Countdown to Free Agency
With the Super Bowl now behind us, NFL teams (and their fans!) will finally turn their full attention to the new league year. While the 2020 league year does not technically begin until March 18th, there are many key NFL calendar dates that actually begin starting today. The following are the key dates on the league calendar between now and late July when training camp begins.
NOTE: It appears that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is close to being reached. Once (or, if) that occurs over the next couple of weeks, some of these dates may perhaps change.
FEBRUARY 3rd – As of Monday, teams can start releasing players with the aim of improving their Salary Cap for 2020. In reality, teams rarely do so this early, and instead, wait until March to start making such moves. All players released between February 3rd and the start of the new league year on March 18th are subject to waivers. If they clear waivers, they immediately become free agents and are free to sign a contract at any time (even if before March 18th).
With the new league year set to commence on March 18th, expect the Ravens to start making moves at some point during the 2nd week of March.
FEBRUARY 21st – Over the last few years, the NFL has announced the Compensatory Draft picks on the Friday before the Scouting Combine. If that history holds true, Comp picks will be announced on February 21st.
FEBRUARY 24-March 2nd – NFL Combine in Indianapolis. This is obviously a key date for all draftniks out there.
FEBRUARY 25th – MARCH 10th – As of February 25th, teams can start designation of a soon-to-be free agent player with the Franchise or Transition Tag. If a team wants to use either Tag, they must do so by 4:00 pm on March 10th. In past years teams could only use either the Franchise or Transition tag, but not both. If no new CBA is agreed to before then, teams are allowed to use both this year since 2020 is the last year of the current CBA.
With the re-signing of CB Marcus Peters in late December, the Ravens really only have one candidate for the Franchise Tag – OLB Matthew Judon. If the Ravens are unable to re-sign Judon prior to March 10th, they will have a major decision to make since the Franchise Tag for Judon is projected to be in the $16-18M range depending on whether Judon qualifies as an OLB or a DE (which depends on where Judon took the most snaps in 2019). If Judon is not tagged and hits the open market, he’s likely to price himself out of Baltimore since he’s likely to top last year’s Za’Darius Smith deal with Green Bay (4 years, $66M).
MARCH 16th – The “legal tampering” window opens. As of March 16th, other teams can start discussing contract offers and terms with potential free agents, though a contract cannot be agreed upon (*wink-wink*) until March 18th.
MARCH 18th – Deadline to exercise CB Brandon Carr’s 2020 Option. If the Ravens exercise Carr’s Option, he will receive a $1.5M Roster Bonus on March 22nd (5th Day of League Year). If the Option is not exercised by 4:00 p.m. on March 18th, Carr becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent.
MARCH 18th – At 4:00 pm on Wednesday, March 18th, the 2020 league year begins:
— Teams must have submitted tender offers to all of their Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) and Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs) who they want to retain.
— Teams must exercise all 2020 contract options tied to the first day of the league year.
— 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, the Ravens are projected to be around $22-23M under the Salary Cap (assuming a Salary Cap of $200M) – details here, as you’ve probably read elsewhere that they have closer to $28 million. Obviously, though, there are more than a few moves that will be made before then that will change that number.
APRIL 17th – 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 23th, the deadline to sign a player to an offer sheet and allow for the required 5-day match period is April 17th.
ARPIL 23-25th – The NFL Draft, to be held in Las Vegas this year.
MAY 4th – May 4th is the CBA-mandated date by which 5th Year Options must be exercised for 4th year players who were drafted in the 1st round. For the Ravens, this would be the deadline to exercise the 5th Year Option for CB Marlon Humphrey. As they did last year with OT Ronnie Stanley, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that the Ravens will exercise Humphrey’s option.
MAY 5th – The “May 5th 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 5th 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 5th. Otherwise, if the player is not given the May 5th 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 5th are worth such a tender.
JUNE 1st – In past years this was the last day that teams could 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 counts against the Cap in that year and all future bonus prorations would count against the following year’s Cap.
If there is no new CBA agreed to before then, there will be no June 1 Cap relief this year.
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.
LATE JULY – NFL training camps start opening.
SEPTEMBER 5th – Final cutdown date; all teams must cut down to 53 players.
SEPTEMBER 10th – At 12:00 a.m., the Rule of 51 ends and all teams must be fully under the 2020 Salary Cap. This includes all of the players on the 53-man roster, the Practice Squad and all players on any reserve lists (IR, PUP, etc.).
SEPTEMBER 10th, 13th-14th – Week 1 of 2020 NFL regular season.