Super Bowl XLVII is just three days away, and that's undeniably exciting for NFL fans around the world.
The beginning of the offseason is just four days away. That's undeniably depressing for NFL fans around the world, most of whom would prefer not to wait six months for the next live game.
Take heart, pigskin fanatics. While the 2013 Hall of Fame Game won't kick off the on-field action until the first week of August, the NFL isn't going anywhere for the next half-year. The league in general, and your Tampa Bay Buccaneers in particular, will have plenty to do in the coming months, and as with everything NFL, it will place prominently in the national sports consciousness. Here's a look at what you can expect after Super Bowl Sunday.
- NFL Scouting Combine, February 20-26
This is the perfect example of an offseason NFL event that, while always important, has grown dramatically in terms of media coverage and fan attention. You can expect wall-to-wall reporting from Indianapolis and the RCA Dome for the entire week from the NFL Network and other media outlets, as well as Buccaneers.com. The event is not open to the public, but the workouts are now televised and the participants engage in extensive interview sessions.
The Combine annually brings in approximately 300 draft-eligible players to work out, undergo physical examinations and sit for face-to-face interviews with officials from the 32 NFL teams. Team personnel professionals generally claim that the workout numbers posted in Indy are only supplemental information to their already robust scouting reports, but there's no denying that a sizzling 40-yard-dash time or an eye-opening performance at the bench press can shoot a player's visibility through the roofs.
The most valuable part of the Combine for the NFL's talent evaluators actually takes place far away from the network cameras. In the evening, in the hotel that houses all the players, each team sets up shop in a meeting room on the ground floor and methodically works through dozens of sit-down interviews. These sessions can seriously affect a player's stock on a specific team's draft board, for better or worse.
- The 2013 League Year and Free Agency Begin, March 12
Each NFL calendar year actually stretches from one March to the next. The Super Bowl may be the unofficial end of the season, but things such as player contracts don't roll over into the next year until this date.
And, of course, that's also when free agency begins. Typically, the most important deals of the entire five-month stretch of free agency occur on the very first day, or at least in the first week. This is likely to be doubly true in 2013, because a new rule has been adopted allowing teams to have contact with potential free agents and their agents during the 48 hours prior to the start of free agency.
The days leading up to March 12 may be eventful around the league as well, as teams prepare for the new league year's salary cap. On that date, any players who remain under contract now affect the cap with their 2013 numbers, which occasionally means a team has to do a little roster trimming to make sure it doesn't start the new year in violation of the cap.
- Offseason Workouts Begin, Late March-Early April
At the end of every NFL season, teams encourage their players to get away from the game for an extended period in order to recover physically and recharge mentally. In fact, coaches are not allowed to work with players on the field until late in the month of March. At that point, teams generally begin using their allotted mini-camps and workout days – most of it voluntary, but most if it very well-attended, at least in Tampa Bay's case.
In recent years, the Buccaneers have trended towards using the majority of their allotted offseason field time after the draft, when they have a more filled-out roster. Still, work will be done in the month or so before the draft, and it will likely be even more productive for the Bucs this spring, with one year of Greg Schiano's playbook already under their belts as a starting point.
2013 NFL Schedule Released, Early-Mid April
This is one of the most exciting days of the NFL offseason, and it will take place at some point before the draft in late April. The release date used to fluctuate between late March and the middle of April, but in recent years it has settled in to more of the latter end of that spectrum.
What makes this day particularly interesting for teams and their fans is that there is very little advance knowledge of what the schedule will look like. The Buccaneers already know who they will be playing in their 16 regular-season games next fall, and where, but they don't have any clue as to what order, or which games might get the added attention of prime-time or a late-Sunday slot.
The league generally releases a few teasers before the full-schedule reveal, such as the Week One Kickoff Game, but for the most part it's 256 game-dates dropped into the fans' laps all at once. Will the Bucs open at home for the fourth straight year? Will they be back on Monday Night or Sunday Night Football? Which NFC South team will they face in a potentially-critical Week 17 season finale? All these questions will get sudden answers all at once on this important spring date.
- The 2013 NFL Draft, April 25-27
The absolute gem of the NFL offseason, the draft is now three days long but its footprint actually covers most of the winter and spring. In terms of media coverage and fan engagement, the NFL's draft is essentially as popular as any of the other major sports' live action during the spring.
The 2013 draft will once again start on a Thursday night, with the entire evening devoted to the first round. The second and third rounds will take place the following night and the final four rounds will be conducted on Saturday afternoon and evening.
This is obviously a very important three-day stretch for the Buccaneers, who added a massive amount of young talent to the roster last April (Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David headlining) and hope to do so again as they rebuild the team's long-term foundation. Tampa Bay owns a total of eight picks in the draft at the moment, with its own selections in each of the seven rounds plus the New England Patriots' fourth-round choice, thanks to the Aqib Talib trade. Tampa Bay will pick 13th overall in the first round, barring any trades. Of course, it's unwise to discount the possibility of trades with Mark Dominik at the helm, especially after he maneuvered through the first two rounds of the draft so masterfully last April.
After the draft, the offseason essentially moves into a second stage, with teams building momentum towards training camp and the beginning of the actual games. There will be organized team activity days (OTAs) and one mandatory mini-camp in May and June, the NFL's rookie symposium, a short break for players and coaches and then the start of camp. It is during this time that teams try to get their offensive and defensive systems 90% installed so that they can hit the ground running when the more intense work of training camp begins.
So take heart, NFL and Buccaneer fans. Yes, it's a long time before the next live game after Sunday's Super Bowl, but with so much league action to focus on during the spring and summer, it will feel like it goes by in the blink of an eye.