With the NFL and its players association agreeing to set the 2021 salary cap floor at $180 million, there is a reasonable expectation that the ceiling could rise to between $185 million and $188 million.
If the ceiling is set at $188 million, the Raiders will be a daunting $13 million over the cap based on their current 2021 commitments.
However, they can easily shed a significant amount of salary by either releasing or trading some notable names, including a handful of starters or rotational players.
With teams across the NFL trying to adapt to a lower salary cap, it leaves a number of veteran players in a vulnerable position.
That means the market soon will be flooded with quality players at positions of major need for the Raiders. Also, they hope to re-sign a handful of their free agents, including wide receiver Nelson Agholor and guard Denzelle Good.
To capitalize, though, they first need to create salary-cap relief.
That process has begun with the release of wide receiver Tyrell Williams, a move that will shed $11.6 million from the 2021 ledger. Williams is the first of many dominoes expected to fall in a salary purge that could shed as much as $61 million while pushing the Raiders as far as $48 million under the cap.
Here is how the Raiders could get that done:
The obvious targets
With Williams coming off the books, Trent Brown ($14 million savings), Marcus Mariota ($10.75 million), Lamarcus Joyner ($8.7 million) and Richie Incognito ($5.4 million) are the next likely candidates to be traded, released or approached by the Raiders to restructure their deals.
As the backup quarterback to Derek Carr, Mariota is a luxury at his salary number. While the Raiders could find a trade partner willing to give up a late or conditional draft pick for Mariota, it seems more likely he will be released.
Brown is a bit more tricky. He is one of the NFL’s best right tackles when he’s healthy. But he’s played just 16 games in the past two seasons, including four starts in 2020. That makes the Raiders hesitant to bring him back at a scheduled $14 million for 2021.
The Raiders could explore restructuring Brown’s contract to lower their cap hit, but would he be willing to do so?
The Joyner situation could be predicated on the Raiders’ confidence in second-year cornerback Amik Robertson taking over the slot corner position Joyner plays, or their ability to find a cheaper option. Either way, the $11.2 million Joyner is owed next season is prohibitive given the current situation.
Incognito, who played just two games last season because of an Achilles injury, seems almost certain to be released.
On the bubble?
Running back Jalen Richard, safety Jeff Heath and defensive end Carl Nassib were rotational players last season, but they represent a combined $10.4 million in cap savings should they be released.
If all three players get released — combined with the outright release of Brown, Williams, Mariota, Joyner and Incognito — the Raiders would go into free agency with $48 million in cap space.
That isn’t to say they will follow that exact blueprint, just that it could be an option. Trades and restructured contracts are also a tool they will use.
Either way, it figures to be an interesting offseason for the Raiders.