Welcome to the 2023 NFL offseason. I know there's no real football being played, but it is one of my favorite times of the year.
It seems counter-intuitive, but there's something absolutely magical about the endless speculation of the NFL Draft, trades, and potential bombshell free agent signings. This time of year is all about "Any Given Day" instead of "Any Given Sunday," and I think that's really beautiful.
Are you new to following along throughout the NFL offseason? No worries. I've outlined everything you need to know about navigating the action and you should care about it.
What this means: 319 of the best NFL Draft prospects in the country are invited to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana to showcase their physical (and mental) skills in front of a collection of coaches and executives from around the league.
Why it's exciting: The DRAMA. The TEA.
The Combine will air live through NFL Network, which on its face can be kind of dry and kind of blah. After all, how many players in a row do you really want to watch jump as high as they can? How many 40-yard dashes in a row is too many for the average viewer? Hint: it only takes a couple before the average viewer has "seen them all."
The real magic lies in the analysis and behind-the-scenes conversations occurring between scouts, executives and analysts around the league. There's a lot of gossip circulating around the NFL Combine, about prospective rookies (trending up or down), as well as veterans. There's a lot of schmoozing (and the alcohol is flowing at the after-hours parties), which means that whispers about the draft, its prospects, potential trades, and the free agent market will be plentiful.
Some of my favorite NFL Draft analysts and company accounts worth eyeing on Twitter during the combine: Matt Miller (ESPN), Daniel Jeremiah (NFL Network), Dane Brugler (The Athletic), Mike Renner (Pro Football Focus), Bleacher Report (NFL Draft feed)
What's a franchise tag? NFL teams have the option to designate a single player (who is set free agency) to play on a fully guaranteed one-year contract. In 2023, a franchise-tagged player will either earn the average of the top-five salaries at his respective position, or 120% of his salary in the previous season — whichever is greater. Read more about the two types of franchise tags here.
So then what's the transition tag? The transition tag is kind of like the aforementioned franchise tag, except that the tagged player's salary will be the average of the top 10 players at his respective position (instead of the top five, in the case of the franchise tag).
Why it's exciting: The "tagging" process on its own can be kind of boring. It's not all fireworks. It is, however, our first "preview" of free agency. We have our first idea of who will truly be totally and completely free to negotiate with any team of their choosing.
This year, there are a number of notable potential franchise tag candidates, including names like Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, Giants RB Saquon Barkley, and Eagles CB James Bradberry. Last year, only eight out of 32 teams decided to use the franchise tag.
This is sometimes known as the "legal tampering" period. Before this time, teams are not allowed to engage or negotiate with prospective free agents because, technically, they are still under contract with other teams until the new league year starts.
If teams do make contact with players (or even coaches), penalties can be harsh, as we saw with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to the 2022 season, it was revealed that the Dolphins had tampered — AKA, talked to — with Coach Sean Payton and QB Tom Brady while they were still under contract with other teams. That led to massive fines, a suspension of team owner Stephen Ross, and the loss of their 2023 first-round and 2024 third-round draft picks. YIKES.
Why it's exciting: This is the moment all rumors come to a head! Teams can make offers, and players can agree to them, in principle. We already know which players have received the franchise tag from their respective teams, so this is our moment to see — what is the market like for free agents? What kind of contracts will they get?
There's a lot of talent available in free agency this year, across the board, though the one position with some scarcity (at least in terms of elite talent) feels like wide receiver. This could mean that teams in need of the position could look to fill their needs via trade or the NFL Draft.
Teams can officially start signing free agents (FA) to the deals agreed to during the two-day negotiation period. Teams can also officially execute trades they'd agreed to prior to the official start of free agency.
Why it's exciting: This is when things are officially official! Keep in mind, that any deals agreed to before this time (either FA signings or trades) are not official until — meaning they can (and sometimes do) fall through at the last hour.
The NFL Draft will be held in Kansas City, Missouri this year, with the Chicago Bears holding the No. 1 Overall pick. The draft consists of seven rounds, with each team receiving one pick in each round in reverse order of their finish in the previous season.
Why it's exciting: There are always surprises in the NFL Draft. It's a secretive process. No team's GM wants to tip their hands at the risk of losing. Surprise trades can occur, as we saw just last season when the Eagles acquired WR A.J. Brown from the Titans.
There's no set schedule just yet for 2023 NFL Training Camp sessions, but for reference, the earliest rookie report date last year was July 18, with all veterans reporting, at the latest, July 26.
Why it's exciting: This is our first peak inside the minds of NFL coaches and coordinators! It's an opportunity to see who is receiving first-team reps, which can be used to project starting lineups. It's an opportunity for us to scout potential breakouts for our fantasy football teams (and NFL betting futures!).
The three-week NFL preseason kicks off each year with the NFL Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. This year is no different!
Why it's exciting: Preseason football, on its own, is not super exciting. But we're still excited to watch it because we've been deprived for so long of real NFL action. Just as is the case with training camp, preseason games can provide us an early look at projected starters, and most importantly, what players on the roster bubble might make the final 52-man roster.
Reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, will open up the season against an opponent that's still TBD.
Why it's exciting: Cause... well... duh. Football is back. We like football. Enjoy!