Salary Cap ASK THE CAP MAN: What’s the “Rule of 51?”

Posted in Salary Cap
Print this article

What is the Rule of 51 and what the heck do these two Tweets mean?

The Salary Cap holds the Cap charges for every player on a team’s roster; however, during the “offseason” (early March through September), when rosters can total up to 90 players, the Rule of 51 applies.

Since it would obviously be impossible for teams to fit all 90 players under the Salary Cap, the league’s CBA contains provisions that limit the “offseason” Salary Cap calculation to the highest 51 Salary Cap numbers (“Rule of 51”) on the team, plus all bonus prorations for players not amongst the top 51 and all dead money from released players.

So, for the top 51 Cap charges on the team – they count from March to September.

For everyone outside of the top 51, their base salaries don’t count and only their bonus prorations count.  This essentially applies to recent lower-round draft picks and undrafted free agent signees.  So, for example, 7th round pick WR Michael Campanaro has a Cap number of $436,875, but his base salary of $420K won’t count because he’s not amongst the top 51 Cap numbers and only his bonus proration of $16,875 counts under the Rule of 51.


Lastly, all dead money from released players also counts.

So, when the season starts, who counts?

Once the season has started, all players – whether on the 53-man roster, Injured Reserve (IR), Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) or the Practice Squad (PS) – count against the team’s Salary Cap.

So, this is why the team’s Cap space will go from over $8M, all the way down to around $3M.  Basically, they are going from counting 51 players to counting 73 players (53-man roster, 7 on IR, 1 on PUP, 2 on suspended list and 10 on the Practice Squad).

Will the Ravens get any Cap relief with Ray Rice and Will Hill come off of suspension?


Rice currently does not count against the team’s 53-man roster, but he is currently counting against the Cap.  Rice’s Cap charge, though, is 15/17th of his original Base Salary because of the 2-game suspension.  When he is activated from suspension, there will have to be a corresponding move and depending on who that player is, there may be a Cap credit increasing the team’s Cap space. 

For instance, if the player released is a non-vested veteran (a player with less than 4 years of service), then there will be a Cap increase of 15/17th of that player’s base salary, since a non-vested veteran’s base salary is not guaranteed, even if he is on the roster on Week 1.  On the other hand, if the player released is a vested veteran (4+ years of service), like RB Justin Forsett, then his base salary is guaranteed (if he’s on the roster for game 1), so there is no added Cap space upon his release.

The same will apply when Safety Will Hill comes off of suspension after week 6.

Share This  
Avatar for Brian McFarland

About Brian McFarland

Known on Ravens Message Boards as "B-more Ravor", Brian is a life-long Baltimorean and an avid fan of the Ravens and all Baltimore sports. A PSL holder since 1998, Brian has garnered a reputation as a cap-guru because of his strange (actually warped) desire to wade through the intricacies of the NFL's salary cap and actually make sense of it for those of us who view it as inviting as IRS Tax Code. Brian, who hails from Catonsville, MD and still resides there, is married and has two children. More from Brian McFarland

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!