Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Now that the Patriots won the Super Bowl we can all take a deep sigh for the end of the season. And just like that we begin all the offseason talk that lasts longer and is far less exciting than the games. Before you get too excited about all the moves you want your team to make let’s learn some things in order to keep you from pulling the fire alarm at a hotel in the middle of the night. The first thing to make note of is the schedule. There are several important dates and a few not so important ones. Let’s take a look and break down what each of them mean and how you can be ready for them.
While all of these dates are passing remember one thing, players that were on the team this past season or are still under contract can negotiate new ones with their current team at any time. So, any potential free agents they really want to get re-signed are probably being negotiated with now in order to get them under contract before they hit the open market. A benefit to this is to get an idea of how much space is in the salary cap before they look ahead to other signings. We will get to the dates for that as we go through the schedule.
Feb. 6 is the first day on the calendar and the start of the offseason waiver system. This is also start of the grey area between the end of the season and the start of the league year. Here is the point where salaries and bonuses have all been paid and teams can release players before any new monies become guaranteed. Because the free agency period has not started yet any players subject to waivers enter into that system. Any veterans not subject to the waivers system and street free agents can be signed at any time.
On Feb. 15 teams that have not been able to negotiate new contracts with unrestricted free agents can begin to use the franchise and transition tags. If you’re not aware the franchise tag is generally for a salary equal to the average of the top 5 salaries at the player’s position that year. The transition tag gives teams the right to refuse an initial offer given to a player from another team if they agree to match that offer or pay the player a higher salary based on league averages. Teams will still be able to continue negotiations for a long term contract until a later date halts that. Transition tags can be rescinded and the associated contracts can vary. Each can only be used once per year.
The NFL scouting combine takes place from February 28th to March 6th. This is the opportunity for teams to evaluate college athletes who will be available in the draft. Although it is nothing more than basic drills, medical evaluations, and player interviews it has become the talk of the town in recent years. It is now an event fans can attend in Indianapolis, IN. One of my favorite writers has coined this event the “Underwear Olympics” and I couldn’t agree more. Some players will see their draft stock rise and some will see it fall but in the end, it’s an event that only really benefits those in the draft rooms.
March 1 is the last day for teams to designate their players for franchise or transition tags. This date is usually full of drama because players want big contracts and teams aren’t willing to budge. Players and teams still negotiating on this day are pretty much at an impasse already. If a team chooses to use a tag the player is stuck. With the franchise tag they can either sign it or not play. They can continue negotiations for a long term deal but only for a few more months. With the transition tag players can sign it and hope the market bears out the way they want or they may be stuck. Either way they get a one year pay raise.
March 7-9 are the dates we all wait for every year. The 7th is the unofficial start to free agency and the 9th is the official start. There is a three day grace period where teams are permitted to contact and enter into negotiations with the agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents. They can’t contact the players directly but handshake agreements can be discussed in general terms. Nothing can be signed and actual terms are not fully set until the contract is signed.
Which brings us to March 9. That is the start of the league year at 3 p.m. CT and before then a lot of things have to happen. Teams must exercise all 2017 options for players who have them, they must submit offers for restricted free agents and that they have the right of first refusal, minimum salary tender to keep negotiating rights for free agents with less than three accrued seasons, they must be under the salary cap and all expiring contracts expire. Oh, and it’s also the start of the unrestricted free agency period. This is where all the big name players get huge contracts that saddle teams with salary for the next few years. Buyer beware! Also, this is when the trading period begins and all 2016 contracts have expired.
March 26-29 is the annual league meeting in Phoenix, AZ where new rules will be voted on and other items will be discussed regarding the future of the league. Nothing much except more for analysts and radio personalities to discuss.
April 3 is the start of offseason workouts for teams with a new head coach while ones with the same coach can start on April 17. This is all just practice. It’s an opportunity for new players to get a start in the system and returning players to get back on their feet. Don’t read too much into these workouts.
The 2017 NFL Draft is scheduled for April 27-29 in Philadelphia. This has definitely become a big deal and I will watch at least the first two rounds. Seeing what moves teams make and players they draft gives fans an idea of what may be in store for them in the next year or two. Hopefully your team picks well and starts to build a roster of young talent.
May 9 is when teams offer a tender to unsigned unrestricted free agents. These offers are important because when training camp starts, if they have not signed another contract this tender prevents them from doing so between that date and week 10 of the season.
May 12-15 will be the rookie camps. Watch and see the new draft picks run around in shorts for a few days.
July 15 is the last day for players designated with a franchise or transition tag to be signed by their teams to a multi-year deal. After this date the player can only sign the one year deal for the season and a new contract cannot be done until after the team’s last game of the season. More drama ensues on this date because now a player who hasn’t signed the franchise tag really has to decide whether or not they will play. Often times players sign the tag initially hoping a new long term deal will be worked out before this date but that isn’t always the case and there can be some bitterness associated with a one year deal. Any injury or poor performance can derail a player’s value when it’s time to negotiate again.
Sometime in mid-July training camps will begin. Check with your teams to see their start date.
July 22 is the last day to sign players who have been given a tender on May 9. This is that date that will keep players with a tender offer from signing with anyone else until after week 10. This date also locks down Transition players with outstanding offers. They are also locked down until after week 10.
August 3-5 is the Hall of Fame weekend which pretty much ends the offseason.
I know there is a lot going on in the offseason but these are the dates to watch. The biggest days are the start of free agency and the draft. At least those are the ones I will be paying attention to. You will hear about all the big stories as they come out and I’m sure there will be lots of intrigue. Enjoy!