The Off.. er… Other Season

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The Off.. er… Other Season
by Warren DeLuca

Some say that with free agency, the draft, mini-camps, and NFL Europe, the NFL doesn’t have an offseason anymore. That’s not true – the NFL still has its offseason, it’s just a bit shorter than it used to be. You know that dead time in the middle of summer, when you can’t find any football-related news? That’s it. It lasts from late June, after free agency has cooled down, through early July, when the teams and unsigned players make the push to finalize contracts before the start of training camp.

Here are some dates that may be of interest as we work our way towards the 2005 season.

February 22: Deadline to designate Franchise and Transition Players. If a team is going to slap the Franchise or Transition Player on one of its free-agents-to-be, they must do so by 3 p.m., Houston time. The Texans won’t name a Franchise or Transition Player this year.

February 23 – March 1: Scouting Combine. Regarding the NFL’s annual testing and timing party in Indianapolis, Charley Casserly recently told the Houston Chronicle, “The most overrated thing that drives me crazy is that performance at the combine drastically changes a [prospect’s] rating.” The results of the drills and tests make great fodder for wannabe GMs, but the real ones swear that the physical exams and interviews are the most valuable aspect of the combine.

March 1: Free agency eve. This is the last day that a player signed through the 2004 season is under contract and, for a player with less than four years of NFL experience, the last day that his team may make a qualifying offer (an offer of a one-year contract with a salary at least at a certain level) to keep him from becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent. RB Jason Anderson, TE Matt Murphy, OG Brandon Evans, OT Garrick Jones, ILB Shantee Orr, and OLB D.D. Acholonu, and KR/PR J.J. Moses will be Exclusive-Rights Free Agents and may only re-sign with the Texans. Restricted Free Agents (FB Jarrod Baxter, RB Jonathan Wells, OG Milford Brown, ILB Troy Evans, and CB Demarcus Faggins) may, for a limited time, cut a deal with any team. The Texans may match any offer that one of its Restricted Free Agents accepts or let him go and receive a draft choice from the other team as compensation. QB Tony Banks, FB Moran Norris, WR Corey Bradford, OT Marcus Spears, NT Seth Payne, DL Jerry Deloach, DL Junior Ioane, DE Corey Sears, ILB Marcus Bell, ILB DaShon Polk, S Marlon McCree, S Jason Simmons, CB Jason Bell, and CB Kenny Wright will be Unrestricted Free Agents. The Texans may also negotiate extensions of these players’ contracts before the clock strikes midnight to keep them off the market.

March 2: Free agency begins. The Texans have downplayed their level of participation in this year’s free agent market, but if they do pursue a premium player, expect it to happen soon as the Texans like to target their guy and close the deal quickly. The team snapped up Zach Wiegert, Todd Wade, and Robaire Smith in the opening days of the free agency period the last two years.

March 2: Trading period opens. Teams may make trades through October 18. The last veteran player that the Texans acquired by trade was OT Greg Randall from the Patriots in 2003 for a fifth-round draft pick.

March 4 – April 12 (estimated): College pro days. About 125 college programs held pro days last year to showcase their draft-eligible players in on-campus workouts. Attendance at these events can range from a who’s who of general managers, personnel directors, and coaches at a talent-rich football factory to a handful of scouts at a lower-level school.

March 21: Off-season and mini-camps. This is the first day that the Texans may begin their off-season program or hold a mini-camp.

April 2: NFL Europe. The NFL Europe season opens, featuring a potential match-up between Texan QBs Dave Ragone (Berlin Thunder) and B.J. Symons (Frankfurt Galaxy).

April 4 – 21 (estimated): Prospect individual workouts. If a player didn’t work out at the combine or his college pro day, whether due to injury or strategy, or if he was not satisfied with an earlier performance, his agent will usually stage another workout under the most favorable conditions possible. For example, last year Southern Cal WR Mike Williams, who didn’t run at the combine, held a private workout for NFL personnel in an attempt to silence lingering questions about his speed. This year, Williams has supposedly dropped some weight in order to improve on his 4.6-ish 40 times from a year ago.

April 4 – 21 (estimated): Prospect visits. Each team may bring in up to 20 prospects to its facility for interviews and testing. Teams don’t make their invitation lists public, but the agents usually do. Some teams have been known to invite a few prospects in whom they have little actual interest in order to hide their true draft day intentions.

April 15: Restricted Free Agent offer sheet deadline. This is the last day that a Restricted Free Agent may sign an offer sheet with another team. His 2004 team has seven days to match the offer or the player will go to the new team and the new team must compensate the old one with a draft pick. Demarcus Faggins is the Texan Restricted Free Agent most likely to generate interest on the market. The Texans have signed only one Restricted Free Agent from another team: PK Kris Brown from the Steelers in 2002.

April 23-24: The Draft. You know the drill – rounds one through three on Saturday, and four through seven on Sunday. The NFL is expected to conduct this year’s draft at New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, which is next to the site of a proposed new stadium for the Jets. The owners of Madison Square Garden, where the draft has been held in its Paramount Theater since 1995, oppose the new stadium. Before you get ideas about this being an opening for other cities to host the draft, understand that Paul Tagliabue is strongly against moving it out of the Big Apple.

April 25 – May 9: Rookies at mini-camp. During this window, NFL teams may have rookies attend one three-day mini-camp. Otherwise, a rookie may not participate in mini-camps, practices, or meetings until either May 16 or after final exams at his school have ended (even if he’s no longer in school), whichever comes later.

June 2: Cap casualty day. Starting today, teams may split the salary cap hit from cutting a player between its 2005 and 2006 caps. The Texans haven’t shown much interest in this second wave of free agents in previous years, but that should change as the franchise’s emphasis on youth gives way to filling immediate needs.

June 11: World Bowl XIII. The NFL Europe season concludes with its championship game in Dusseldorf, Germany. As a reward for allocating players to the minor league, the Texans will receive roster exemptions that they may use to bring more 2005 Euroball veterans to training camp without those players counting on the Texans’ 80-player camp roster.

July 27 – 31: Texan training camp opens. The exact date depends upon the Texans’ exhibition game schedule, since a team may not start camp more than 15 days before its first preseason game.

August 9: Unsigned rookie trade deadline. If a rookie hasn’t signed with the team that drafted him by this date, the team can’t trade him until 2006. The only Texan draftee ever affected by this rule was QB Drew Henson in 2003.

August 9: Holdout deadline. If a player under contract doesn’t report to camp by this date, he won’t receive credit for the 2005 season towards free agency. The Texans have yet to have a player under contract hold out.

August 11 – 15: Texans’ preseason opener. This is the first full weekend of the exhibition schedule. The Texans and Cowboys will play this year’s Governor’s Cup game in Irving at some point in the preseason.

August 13 – 17: Unsigned player letter deadline. If a Texan Exclusive Rights or Restricted Free Agent has not signed a contract and reported to camp, the team may send him a letter notifying the player of the team’s intent to place him on the Exempt List if he doesn’t sign and report. The Texans must send this letter at least five days before their second preseason game. If the player doesn’t sign and report by the day before their second preseason game, the Texans may place him on the Exempt List through their first regular season game. A player on the Exempt List can’t play in a preseason or regular season game…and doesn’t get paid for it, either. If he doesn’t sign and report by the day before their third preseason game, the Texans may place him on the Exempt List through their second regular season game, and if he doesn’t sign and report by the day before their final preseason game, the Texans may place him on the Exempt List until through their third regular season game after he reports. The Texans have never had to send one of these letters.

August 18 – 22: Texans’ second preseason game.

August 25 – 29: Texans’ third preseason game.

August 30: First roster cutdown. The Texans must trim their roster to 65, not including any players with NFL Europe exemptions.

September 1 – 2: Texans’ final preseason game.

September 4: Second roster cutdown. The Turk rears his head again as the Texans must get down to 53 players on their active roster. NFL Europe exemptions expire. The Texans may sign up to eight players to their practice squad as soon as they clear waivers.

September 11: Season opener. The Texans kickoff the 2005 season against an opponent to be announced. Charley Casserly Charley Casserly Home

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