With Super Bowl LVI behind us and the NFL’s 2021 season therefore in the books, all of its 32 teams are now officially in offseason mode. For the New England Patriots, who finished with a 10-7 record and first-round playoff exit, it will be an interesting one: free agents need to be re-signed, holes in all three phases addressed, and the process of building around quarterback Mac Jones continued.
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. Let’s set the 2022 offseason calendar for the Patriots.
- February 22: Franchise/Transition player designation period begins.
The franchise and transition numbers cannot be finalized before the salary cap is official. The expectation, however, is that it will be set at $208.2 million. With New England close to that number — the team currently has $4.9 million in cap space, according to Miguel Benzan — using the tag on a free agent-to-be will not be easy but it may just be necessary: number one cornerback J.C. Jackson is a worthy candidate to receive the franchise tag this year.
- March 1-7: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis IN.
After getting canceled last year due to Covid-19, the Scouting Combine will take place again in 2022. The event, which will feature more than 300 players hoping to get drafted later this year, will once again be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
- March 8: Prior to 4 p.m., New York time, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition players.
As mentioned above, the franchise designation window could be quite relevant for the Patriots and their free agency planning this year. The team last used the tag in 2020 to keep guard Joe Thuney from hitting the open market; it might just do the same with J.C. Jackson this year.
- March 14-16: 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 2021 player contracts at 4 p.m., New York time, on March 16.
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. 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 16: The 2022 league year and free agency period begin at 4 p.m., New York time.
Once the clock strikes 4 p.m. on March 16, free agency officially opens and teams have to be under the salary cap projected at $208.2 million. The Patriots have numerous players headed for free agency, including long-time cornerstones such as the aforementioned J.C. Jackson as well as four team captains: safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, special teamer Matthew Slater, and running back James White. Starting offensive linemen Trent Brown and Ted Karras are also headed for the open market.
- March 16: Prior to 4 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2022 on all players who have option clauses in their 2021 contracts.
While the Patriots have no option clauses in their contracts for 2022, the 4 p.m. deadline is relevant for the safety Devin McCourty: his contract, which runs through 2024, will void that day. This means that he will become a free agent if not re-signed at that point.
- March 16: Prior to 4 p.m., 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 three players qualifying as restricted free agents this year: wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, and fullback Jakob Johnson. While Meyers and Johnson are realistic candidates to receive one of the three tender offers, Olszewski’s status remains to be seen.
- March 16: Prior to 4 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2021 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.
The Patriots do not have any exclusive-rights free agents this season. While some outlets have listed Terez Hall as one, his contract tolled into 2022 after he spent all of last season on the physically unable to perform list.
- April 4: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2021 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.
The Patriots do not qualify, but their former offensive coordinator will start his 2022 preparation ahead of New England and most other clubs: Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders will kick off their offseason workout program on April 4.
- April 18: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.
With Bill Belichick set to return for a 23rd season as New England’s head coach, his team is scheduled to start its offseason workout program that day.
- April 22: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
As noted above, three players fall in this category. Unless others teams sign them to an offer sheet the Patriots do not match, though, at least two of them — Jakobi Meyers and Jakob Johnson — should be expected back in New England.
- April 27: Deadline to time, test, and interview draft-eligible players.
The eve of the 2022 draft is also when teams have their last chance to take a close look at prospects. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, each team was allowed to officially invite up to 30 players to its facility. The expectation is that those rules will be in effect for 2022 as well, but
- April 28-30: 2022 NFL Draft, Las Vegas NV.
Regardless of the Coronavirus pandemic, the expectation is that the draft will look more like last year’s than the virtual one conducted in 2019. The Patriots, of course, will have a new look in their front office after the departure of director of player personnel Dave Ziegler last month; former college scouting director Matt Groh has since taken over the vacant position.
- May 2: Deadline for clubs to exercise Fifth-Year Option for players selected in the first round of the 2019 draft.
New England selected wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 draft, and it seems highly unlikely that he will be brought back for a fifth year. Appearing in 35 games, Harry has caught only 59 passes for 619 yards and four touchdowns so far in his career.