THE abolition of the League One salary cap does not mean Sunderland will automatically start throwing money at their senior players, with Lee Johnson hinting a number will still have to accept salary reductions if they are to be retained when their contracts expire in the summer.

Having introduced new salary-cap regulations in Leagues One and Two last summer, the EFL was forced into a humiliating climbdown this week when an independent arbitration panel ruled the restrictions were in breach of previous agreements.

The salary caps have now been abolished, and while new rules are expected to be introduced before the start of next season, they will no longer impose a league-wide spending cap on all clubs regardless of income.

That should benefit the likes of Sunderland, whose revenue levels are significantly higher than those of the vast majority of their rivals in the third tier, and enable Johnson to commit more money to wages and transfers next summer than would have been the case had the salary-cap been in place.

However, while a number of senior players have entered the final six months of their existing deals, the Sunderland boss is adamant this week’s ruling should not be regarded as blank cheque when it comes to potential contract renegotiations.

Johnson has committed to offering Jordan Willis a new deal despite the centre-half having suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action for the remainder of the current campaign, but there will be other senior players who will either be released or offered terms on much lower wages than they are currently receiving.

“It (this week’s ruling) all becomes part of the big picture in terms of the way the club wants to move forward,” said the Sunderland boss. “Yes, it definitely gives you the option of retaining players and competing with clubs in the Championship. But at the same time, you can’t over-pay.

“A player is worth what he’s worth, and you’ve got to make a valid assessment on the market value of that player and make sure that every penny is spent really wisely, whether that be on a player’s contract extension or a new player coming in or promoting a young player from the academy and giving him his first pro contract.”

The introduction of the salary-cap rules predates Johnson’s appointment at the Stadium of Light, but the head coach’s dealings in last month’s transfer window were heavily influenced by the need to remain within the parameters established by the now-abandoned regulations.

The Sunderland hierarchy were always fierce critics of the rules, which restricted the Black Cats to the same £2.5m annual salary limit as the likes of Accrington Stanley and Rochdale despite them boasting vastly bigger income levels, and Johnson was pleased to see this week’s ruling result in a change of tack.

“I have to be honest, my thoughts were, ‘Damn right – that’s the way it should be’,” he said. “I feel like it was almost a bit of a restriction of trade. As a football club, and especially with the due diligence that the EFL take into account, you have to be able to manage your own house.

“As football people, we have to trust that ownerships can manage their own business. Obviously, in this pandemic it’s been difficult, so I think there’s a bit of mitigation there for clubs that maybe haven’t expected it to go on as long. But at the same time, you should certainly be able to invest your revenue as a minimum back into the club.

“I always say the bigger clubs often have the better depth."