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NFL 2021 salary cap set; Dolphins available cap space

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL informed the 32 teams today that the 2021 salary cap will be $182.5 million, down from the $198.2 million from last season. The NFL and NFLPA negotiated the new cap as part of the COVID-19 adjustments to the collective bargaining agreement, with the sides agreeing to spread some of the revenue losses from last year over the next few seasons. The cap still fell nearly eight percent in value this season.

The NFL Players Association has not updated their public salary cap page yet but using the Spotrac.com salary cap tracker, the Miami Dolphins have about $33.1 million in cap space with the new cap. That includes a $15.2 million rollover from last year and $4.6 million in dead space. The dead space includes linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who is expected to be released but the move has not been officially made yet.

During the offseason and through training camp, the league only uses a “Top 51” salary cap. This number is calculated with the salaries and bonuses for just the highest-paid 51 players on the roster. Once the regular season starts, the league moves to account for the full 53-man roster in the cap, plus the practice squad players.

For the Dolphins, that Top 51 number is $159.5 million. That includes the $1.1 million for offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson, for whom Miami will trade when the new league year begins on March 17. That deal has been agreed to between Miami and the Tennessee Titans and will include a 2021 seventh-round pick going from the Dolphins to Tennessee, with a 2022 seventh-round pick in return along with Wilson.

Miami’s $33.1 million space puts them eighth in the league in space. The Jacksonville Jaguars lead the league with $70.2 million, followed by the New England Patriots ($70.1 million), New York Jets ($69.9 million), Indianapolis Colts ($48.1 million), Cincinnati Bengals ($44.1 million), Washington Football Team ($39.0 million), and the Las Vegas Raiders ($33.7 million). The bottom ten teams in the league are all over the cap, with the Los Angeles Rams the most over at $32.1 million.

The Dolphins have about $33.1 million to spend this offseason, with any re-signings, free agent additions, and draft picks still to be made. The Dolphins can also create more cap space through further releases or by restructuring contracts. Moving money from this year to later years is typically a way to put your franchise into salary cap trouble in the future, but in a year where the cap is unexpectedly lower due to coronavirus revenue losses and new television deals expected to come soon, this could be the right time to create some space and use anticipated future cap growth to offset it.

Miami has already been linked to two top free agents this offseason, with Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones and Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay on the radar. Could some of that salary cap space be used to add big targets? Will the Dolphins look to use the money on multiple lower-priced free agents instead of a few high-end additions? With free agency just a week away now, the rumors are only starting.