Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What's Next?

A look at the key dates looming on a busy offseason schedule for the Buccaneers and the rest of the NFL

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Head Coach Jon Gruden and the rest of the Bucs' coaching and personnel staffs have a busy offseason ahead

With another dazzling weekend of playoffs in the books, the National Football League is building momentum towards its showcase event, Super Bowl XXXVIII. This year's big game, pitting either Philadelphia or Carolina against either New England or Indianapolis, will be held in Houston on February 1. Much of the world will be watching.

Of course, for some fans the Super Bowl is a bittersweet event; it's the biggest game of the season, but it's also the end of the season. Save for the Pro Bowl, there's no more NFL football until August…that can make February feel mighty cold and bleak, even in Florida.

For coaching and personnel staffs around the league, however, February is packed with activity, and things don't really slow down until about a month after the NFL Draft, if at all. Looming just ahead on the league schedule are NFL Europe transactions, the scouting combine, contract deadlines and, of course, the beginning of free agency.

Roughly a quarter of the teams in the league have or will have a new head coach, which means even more work making that transition. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hired Bruce Allen as the team's new general manager last Friday, are in a similar situation.

The first event for Allen's staff and the Buccaneer coaches is the Senior Bowl, an important college all-star game attended by representatives from every team. The game itself will be held on Saturday, January 24, but the week of practices leading up to the contest is the real draw for NFL coaches and scouts.

The Senior Bowl week is valuable time for the Buccaneers each year, as they use the down time between practices to interview dozens of players. That gives the team a head start on the scouting combine, another week of wall-to-wall workouts and interview sessions. The combine, which has gradually been moved up from early March to the middle of February, is one of the most critical events on the upcoming calendar.

Here is a look at the important dates in the coming months:

February 8--NFL Europe League NFL Allocated Player Draft
February 18-24--Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, Indiana
February 24--Deadline for clubs to designate franchise and transition players
February 27--NFL Europe League training camps open
March 2--Deadline for clubs to submit qualifying offers to players who are due to become restricted* or exclusive rights** free agents
March 3--Veteran free agency signing period begins; Trading period begins
March 28-April 1--NFL Annual Meeting, Palm Beach, Florida
April 3--NFL Europe League season begins
April 16--Signing period ends for restricted free agents
April 23--Deadline for old club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents
April 24-25--NFL Draft, New York City
  • Restricted free agents are players with qualifying offers who have completed three accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. By extending a qualifying offer, a team retains a 'right-of-first-refusal' on the player. Thus, if that player accepts an offer from another club, the original team can either match it and retain the player or receive draft-choice compensation commensurate with the level of the qualifying offer. If the player is not given a qualifying offer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team without compensation.

** Exclusive rights free agents are players with qualifying offers who have completed less than three accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. By extending a qualifying offer, the original team becomes the only one that can negotiate with that player during free agency. If the player is not given a qualifying offer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team without compensation.

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