We're still a week away from Super Bowl LI. The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are busy plotting how to win the National Football League championship, and the sports pundits are incessantly analyzing and predicting which team will hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Meanwhile, though, the brain trusts of the league's other 30 teams are already strategizing about next season and beyond. At the center of their focus is the mind-bending, arithmetic game-within-a-game known as the NFL salary cap.
On the surface the salary cap, as in other professional sports leagues, is the maximum amount of money teams can spend on their players' contracts in each year. Below the surface, however, hitting that number is a tempestuous process, one that some teams, such as the Patriots and Falcons, have a history of doing better than others.