The Countdown to Free Agency
With the Super Bowl now behind us (Ravens fans can empathize with Falcons fans – RUN the ball and RUN the @*$^&- ing clock!), the 2017 league year starts to come fully into focus. The following are the key dates on the league calendar between now and late July when training camp begins.
FEBRUARY 6th – As of yesterday, teams can start releasing players with the aim of improving their Salary Cap. In reality, teams rarely do so this early. At this point, there are usually too many moving parts for teams to make too many decisions this soon. Teams will usually wait into March to start making such moves.
Often decisions on who to release may be predicated upon what another team may, or may not do. So, for instance, if the Ravens have their eye on a Safety who is a free agent or who the Ravens expect to be released, they may want to pursue that player and release Lardarius Webb. But, if that player re-signs with his current team or is never actually released, the Ravens would likely want to keep Webb around after all. As such, the Ravens will likely hold onto Webb as long as they can and see how other factors play out before making a move with Webb.
On the other hand, for those players the team is definitely going to release one way or another, those cuts are likely to happen sooner.
With the new league year set to commence on March 9th, expect the Ravens to start making moves at some point after March 1st.
FEBRUARY 15th – MARCH 1st – As of February 15th, teams can start designating a soon-to-be free agent player with the Franchise or Transition Tag (can only use one or the other on one player). If a team wants to use either Tag, they must do so by 4:00 pm on March 1st.
Early this offseason, I would have said that there was close to zero chance the Ravens would use the Franchise Tag on anyone, but given the somewhat unusual, public comments from Assistant GM Eric DeCosta regarding DT Brandon Williams, it may not be as much of a long shot as previously believed. In order to do so, though, the Ravens will have to create a sizeable amount of Salary Cap space to accommodate the Tag for Williams (or anyone else).
Seemingly, the only two possible Franchise Tag candidates would be:
Williams – Estimated Franchise Tag: $13.5M
RT Rick Wagner – Estimated Franchise Tag: $14.4M
FEBRUARY 28th – March 6th – NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
FEBRUARY 7th – The “legal tampering” window opens. As of February 7th, other teams can start discussing contract offers and terms with potential free agents, but a contract cannot be agreed upon (*wink-wink*) until March 9th.
MARCH 9th – At 4:00 pm on March 9th, the 2017 league year begins:
- Teams must have made all of their tender offers to their Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) and Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs).
- Teams must exercise all 2017 options tied to the first day of the league year. In the Ravens’ case, this means exercising or declining the option on WR Mike Wallace’s contract. If they do so, Wallace will receive his $1M option and will most certainly be on the team for 2017. If the Ravens do not pick up the option, Wallace becomes a free agent at 4:00 pm.
- Free agency begins for veteran players and the trading period begins.
- Teams must be under the Salary Cap and the Rule of 51 Cap computation begins.
At this point, prior to any roster moves (and making some assumptions on RFA tenders), the Ravens are projected to be around $6.5M under the Salary Cap at that point. Obviously, though, there are more than a few moves that will be made before then that will change that number.
APRIL 21st – The deadline for teams to sign RFAs to an offer sheet. If another team signs a RFA to an offer sheet, the player’s present team has 5 days to match that offer or potentially (depending on the tender given to the play) receive draft pick compensation if they decline to match. With the draft starting on April 27, the deadline to sign a player to an offer sheet and allow for the required 5-day match period is April 21st.
ARPIL 27-29th – the NFL Draft.
MAY 9th – The “May 9th Tender” date. This date, which was moved forward from June 1st a couple of years ago, is essentially the last date that the signing or losing of a free agent will count toward the Compensatory Draft pick calculation. The May 9th Tender – which rarely happens – is a way a team can potentially obtain exclusive negotiating rights with a player later in the summer. It also provides extended Comp pick eligibility if the player is tendered a contract of at least 110% of his prior year’s compensation by May 9th. Otherwise, if the player is not given the May 9th Tender, he no longer counts toward the Comp pick formula and the team cannot gain any special negotiating advantage later in the off season. As a practical matter, very few free agents who remain unsigned by May 9th are worth such a tender.
JUNE 1st – This is the last day that teams can release a player and have all of the dead money from that release count against the present year’s Salary Cap. If released after June 1st, only the present year’s bonus prorations count against the Cap in that year and all future bonus prorations would count against the following year’s Cap.
JULY 15th – This is the deadline for signing a player who has received the Franchise or Transition tag to a long-term deal. If no long-term deal can be reached by this date, the player must play that year under the 1-year contract provided under the Franchise/Transaction Tender and cannot sign a long-term deal until after the season is over.