May 28, 2024

The NFL salary cap and free agency were first implemented in 1994, in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of NFL players in the late 1980s. The two sides negotiated for several years.

The 1994 NFL season was the first season with unrestricted free agency and was the first season that teams were required to follow the salary cap protocols. The first major free agency deal came when the Green Bay Packers inked Eagles’ all-pro defensive end Reggie White to a big money deal.

The NFL was the last of the four major American sports to introduce free agency and a salary cap.

The NHL introduced a variation of free agency and a salary cap in the mid-1970s (although it’s evolved a lot since then).

MLB introduced free agency in the late 1970s after Curt Flood famously started a legal fight, but MLB has never had a salary cap.

The NBA introduced free agency and a salary cap in the late 1980s, but much like the NHL, the NBA salary cap protocols have evolved a lot since they were originally introduced. In comparison to the NHL and NBA, the NFL’s cap protocols have not actually evolved much since they were introduced.

Since the advent of the NFL salary cap, it has increased every season except for two years. The first time it did not increase was after the 2010 season (which was the only season with no cap since 1994). That decrease was caused by significant changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The second time the cap decreased was after the 2020 season due to the revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The salary cap calculation is tied to revenues.

 

Salary Caps 1994 to 2023:

1994: $34.6 million
1995: $37.1 million
1996: $40.8 million
1997: $41.5 million
1998: $41.5 million
1999: $58.0 million
2000: $62.2 million
2001: $67.4 million
2002: $71.1 million
2003: $75.0 million
2004: $80.6 million
2005: $85.5 million
2006: $102.0 million
2007: $109.0 million
2008: $116.0 million
2009: $127.0 million
2010: Uncapped season due to the expiration of the CBA
2011: $120.4 million
2012: $120.6 million
2013: $123.0 million
2014: $133.0 million
2015: $143.3 million
2016: $155.3 million
2017: $167.0 million
2018: $177.2 million
2019: $188.2 million
2020: $198.2 million
2021: $182.5 million
2022: $208.2 million
2023: $224.8 million