(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Super Bowl 51 is behind us, the race for Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis begins now, during the NFL offseason – which technically began for the Buffalo Bills at the conclusion of Week 17.

The Bills have more than 20 unrestricted free agents that will hit the open market next month, on top of an assortment of restricted free agents they’ll need to decide whether or not to tender. One player will likely receive the team’s franchise tag – the most popular bet at this point is CB Stephon Gilmore – and there’s also a big choice to make regarding an option in quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s contract.

All these decisions have deadlines, so here’s an overview of the important dates to keep in mind during the NFL offseason:

February 15: The first day teams can designate a franchise or transition tag on players.

For those that don’t know, the franchise tag is a one-year contract that pays the player an average of the top five salaries at that position and gives the team until July to work out a long-term deal, otherwise the player must play out the next season on tag contract. The transition tag pays the player an average of the top ten salaries at that position and gives the team the right of first refusal, meaning the player can still negotiate with other teams but his original team has the opportunity to match any opposing offers.

Feb. 28-March 6: NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ind.

March 1: The final day teams can designate the franchise/transition tag on players. Offers must be submitted by 4 p.m. EST.

March 7: “Legal tampering” begins at 4 p.m. EST, allowing teams to initiate contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents to be, however a new contract cannot be “executed” until the start of the new league year on March 9.

March 9: Once the clock strikes 4 p.m. EST, the 2017 league year officially begins. A lot happens on this day…

  • Prior to 4:00 p.m. EST, clubs must exercise options for 2017 on all players who have option clauses in their 2016 contracts.
  • Prior to 4:00 p.m. EST, teams must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.
  • Prior to 4:00 p.m. EST, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2016 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit. The Bills don’t have any players from their 53-man roster in this category.

4:00 p.m. EST:  The 2017 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m. EST

  • All 2016 player contracts will expire.
  • Trading period for 2017 begins after expiration of all 2016 contracts.
  • The rule of 51 takes effect. Each team can now build their rosters to 90 players and only the top 51 contracts count against the salary cap. Clubs must be under the 2017 salary cap (projected between $166-170 million).

11:59:59 p.m. EST:  The first day of the 2017 league year will end and teams will receive a personnel notice that will include all transactions submitted to the league office during the period between 4:00 p.m., New York time, and 11:59:59 p.m.




March 11: While most team’s are required to pick up an options by 4 p.m. on March 9, the rhetoric in Tyrod Taylor’s contract gives the Bills until the third day of the new league year to decide whether or not to exercise his option. Taylor must be able to pass a physical by this day. Should they choose to pick up the option, the entire $15.5 million bonus and $12 million base salary for 2017 become fully guaranteed to the seven-year veteran, as would an additional $3.25 million of his 2018 salary. That $30.75 million figure is deceiving, as it presents the total amount of money Taylor is guaranteed at the time, but keep in mind that option bonus is spread out over the life of the contract. Taylor’s actual cap hit for 2017 is $15,913,334.


March 26-29: Annual League Meeting in Phoenix.

April 3: Clubs with new head coaches, like the Bills, can begin their offseason workout programs.

April 17: Clubs with returning head coaches can begin heir offseason workout programs.

April 27-29: 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia, PA.

May 5-8: Teams may elect to hold their one three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.

or May 12-15: Teams may elect to hold their one three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.

June 2: For any player removed from the club’s roster or whose contract is assigned via waivers or trade on or after June 2, any unamortized signing bonus amounts for future years will be included fully in Team Salary at the start of the 2018 League Year.

June: Bills will hold mandatory minicamp

July 15: 4:00 p.m. EST is the deadline for any club that designated a franchise tag to sign said player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a oneyear contract with his prior club for the 2017 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

July 22: Signing period ends for transition players with outstanding tenders. After this date and until 4:00 p.m. EST, on the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, prior club has exclusive negotiating rights.