The NFL's labor negotiations are finally over, and the business of football is well underway. The next several weeks will be some of the most interesting and action-packed in league history, with many aspects of a normal six-month offseason packed into a few days.
It started not long after the new CBA was ratified, when teams were sent an official list of the league's pending free agents. And it will continue to pick up steam all week as training camp reporting dates loom and teams work through every necessary avenue to set their 2011 rosters.
Here's a look at the timeline for the rest of the week:
Tuesday, July 26:
- Teams will open their doors at 10:00 a.m. ET to all signed players, who may come in to use the weight rooms, meet with coaches and trainers, take physicals and otherwise use the facilities as they see fit. Buccaneers.com will be on hand to bring you the thoughts of many of the returning players.
- Beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET, teams may begin signing the members of their 2011 draft class. With the new rules for rookie deals put in place by the CBA, this is expected to be a simpler process than in previous years.
- Rosters expand to 90 players. The previous limit for training camp was 80, but this is obviously a concession made to the abbreviated schedule and the fact that rosters will still be in flux for most teams when their camps begin.
- Teams may also begin signing undrafted rookies at that same time, a process that usually starts the very moment the final draft pick is announced in April. Expect this process to happen very quickly, as personnel departments around the league have been preparing for this opportunity for months.
- That 10:00 a.m. start date also applies to a team's own free agents (unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights) and those from other teams; however, teams may only begin negotiating with such players at this time. Re-signings of a team's own players cannot officially take place until later on the calendar (see below), and no official signings or offer sheets can take place with outside free agents yet, either.
- Teams can also initiate trades on Tuesday.
Wednesday, July 27:
- A total of 10 teams will report for training camp, kicking off football for 2011. Those teams are Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, New England, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego and Seattle. Most teams begin practice the day after players report.
Thursday, July 28:
- Just after 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, teams can begin releasing players under existing contracts. For some teams, this will begin the process of getting under the salary cap for the new league year, which will start being enforced on August 4. For others, it is simply the first opportunity to make moves that probably would have occurred months or weeks before.
- Another 10 teams report to camp, including the Buccaneers. The other nine are Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Washington. As has been the case for years, teams are not allowed to begin camp any earlier than 15 days prior to their first preseason game; the Bucs' first game is August 12.
Friday, July 29:
- Another round of teams: Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Minnesota, the New York Giants, St. Louis and Tennessee .
- Beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET, teams can sign or extend offer sheets to available free agents. Any signed players must then report to their clubs, but they cannot participate in practice or any physical activities until August 4, which will technically be the first day of the 2011 League Year, assuming the CBA has been ratified by the NFLPA. These players can (and actually are required to) attend meetings and other non-physical activities held by their clubs.
Sunday, July 31:
- Training camp begins for the final two clubs, Houston and the New York Jets.
Thursday, August 4:
- As mentioned above, this is the official beginning of the new League Year (4:01 p.m. ET, to be exact). At this point, all teams must be in compliance with the new salary cap. In addition, all those contracts signed in the previous week take effect.
Tuesday, August 9:
- This date is the deadline for players under contract to report to their teams in order to earn an accrued season of free agency credit. This is important as it would seem to limit the likelihood of contract holdouts by veteran players.
Saturday, August 20:
- This date is the deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets. This process usually takes place in the weeks before the draft, so the dynamic here is radically different. The vast majority of restricted free agents re-sign with their original teams anyway (usually to the tendered offers), but in this case they would be missing a significant portion of the preseason if they choose to test the market to its final date.
Wednesday, August 24:
- And this is the deadline for clubs whose restricted free agents have signed offer sheets with other teams to exercise their right of first refusal.
Tuesday, August 30:
- Though it is still tentative at this point, the league may require teams to cut their rosters from 90 to 75 players on this date.
Saturday, September 3:
- Rosters must be reduced to the regular-season limit of 53 players.