With Super Bowl 55 firmly in the rear-view mirror and the 2020 NFL season therefore now wrapped up, all teams in the league are officially in offseason mode. For the New England Patriots, who finished with a 7-9 record and out of the playoff picture, it will obviously be a big one: they need to fill holes all over the roster and also find a long-time solution at the quarterback position.
We do not know what the coming weeks and months will bring for the organization, but we can tell when the major developments are schedule to take place. With that in mind, let’s set the 2021 offseason calendar for the Patriots.
- February 23: Franchise/Transition player designation period begins.
The franchise and transition numbers cannot be finalized before the salary cap is set — the latest estimates have it at around $180-$181 million —but it will likely not matter for New England. Kicker Nick Folk appears to be the only realistic candidate to get tagged, and even his odds are comparatively small.
- March 1: Deadline for eligible college football players to notify the NFL Player Personnel department of their intent to forgo the 2021 NFL Draft and return to college.
Most players have already declared for the draft anyway, and any returns to college will likely not impact New England’s draft board too much. This date is therefore more a formality than anything else.
- March 9: Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition players.
As mentioned above, the franchise designation window will likely not have much of an impact on the Patriots this year. While the team did use the tag last year to keep guard Joe Thuney from entering the open market, such a move should not be expected in 2021.
- March 15-17: Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2020 player contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 17.
The so-called legal tampering window will be open in the two days before the start of free agency. While deals cannot officially be signed at this point, the basic framework of contracts can already be discussed. Of course, there has always been some wiggle room teams were able to exploit. Former Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown agreeing to a contract within nine minutes of the window opening back in 2019 is a good example for how the tampering rules are treated in the NFL.
- March 17: The 2021 league year and free agency period begin at 4 pm, New York time.
Once the clock strikes 4 pm on March 17, free agency officially opens and teams have to be under the yet-to-be-set salary cap. The Patriots have numerous players headed for free agency, including long-time cornerstones such as offensive linemen David Andrews and Joe Thuney, running back James White, defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, and cornerback Jason McCourty. Also on that list is New England’s starting quarterback of the 2020 season, Cam Newton.
- March 17: Prior to 4 pm, New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2021 on all players who have option clauses in their 2020 contracts.
The Patriots have no option clauses in their contracts for 2021. All of their players will either enter free agency or the 2021 league year in normal fashion.
- March 17: Prior to 4 pm, New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.
New England has one player qualifying as a restricted free agent this year: cornerback J.C. Jackson is a prime candidate to be signed to either a first- or second-round tender sheet.
- March 17: Prior to 4 pm, New York time, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2020 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.
New England has two players entering exclusive-rights free agency: fullback Jakob Johnson and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo. While Adeboyejo’s future is in question after he failed to contribute in his first two seasons as a Patriot, all but Johnson returning in 2021 would be a surprise.
- April 5: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2020 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.
The Patriots do not qualify, but one of their division rivals has hired a new head coach this offseason: the New York Jets and Robert Saleh will start their offseason workouts ahead of New England and other teams with returning coaches.
- April 19: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.
With Bill Belichick set to return for a 22nd season as New England’s head coach, his team is scheduled to start its offseason workout program that day.
- April 28: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
As noted above, one player falls in this category. Unless another team signs him to an offer sheet the Patriots do not match, Jackson should be expected back in New England.
- April 29-May 1: 2021 NFL Draft, Cleveland, Ohio
How the draft will be conducted this year remains to be seen, but it is likely to take place on the scheduled date regardless of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Patriots, of course, will have a new look in their front office after the departure of director of player personnel Nick Caserio last month.
- May 3: Deadline for clubs to exercise Fifth-Year Option for players selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
New England selected two players in Round One back in 2018, and the team will have to make a decision about their future soon. While Isaiah Wynn is a realistic candidate to see the option get picked up, Sony Michel will likely be headed towards free agency after the fourth season of his rookie pact.