Last week, we broke down the salary cap situation for each WNBA team heading into the free agency negotiation period that starts on Tuesday, Jan. 15. Some teams have a significant amount of cap space to spend, like the New York Liberty and Chicago Sky. However, other teams are cap-tied, like the Atlanta Dream and Connecticut Sun. And other teams don’t have much room to sign key free agents other than their own, like the Washington Mystics.
Still, there will be a number of very good players available on the free agent market this winter, even though some superstars like Tina Charles of the New York Liberty and Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx are likely to be cored.
It is not uncommon for many WNBA free agents to sign two- or three-year contracts, often near the maximum level. Superstars and even regular starters often sign at the maximum level because such contracts are not a very high percentage of the salary cap. Since the per-team salary cap is $976,300, a $115,500 salary is just 15.9 percent of the hard cap. This means that teams can pay four or five players an annual salary near or above $100,000 each.
However, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association will opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement after the 2019 season. The players are hoping to receive better benefits, such as more accommodating travel schedules and higher salaries.
Expect more one-year deals in 2019 than a typical free agent period
Restricted free agents who are sophomores typically sign two- or three-year contracts at or near the maximum level. For example, Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson signed a two-year contract that expires after the 2019 season, according to High Post Hoops’ WNBA salary database. Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles’ contract also ends after the 2019 season.
Some qualifying free agents can sign contracts that last four years. Back when she played for the Washington Mystics, Dallas Wings guard Tayler Hill signed such an extension lasting through the 2020 season.
The players who are free agents this year may be tempted to sign a one-year contract with the hope that signing a new contract in 2020 means that they receive a significantly higher salary once a new CBA is signed. Most of the free agents who would consider doing this are restricted free agents who are entering the fifth year of their playing careers or unrestricted free agents in their prime looking for one more big WNBA contract.
Most WNBA teams could have a lot of cap room in 2020, setting up the biggest free agency season ever
After the 2019 season, all but two WNBA teams (the Dream and the Storm) will have cap holds under $500,000 for the 2020 free agency period. The Minnesota Lynx have no players under contract, which could allow them to make big moves in 2020 around Maya Moore, who will likely be cored before this season and even next.
Assuming that more WNBA free agents sign one-year contracts in 2019 and there is a significant salary cap increase in 2020, this could make way for an offseason where there is significant player movement around the league.
Older players may still not be able to cash in like younger players can
Though most of the WNBA’s younger and veteran players will benefit from a new CBA where they receive higher salaries, there are some players who may not be able to capitalize on them. This applies mostly to the league’s older players.
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi are in their late 30s and played at an All-WNBA Team level in 2018. But there’s no guarantee that they will continue to play that way in 2019. If they significantly decline this season, it will be harder to make the case that they should receive a maximum-level contract in subsequent deals. Bird can sign her next contract in 2020 when a new CBA comes into effect, while Taurasi cannot sign her next contract until 2021.
Other players who will hit their mid- to late 30s in 2020 include Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson of the Lynx as well as Alana Beard and Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks. It will be interesting to see how well they continue to play with the next CBA coming up.