The 2020 NFL season ended with the increasingly familiar sight of Tom Brady celebrating another Super Bowl win – a record-extending seventh.
It capped one of the strangest and most testing of seasons, but we now already turn our attention to the key dates in the 2021 NFL calendar.
Covid-19 still represents a clear and present danger to player safety despite a vaccination rollout, and the NFL has made the decision to cancel this year’s Scouting Combine, which hosts the most promising college prospects entering the draft.
But, there’s still plenty of important dates in the NFL offseason calendar for you to keep track of…
Free Agency begins
March 17: The 2021 league year and free agency period begins. And it looks set to be an unprecedented year of big-money moves, particularly at the quarterback position.
There is uncertainty surrounding the futures of a number of quarterbacks including, most notably, Deshaun Watson, who wants out of the Houston Texans.
A trade has already been agreed for Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford to head to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for for Jared Goff, two future first-round draft picks and a third-round pick. And there is the expectation that Watson – a three-time Pro Bowler and the league’s passing yards leader in 2020 – will command an even bigger bounty than that.
Will Watson be the first domino to fall in the offseason quarterback carousel? Or will it be one of Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles), Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) or Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers), all of whom are rumoured to be possible movers.
2021 NFL Draft
April 29 – May 1: The biggest date in the offseason calendar. The draft has become big business in the US, both the event itself and the televised coverage of it – with even the Covid-19 outbreak unable to disrupt it in 2020, as the NFL took the draft virtual!
It was widely regarded as a huge success as we saw a glimpse into the likes of Bill Belichick’s ‘war room’ over Zoom as all 32 teams made their picks from home. But, this year, the plan currently is for the draft to go back to normal – or close to it – with Cleveland currently set to play host to the three-day event.
The draft sees the team with the worst record in the NFL have the right to pick first and, therefore, select the best prospect coming out of college football. That honour this time out goes to the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars, with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence considered to be the consensus No 1 overall pick.
NFL Training Camps
Mid July: This is where the real hard work starts. Provided official organised training camps take place in 2021.
Training camp is divided into several different components. The first is scrimmages. These are practice games where teams run nearly full games’ worth of plays. Sometimes, two practice sessions are held on the same day, a concept referred to as two-a-days, while other parts of training camp include exercise drills, meetings with coaches and other players at one’s position, weight training, and preseason games.
Hall of Fame Game
August 5: The traditional curtain-raiser to four weeks of preseason, held each year in Canton, Ohio, was another aspect of the NFL offseason to fall foul of the coronavirus in 2020.
The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers were originally scheduled to play each other last year and, as a result, have been pencilled in for 2021’s fixture, which is currently scheduled to go ahead as planned.
As well as the action on the field, there’s the celebrations surrounding the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies for the class of 2021 which includes legendary Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
2021 Regular Season starts
September 9: Mark your calendars as the NFL returns! And, as is normal tradition, the Super Bowl winner will host the annual Thursday night kick-off, so we know already that opening night will be in Tampa Bay, following their stunning 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. But who will they play?
While the full fixture list (including dates) for the 2021 season has yet to be released, we do already know who each team is slated to play home and away. That means the Buccaneers will line up for the first game of their Super Bowl defence against one of the following:
Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, or Miami Dolphins.
Sky Sports coverage of the NFL will continue through the off-season as we track the player moves and the storylines in the build-up to the 2021 season – and we will have all three days of the NFL Draft covered in April.
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