Your NFL Schedule Guide

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When the confetti falls as the play clock hits 00:00 at the conclusion of the Super Bowl, you might think to yourself, “No more football until September!”  However, that could not be further from the truth – the NFL is a year-round business, and thanks to advances in technology and the availability of real-time media coverage, you can stay up-to-date on NFL happenings any time.

Here’s an overview of the NFL year, which begins anew after the last team standing hoists the Lombardi trophy in February:

February through March:

          Clubs may designate their franchise or transition players, as well as begin contract negotiations with the agents of players whose contracts are due to expire at the conclusion of the league calendar year (beginning of March).  However, contracts cannot be signed until the day in March in which the new league calendar year officially begins.  It is also by this date that clubs must decide if they are going to pick up additional years for players whose contracts contain clauses to extend their current deals.  Clubs must also be under the salary cap at the beginning of the new league year (only the 51 players with the highest yearly salaries count towards the cap).  

          At the start of the new league calendar year, teams may carry up to 90 players on their roster. 

          Free agency also begins when the new league calendar year does.  This is typically when you will see headlines shouting: “[Player name] signs [x # of years] contract with [team name] for [“$” followed by a number and the word “million”].”

          The NFL Scouting Combine and Regional Combines take place.  This is a chance for college and former college students hoping to be signed by a team in the coming year to perform drills for coaches and team scouts. 

          Owners meetings take place.  This is where all the rich guys that own an NFL team get together in a fancy hotel to discuss potential rule changes, legal matters, and how to make even more profits from their teams. 


          Teams may begin their off-season workout programs.  Teams that have hired a new head coach may begin this work two weeks prior to the rest of the teams.

          This is typically the month in which the NFL draft takes place, although the NFL has moved this back as late as May due to scheduling conflicts and to take advantage of extending media coverage.  The draft is where team select college players to bring young talent to their rosters.  The order in which teams select players in the draft is determined by the team’s standing from the prior year (i.e. the team with the worst record gets to pick first, the team that won the Super Bowl gets to pick last). 

May through June:

          Rookies participate in rookie mini-camps.  This is their time to become acclimated with the team, learn the playbook, and for coaches to observe the new players.


          Training camps open!  Rookies and first-year players may report up to seven days prior to veteran players.  Veterans cannot attend training camp no earlier than fifteen days prior to the club’s first scheduled preseason game, or July 15th, whichever is later.  Rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement dictate how often and the types of practices teams can conduct.


          Training camp continues and preseason games begin.  This time is for players to continue to practice, as well as to be evaluated by coaches to determine who will make the final roster.

          Roster cuts begin.  The initial cut for team is from 90 players to 75.  The final cut is from 75 players to 53.  Each team is also allowed to keep eight players on a practice squad. 

September through January:

          Football games kick off in September.  The regular NFL season is 17 weeks long.  Each team plays 16 games, and has a bye week for rest.

January through February:

          Play-off football!  A pool of twelve play-off teams is whittled down to two that participate in the Super Bowl, where the World Champions are crowned.


Not familiar with some of the terms listed in the NFL schedule, such as franchise tag, salary cap or Collective Bargaining Agreement?  Check out our glossary! Not sure how it’s determined which teams make the play-offs or what the Combine involves?  No worries, we’ll be posting more about the game and all our knowledge about the league and the game will be posted under the “Football Guide” menu on the top of the page.

– Val


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