May 28, 2024

During the NFL offseason, the NFL does not count the full salary of every player on the team’s 90-man off-season roster towards the salary cap. That’s where the top 51 rule comes in.

What is the NFL “Top 51 Rule” and how does it impact salary cap management? During the NFL off-season, the NFL only counts a team’s 51 most expensive contracts against the team’s salary cap. Each team’s 52nd highest paid player all the way through their 90th highest paid player does not count against the salary cap.

39 of their 90 players on their off-season rosters do not count against the cap. Some teams pay those 39 players similar amounts, across all 39 of them, while some other teams have significant disparity between #52 and #90. Teams can pay those 39 players any amount, but if any one of those 39 players creeps above the team’s 51st highest paid player, then that player will count against the cap and the team’s previously 51st highest paid player drops down into the bottom 39 and no longer counts against the cap.


Why the “Top 51 Rule”?

Imagine it’s the NFL offseason. Teams are bustling, trying out new players, and making roster changes. Per the regulations in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), each team can have up to 90 players on their roster during this time of year.

The NFLPA wants as many players employed as long as possible, but they know that if all 90 players count against the cap then some teams might cut lower-end players sooner than they are required to, so the NFLPA advocated for this rule in an attempt to help those lower-end players.


What’s the Impact of the Top 51 Rule?

Trying Out New Talent: This rule is like a golden ticket for teams. They can bring in loads of players for training and preseason games without stressing about the salary cap. It’s all about finding those hidden gems!

Smart Money Moves: Teams get to be financial wizards with this rule. They can play around with contracts and bonuses, ensuring they don’t cross the salary cap line.

Shuffling Players: Think of it as a game of musical chairs. If a team signs a new player and he’s among the top earners, someone else gets bumped off the list. But if they let go of a player not in the top 51, it doesn’t change the cap situation.

Game Time: Once the regular season kicks off, things change. Every player’s salary counts, whether they’re on the main roster, practice squad, or even injured. So, teams have to be on their toes, ensuring they’re playing by the rules.

In a nutshell, the Top 51 Rule is like a safety net during the offseason. It lets teams experiment, strategize, and make the best decisions for the upcoming season.