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Countdown to Free Agency: Important Offseason Dates

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With the Super Bowl now behind us, NFL teams (and their fans!) will finally be able to turn their full attention to the new league year. While the 2022 league year does not technically begin until March 16th, there are many key calendar dates that are part of the NFL offseason process – starting today. The following are the key dates on the league calendar between now and week 1 of the NFL season.

FEBRUARY 14th – As of today, teams are allowed to start releasing players without any repercussion on the 2021 Salary Cap.  So, teams are now able to start making moves with the aim of improving their Salary Cap for 2022. All veteran players with more than four (4) accrued seasons are immediately free agents and not subject to waivers. All non-vested veterans (i.e. less than four (4) accrued seasons) 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 16th).

With the new league year set to commence on March 16th, expect the Ravens (and most teams) to start making moves at some point in early March.

LATE FEBRUARY – Over the last few years, the NFL has announced the Compensatory Draft picks on the Friday before the Scouting Combine. This year, the Combine is set to begin on March 1, so if history holds, Comp picks should be announced on Friday, February 25th. The Ravens are expected to receive two (2) 4th Round Comp pick for the losses of LB Matthew Judon and DE Yannick Ngakoue.

FEBRUARY 22nd – MARCH 8th – As of February 22nd, teams can begin designating pending unrestricted free agents with the Franchise or Transition Tag. If a team wants to use either Tag, they must do so by 4:00 pm on March 8th.

This year, it seems unlikely that the Ravens will use either Tag. Center Bradley Bozeman is probably the one pending UFA that the Ravens would rather not lose, but given that all offensive lineman are categorized under one Tag (with Centers usually being the lowest paid), the cost of the Franchise Tag for Bozeman – estimated to be $16-17M – would just be too expensive.

MARCH 14th – The “legal tampering” window opens. As of March 14th, other teams can start discussing contract offers and terms with potential free agents, though a contract cannot be agreed upon (*wink-wink*) until March 16th.

MARCH 16th – At 4:00 pm on Wednesday, March 16th, the 2022 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 2022 contract options tied to the first day of the league year.
  • Free agency begins for veteran players and the trading period begins.
  • All teams must be under the Salary Cap and the Rule of 51 Cap computation begins.

 

Recent reports have suggested that the league Salary Cap for 2022 will reach the agreed upon maximum Cap, which was announced as $208.2M over last summer. Assuming the Cap reaches that maximum, the Ravens presently have around 9.4M in Cap space. Once RFAs and ERFAs are tendered and other adjustments are applied, the Ravens project to have a little over $7.1M in Cap space. This number will obviously change before March 16th as the Ravens make other moves – signing, re-signings, restructures and/or contract extensions – to create additional Cap space.

MARCH 21st On the 5th Day of the league year, two players will have Roster Bonuses due. OTs Alejandro Villanueva ($2M) and Ja’Wuan James ($500K) have Roster Bonuses due if they are on the Ravens’ roster at 4:00 on March 21st. It seems likely that Villanueva is either going to retire or get released. His release will create $6M in additional Cap space. If James’ recovery from Achilles surgery is still on track, it seems likely that the Ravens will pay his $500K Roster Bonus and keep James on the roster.

APRIL 22nd – 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 28th, the deadline to sign a player to an offer sheet and allow for the required 5-day match period is April 22nd.

ARPIL 28th-30th – the NFL Draft, to be held in Las Vegas this year.

The Ravens will have the 14th overall pick in the first round and are expected to have 10 total picks in the 2022 draft. They presently have four (4) of their own round picks (their 1st through 4th round picks), the Giants’ 4th (from the Ben Bredeson trade), Arizona’s 4th (2021 draft day trade) and Miami’s 6th (Mancz trade). The Ravens traded their own 5th to Minnesota (Ngakoue trade), their 6th to KC (Orlando Brown trade) and their 7th to JAX (Oliver trade).

In addition, the Ravens have a 3rd round Compensatory draft pick for the Texans’ hiring of David Culley as their Head Coach.   The Ravens are also expected to receive a two 4th round Compensatory draft picks for the free agent losses of LB Matthew Judon and Ngakoue.

So, as of now, the Ravens’ present draft picks are expected to be a 1st, a 2nd, two 3rds, five 4ths, and a 6th.

MAY 2nd – May 2nd 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 WR Marquise Brown.  Based on last week’s comments from General Manager Eric DeCosta, the Ravens will be picking up Brown’s option.

MAY 2nd – The “May 2nd 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 2nd Tender – which rarely happens – is a way a team can potentially obtain exclusive negotiating rights with a player later in the summer (after July 22nd). 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 2nd. Otherwise, if the player is not given the 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 2nd 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 counts 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.

LATE JULY – NFL training camps start opening.

SEPTEMBER 3rd – Final cutdown date, all teams must cutdown to 53 players.

SEPTEMBER 8th – At 12:00 a.m., the Rule of 51 ends and all teams must be fully under the 2021 Salary Cap. This includes all of the players on the 53-man roster, the Practice Squad and all players on any of the reserve lists (IR, PUP, etc.).

SEPTEMBER 8th, 11th-12th – Week 1 of 2022 NFL regular season.

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