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NFL announces key dates for the 2021 season, including trade deadline

Related: Patriots to hold joint practices with Eagles in mid-August

New England Patriots Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

With the first training camp practices a mere two weeks away, the NFL has started to lay out a road map for the coming weeks and months. On Wednesday, the league released its key dates for the 2021 season all the way up to next year’s draft.

So, without further ado, let’s dig into the most important dates from a New England Patriots perspective.

July

  • July 15: Franchise player signing deadline

Players who were given the franchise tag ahead of this year’s free agency either have to sign new contracts by 4 pm or play the 2021 season under the tag. As opposed to last year, when guard Joe Thuney was tagged, the Patriots did not use it to keep one of their free agents from the open market this spring.

  • Mid-July: Beginning of training camp

The league did not define a clear starting day for this year’s camps, but it did set some parameters. For example, teams are allowed to open their camp for rookie players seven days before the earliest permissible reporting date for veterans. In New England’s case, that day would be July 20 given that the team will hold its first practice on July 28 and will see veterans arrive at Gillette Stadium one day earlier.

August

  • August 10: Trade deadline for undrafted rookie players

The Patriots have two undrafted rookies at this point in time, Day 2 selections Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins. Both are expected to sign their respective deals in the coming days, but if, for some reason, they would be without a contract by August 10, New England would no longer be able to trade his rights to a different team until next year’s draft.

  • August 17: Roster cuts from 90 to 85

We have already reported that cutdowns will look different this year, with the first wave coming after the first preseason weekend. The Patriots will play their first preseason game agains the Washington Football Team on August 12 and will need to trim their roster from 90 to 85 five day later.

  • August 24: Roster cuts from 85 to 80

Five days after their second preseason contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots will hold their second round of cuts to get the roster down to 80.

  • August 31: Roster cuts from 80 to 53

The final wave of cuts will happen on August 31. At that point, two days after the preseason finale at the New York Giants, the Patriots will part ways with 27 of their players. As on the previous two days they can do so either by waiving them, or by moving them to an injury-based reserve list.

September

  • September 1: Practice squad establishment

The first practice squad for the 2021 season can be built starting that day. However, it remains to be seen how the practice squad will look like this year after the league increased sizes to 16 in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • September 1: Injured reserve return window opens

Players sent to injured reserve or the reserve/non-football injury list ahead of 4 pm on September 1 will not be eligible to return during the 2021 season. Those sent there afterwards, however, can be brought back. The NFL itself acknowledged that the details of those returns will have yet to be determined. Last year, with Covid-19 as a determining factor, players were allowed to be brought back after three missed weeks.

  • September 9/12/13: Opening day

The 2021 regular season will be opened with the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys on September 9. Three days later, the Patriots will welcome the Miami Dolphins to Gillette Stadium for the first of their 17 contests.

  • September 28: Waiver wire claiming priority updated

After the third weekend of regular season action, the waiver claiming priority will be based on the inverse order of standings. Up until that point, this year’s draft order will be the determining factor. The Patriots are No. 15 on that list.

October

  • Mid-October/October 18: PUP/NFI players can start practicing again

No clear date has been set by the NFL, but before a team’s seventh regular season game players on the physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists are eligible to return to practice again. In the Patriots’ case that date is October 18.

November

  • November 2: Trade deadline

At 4 pm on November 2 all trading for the 2021 season will stop. The Patriots have traditionally been active leading up to the trade deadline, making one move last year: they acquired wide receiver Isaiah Ford from the Dolphins (only to release him again a short time later).

  • November 16: In-season signing deadline

If a club has any unsigned franchise players, restricted free agents or draft picks by that point, they better sign them prior to 4 pm: all of these players will be ineligible to play during the 2021 season if still not under contract at that point. As noted above, two Patriots draft picks are still unsigned at this point. The team’s lone restricted free agent, J.C. Jackson, already signed his tender in April.

January

  • January 8/9: Regular season finale

The Patriots will play their final regular season game on January 9 against the Dolphins. Ideally, the contest will carry more meaning than last year’s when the team was playing for either a 7-9 or a 6-10 record. Obviously, those records are no longer possible with the NFL having moved to a 17-game format this year.

  • January 10: Contract extension window for 2019 draft picks opens

The Patriots have selected 10 players in the 2019 draft, but only one of them appear to be realistic candidates to receive a contract extension as early as next January — at least at this point in time: punter Jake Bailey and, to a lesser degree, running back Damien Harris.

  • January 10: Fifth-year option window for 2019 first-round draft picks opens

The Patriots selected wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 draft, but he does not appear to be a candidate for the fifth-year option. In fact, he has been the subject of trade rumors for quite some time now.

February

  • February 3: East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas

The East-West Shrine Bowl was canceled earlier this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but its next version is already scheduled for early February. Patriots scouts will be present, even in case the team is preparing for the Super Bowl at that point.

New England has never shied away from investing in Senior Bowl players and chances are at least one of their 2022 draft choices will perform at the game as well. As is the case with the East-West Shrine Bowl two days earlier, the Patriots will be present even if their coaches are preparing to work in the Super Bowl.

  • February 13: Super Bowl LVI

The Super Bowl will be played in Los Angeles this year, and one week later than in years past due to the move to the 17-game regular season. Based on their 7-9 campaign last year, the Patriots are not among the favorites to reach the game. That said, stranger things have happened in the NFL so nothing can be ruled out.

March

  • March 1-7: Scouting Combine in Indianapolis

The Combine was canceled last year, but just like the East-West Shrine Bowl is expected to resume in 2022. There is a chance, however, that it will be the final one in Indianapolis for quite some time: the league is apparently looking into making the Combine a traveling event like the draft.

  • March 8: Franchise/transition player deadline

If the Patriots want to keep one of their 2022 free agents from hitting the open market, they will have to take them by 4 pm on March 8. There are plenty of potential candidates currently under contract.

  • March 14-16: Legal tampering period

Leading up to free agency, players and soon-to-be free agents can already enter contract negotiations and in principle agree to deals. Nothing can be signed just yet, but most major moves will be reported during that three-day window.

  • March 16: Start of the 2022 league year and free agency

The 2021 league year ends on March 16 3:59:59 pm; one second later we are on to 2022 and the official start of free agency. The trading window also re-opens after being closed on November 2.

April

  • April 4/18: Start of the offseason workout program

With Bill Belichick expected to be back with the Patriots next year as well, the club will open its offseason workout program next spring on April 18.

What will happen during the 2022 NFL Draft remains to be seen, but we already know it will take place in late April in Las Vegas.