after spending liberally this offseason, are well positioned for a potentially historic 2021.
The NFL's salary cap has grown by at least $10 million every year since 2013. With a higher revenue share for players in the league's new collective bargaining agreement, a massive spike was expected next year. Now, with stadium revenue streams likely to be decimated this year, the league's $198.2 million cap could fall for the first time since 2011. A flat cap for next year is also possible, but only by borrowing against future revenue.
The Ravens cannot keep their hands in their pockets. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is entering the last year of his rookie contract. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, barring a contract extension, will play this season on the franchise tag. Certain positions will have to be addressed.
But a review of the Ravens' 2021 cap picture bears out Harbaugh's optimism about the team's near future. General manager Eric DeCosta has assembled a roster with both high-value, low-cost assets and expendable big-money contracts. A strong, relatively cheap core is already in place. Wherever the salary cap lands, the Ravens shouldn't need a teardown to accommodate it.
"We have not been in good cap shape for the last six, seven years," Harbaugh said. "Every year, we've been behind the eight ball with the cap, and that's just the way it was. This year was a little better. Next year will be a lot better. With that, we'll have to sign guys, but we'll have money, too. I'm very optimistic that Eric and his crew will just do an amazing job of figuring out the numbers."