It’s a beautiful Sunday morning on my patio, replete with sunny skies and a strong cup of java. I listen to and watch nature at its best, with deer running through the backyard and several squirrels chasing one another through the grass. Overhead, two Cardinals sit perched in our magnolia tree, listening to a bluejay’s crisp, clear call.
It’s that unmistakably tranquil period in the NFL offseason. The calm, however, is about to give way to the storm. This is when numerous organizational employees, from head coach to the groundskeepers, take time off before fully immersing themselves in the grind to come.
What will the 2013 NFL season bring? Amid the nail-biting excitement, thrilling wins and agony of defeat, will there be a 2,000-yard rusher? How many quarterbacks will surpass the 5,000-yard passing mark for the season? What about the surprise teams that none of the media pundits are talking about, but which will soar to the top of their respective conferences and into the playoffs? Will any rookies rival what Russell Wilson, RG3 and Andrew Luck did in 2012? And, of course, who will battle for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl in February, which should be a very cold and possibly snowy game played in an outdoor stadium in New Jersey?
Below, I have listed many of the league’s important dates for 2013-2014, paying special attention to especially key events.
June 23-29: Rookie Symposium in Aurora, Ohio
This is the most important date on the calendar for young NFL draftees who are entering the league. With frequent arrests, suspensions and altercations, players increasingly find themselves in dicey spots that can usually be avoided. This is the week in which players create a foundation of handling their business as professional athletes as they move forward. Or, those who say “that won’t happen to me” ignore the vital information and experiences that are passed on from former players who have traveled down the wrong path.
July 11: Supplemental Draft
Every year there is a supplemental draft for a dozen or more players who are no longer eligible for college football because of grades, failed drug tests or other off-field issues. Teams that select a player during this draft forfeit their upcoming selections based on the round in which the player – or players – is selected. It will be interesting to see what this year brings, both from a talent standpoint and relative to the reasons why players are declaring for the supplement draft.
Aug. 3: Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton
From the Grand Parade to the Gold Jacket Dinner, this year’s enshrinement promises countless things to remember. The 2013 class includes Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Warren Sapp, Curley Clup, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells and Dave Robinson.
Aug. 31: Cut to 53-Man Roster
Prior to 6 p.m. EST, all NFL teams are mandated to reduce their rosters to 53 players. After performing a full roster analysis of all 32 teams, one gets a very good idea of how each squad has built its roster and what its strategic plan of attack will be (both offensively and defensively) based on personnel.
Per NFL Communications: Simultaneously with the cut-down to 53, clubs that have players in the categories of Active/Physically Unable to Perform or Active/Non-Football Injury or Illness must select one of the following options: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; request waivers; terminate contract; trade contract; or continue to count the player on the Active List.
Sept. 1 Claiming Period
For all players placed on waivers, it will expire at 12 p.m. EST. At that time, clubs may establish practice squad of eight players by signing street free agents who do not have an accrued season of free-agency credits or who were on the game-day roster and were active for less than nine regular-season games during each of any accrued seasons. A player cannot serve on the practice squad for more than three seasons.
Sept. 5: Ravens at Broncos
“Are you ready for some football?” It will be a Thursday night party when the NFL pits the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens against Peyton Manning and the Broncos to kick off the campaign.
Sept. 29: NFL International Series
The Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Minnesota Vikings in London. Since 1990 in particular, the NFL has done an exceptional job of marketing and branding its business. I actually coached in England that year – right before World League of American Football, as sponsored by the NFL and Coca-Cola, was established. As I stated upon my return from London last year after covering the Rams-Patriots game in Wembley Stadium and watching the feeding frenzy of more than 30,000 European NFL Fans in Trafalgar Square for the pep rally where both teams were introduced a few days prior to the game, these folks love American football; supporting their own team would not be an issue. The NFL will work out scheduling and travel logistics; a team in England is coming sooner than later.
Oct. 27: NFL International Series Continues
The San Francisco 49ers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, again in England.
Jan. 4-5: Wild Card Playoff Games
Which teams will fight and win enough games to crawl into the back end of the playoff picture? Which teams lose a few games toward the end of the season and miss out on a first-round bye? The big questions start to get answered here.
Jan. 11-12: Divisional Playoff Games
This is when the folks in Las Vegas and millions of NFL fans see their excitement ratcheted up a notch. Coaches, meanwhile, add even more strategic and tactical efforts to their game plans. With a little luck, they push past this weekend and advance to…
Jan. 19: AFC and NFC Championship Games
This is the NFL version of the Final Four – the last four teams left standing. Generally, these teams are equipped with attacking-style defenses that are highly productive in applying pressure on the opposing quarterback, with the ability to stop the run on first down, good production on third-and-long and a focus on forcing a lot of turnovers. Offensively they control the line of scrimmage, execute efficiently on third down and in the red zone, and are extremely balanced in the pass-vs.-run categories. Plus, they like boast quarterbacks who are in total control of every situation.
Jan. 25: Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile
Former college seniors gather in Alabama and spend a week being coached by NFL staffers. These individuals truly get a taste of what meetings and practices are like, spend time with all 32 NFL teams’ personnel departments and showcase their talents in front of NFL coaches and scouts during some very intense practices all week. It all culminates with a game featuring some of the top talent in the 2014 NFL draft.
Feb. 2: Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium
The most-watched sporting event around attracts a breathtaking global audience. The weather and traffic could have a huge impact on the week long Super Bowl festivities.
Feb. 19-25: Combine Timing and Testing at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
More than 330 NFL prospects descend on Indianapolis for medical testing, interviews, workouts, psychological testing and much more. This is also the site for the NFL yearly convention, where members of the league office, club owners, coaches and front-office personnel (including scouts), camp out for a week of meetings and social events.
March 11: 2014 League Year and Free-Agency Period Begins at 4 p.m. EST
This is the first stage for teams to begin building their rosters and filling hot spots through free agency.