As we get into the thick of the NFL offseason, here is a reminder of some of the prominent dates on the upcoming calendar.
Last Wednesday (Feb 15) was the first day that teams were allowed to use the franchise tag on a specific player. Each club is only allotted one tag per year, which can be used as either an exclusive or non-exclusive tag. In layman’s terms, a franchise tag means that a team gets one-year control of the tagged player and will have to pay him among the elite at his position.
Below is a list of the remainder of important dates still to come this offseason.
February 28-March 6: Combine Timing and Testing, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.
March 1: Prior to 9pm (GMT), deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.
March 7-9: During the period beginning at 12 noon, New York time, on March 7th and ending at 08:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10th, 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 2016 player contracts at 9pm (GMT) on March 9. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 9pm (GMT) on March 9.
During the above two-day negotiating period, no direct contact is permitted between a prospective unrestricted free agent and any employee or representative of a club, other than the player’s current club.
March 9: The 2017 League Year and Free Agency period begin at 9pm (GMT).
The first day of the 2017 League Year will end at 4:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10. Clubs will receive a personnel notice that will include all transactions submitted to the League office during the period between 9pm (GMT) and 4:59:59 a.m. (GMT) on March 10.
March 9: Trading period for 2017 begins at 9pm (GMT) after expiration of all 2016 contracts.
March 26-29: Annual League Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona.
April 3: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2016 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.
April 17: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.
April 21: Deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign Offer Sheets.
April 26: Deadline for prior club to exercise Right of First Refusal to Restricted Free Agents.
April 27-29: NFL Draft (Philadelphia). The NFL draft was last held in Philadelphia in 1961, and the first ever NFL draft was held in Philadelphia in 1936.
We welcome Matthew Phillips from 40 Yards Scouting to our writing team.
40 Yards Scouting is Europe’s only scouting guide to the NFL Draft.
Matthew will be telling you everything you need to know about this year’s draft class in the weeks building up to the NFL Draft.
Here’s his introduction to what it’s all about:
While the inevitable curtain is drawn upon the 2016/17 NFL season, there are hundreds of young, amateur football talents across the US whose futures hang in the balance. Ahead of the 1st day of the NFL Draft on Thursday April 27th, these young men are now entering the final and most important chapter of their fledgling careers.
Football fans across the world would be forgiven for experiencing the familiar post-SuperBowl withdrawal symptoms, but there is more than enough intrigue and drama in store for the coming weeks and months. The firework smoke may be clearing in Houston, but identifying the next generation of talent to bring the the entertainment we all know and love on Sundays, is about to take on a greater intensity.
Events such as the East West Shrine, the Senior Bowl, and the NFLPA weeks, where NFL scouts are able to view, dissect, and evaluate draft-eligible talent on the practice field in one-on-one and team oriented drills, are now in the in the rear-view mirror. Most of the college leavers will now headed back to their team facilities, but a fortunate few will be investing their time (and accumulating significant debt) by attending specialist training centres such as IMG in Florida, Wellness of Georgia, and Tom Shaw in Orlando. Training centres like these are skilled in preparing athletes for the next hurdle in the road; the NFL Scouting Combine.
This week-long event, held within the confines of the Lucas Oil Stadium in the midwestern city of Indianapolis, is a 4-day interview for the 335 invitees. They will be prodded, poked, and tested in the minutest detail; all representing a significantly vital element in the NFL teams’ fact-finding before they can decide upon which talent get the ultimate investment.
The “Underwear Olympics”, as it has been affectionately regarded in recent years, opens its doors on the 28th February, and runs throughout the week to its conclusion on the 6th March. While “on-stage measurements” and “scale tipping”, all performed in less-than-modest attire before a predominantly male clipboard-clutching audience, may seem ridiculous, it remains a vitally important ingredient in the overall decision. As each franchise evaluates and specifies their next steps, this data could just represent a confirmation exercise, whereas data on some athletes could force scouts and General Managers back to their film rooms to question the hundreds of hours they’ve invested in their evaluations, looking to find what they have missed or watch game tape on someone for the very first time.
Those blessed with an invitation to the capital of Indiana will be taken through diagnostic x-rays, medical exams, and psychological tests before they even get the opportunity to be put through a gamut of timed on-field examinations, stations and skill drills. Back at the 2013 combine, a previously underrated nose tackle out of Memphis called Dontari Poe put his name on the lips of the scouts with athleticism never before seen of a 350lb powerhouse; Poe ended up being taken high in the first round shortly after. Just two years ago, Byron Jones was a newly graduated free safety, and a mid-round prospect; he emerged from the combine having broken the standing broad jump world record (12’ 3”), and recording an impressively quick 4.43 second forty-yard dash. That impressive day vaulted Jones into the 1st round of the ensuing draft, where he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 27th pick.
A fundamental and highly valued opportunity to meet and interview prospects at the combine is a hugely important, and in some cases is the first opportunity for a franchise to look behind the curtain, and discover the human being behind the athlete. Inevitably, there will be prospects who will revolutionise their final grade by demonstrating leadership, maturity, drive, and commitment. As you would imagine, each of the thirty-two teams are looking to identify wholly different character traits to fit their distinct locker room identities. While some will shine as athletes, and others as people, there will also be some who disappoint or rule themselves out due to their character. As we currently stand, you cannot fail to be excited as to what the week long event will bring and the young men who will be thrust towards the pinnacle of their trade.
However, it is only a fraction of the college talent that gets accommodated in Indianapolis, so it is a variety of ‘regional’ combines that also provide data for the evaluation of players. These are held at designated NFL facilities across the country, from Houston in the South, to Minnesota in the North, and these come hot on the heels of the national televised event. These smaller events are not to be ignored – currently there are 76 former attendees of regional combines residing on NFL rosters.
Once the teams across the NFL begin to cement their draft boards, they will then fine-tune their process by inviting key players for private visits at their own team facilities. By rules set by the league, these can only last a single day, and commonly consist of both written tests, interviews and on-field workout & drills, with each franchise allotted a maximum of thirty. In addition to this though, teams can invite local college leavers from within their ‘contiguous suburbs’ to workout at their facilities; an avenue in which player evaluation does not count towards the thirty-visit limit. Many franchises will hold a local ‘Pro Day’, which represents another, well travelled, and successful route for talent to enter the league. Interestingly, this route also includes prospects who were born and raised locally, but who might not have attended an in-state seat of learning. In most cases, such visits come from college programs most local to the NFL team’s location.
On the other side of things, Colleges throughout the country will also be holding their very own, annual ‘Pro Days’. These events usually include on-field drills and player meetings, directed and run by the institutions themselves on school facilities. For quarterbacks, these events are not particularly important as they are so heavily scripted that they often fail to move the player out of his comfort zone, but for the remainder of positional groups, on-field workouts can be a key resource for scouts, and yet another valuable opportunity to meet and get to know the prospects. As much as anything, they are vitally important to the colleges themselves, representing an ‘open-day’ opportunity to celebrate their success, and to illustrate the end-product of their program; every draft prospect, irrespective of their draft grade, is vital in recruiting future stars from high schools into the process, and impressing parents alike.
At the beginning of April, NFL organisations will recall and bring together their vast network of area scouts from all corners of the country, and spend up to two weeks in the ‘war room’, headed by the General Manager and Director of Player Personnel. The goal is to arrive at a consensus draft board, and enact the myriad of draft day scenarios that may unfold during the draft itself and scheme accordingly, while marrying up their various grades. A well run and successful scouting operation will see the GM allow the area scouts to ‘present’ their favourite prospects, and in those best-run scouting networks and organisations, call upon on their first-hand experience to go ahead and select them from the middle rounds onwards. Where this takes place, there is no accident in witnessing the results play out, ensuring the continued, successful evolution of the franchise (identities of said teams will remain secret)!
For recently departed college football players, the mountain to climb has only just begun. However, this is the NFL and it is no longer seen as a six month league. Fascinated television audiences will be tuning in to the combine later this month, and the attention will intensify towards the three-day NFL Draft, where just 253 young athletes will hear their name announced in Philadelphia.
Don’t look away now, the 2017/18 NFL season is only just beginning. Take a breath and embrace the excitement that’s within touching distance….. which of these prospects will emerge in 2017?
For news and updates ahead of the NFL Draft head over to ukdraftguide.com
April 1st sees our 4th edition of Europe’s only scouting guide to the 2017 NFL Draft; every eligible draft prospect individually scouted. All proceeds go to our chosen charity, Muscular Dystrophy UK. For a look inside our books head to www.ukdraftguide.com/nfl-draft-guide/
Super Bowl XXV lives in football folklore for the Buffalo Bills’ kicker, Scott Norwood’s infamous field goal miss in the dying seconds of the game.
It was Buffalo’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance and Hall of Famer, Thurman Thomas, was set to become the game’s MVP. The score was 19-20 to the Giants when Norwood was given the seemingly simple task of kicking the ball between the sticks.
He missed and the rest, as they say, is history.
There’s a political buzz around the present Super Bowl (LI). President Trump, now two weeks in office, took the shine away from Media Night on Monday.
The last time politics dominated football’s biggest game was January 27, 1991. It was Super Bowl XXV; the Buffalo Bills vs New York Giants. It was the height of the Gulf War and the USA stood united in patriotism.
Joe Staysniak was a rookie offensive lineman playing for the Bills. In a recent interview with the 5thDownUK podcast he shared his memories of that game, “In Super Bowl XXV Desert Storm had (just) started up, so there was an enormous feeling of patriotism with the Bills wearing red, white and blue uniforms and the Giants had red, white and blue uniforms,” Staysniak recalled.
You can hear Joe Staysniak’s Super Bowl memories here:
“Whitney Houston singing the national anthem, it was the greatest rendition that people had ever seen and it was such an awesome game” he added.
Staysniak played in Super Bowl XXVI the following year, a game that the Bills lost to the Washington Redskins 37-24.
He acknowledged that the players felt that the game versus the Giants was more than just football, “you know, everything that was going on we were doing our own little part just as football players, because we knew the world was watching, to help the military folks that were overseas to bring them a little bit of something from back home.”
“I don’t think I will duplicate anything that feeling we had for that game. That and, in addition, the way we lost it was extremely painful.”
Following the San Diego Chargers’ decision to leave the city and move to LA the 5thDownUK podcast’s Anthony Wootton and Dave Oliver spoke to the team’s former Executive Vice President, Jim Steeg.
Jim stepped down from his role in 2010, but holds San Diego close to his heart. In an open and honest interview he confirmed that he will never attend Chargers game again, whilst they’re in LA.
The man known as Mr Super Bowl revolutionised football’s biggest game and turned it into the massive global event it is today. He shares some interesting stories, including the booking of Michael Jackson for the half-time show in 1993.
You can hear the full interview here:
Subscribe to the 5thDownUK podcast on iTunes, Acast and Stitcher.
This weekend sees the 2016 London NFL International Series draw to a close.
Despite a couple of dreary games the demand for regular season football remains high on this side of The Pond.
Alistair Kirkwood said he’s hopeful of unveiling the 2017 London schedule at around Thanksgiving
The last Wembley showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars saw the third-highest gate in the 2016 NFL season, so far. That for a game between two teams that had one win between them by the time their Week 4 showdown came to town.
A game between two poor teams attracted 84,000 fans. 75,000 turned up at Twickenham to cheer on two mediocre sides with 3&3 records. It doesn’t matter which teams turn up, the fans will come. Music to the Commissioner’s, Roger Goodell, ears with news of decreased prime time viewing figures making headlines back in the States.
For UK fans, our attentions now turns to who will come in 2017 and how many games will we get? We were hoping for four games this year, but didn’t. Could next year be the year that we get a quarter of a season’s worth of games in London?
Before fans started flocking towards Twickenham for that historical game on Sunday, 5thDownUK spent some time with NFL UK’s Managing Director, Alistair Kirkwood.
In an honest and open chat he talked about the difficulties in getting teams to come over and to confirm the stadia for the weeks those teams are available.
Will we get four games in 2017? “We’re currently talking about three or four games internally,” said Kirkwood. “Some of it will be based on stadium availability at both Twickenham and Wembley.”
“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant.”
He explained, “if you think that you get three or four teams who put their hands up and say they’re willing to put up a game, but then they say their conditions are they want a late bye week or an early bye week, or something else. Then you look at stadium availability amongst other things and then you go back to the teams to actually work out what works.”
So what Alistair is saying is that it’s a lot more difficult than people think. It’s like a complex algorithm, “then you’ve got a situation where you’re asking teams based on the opponents you desire”, he continued. “You will notice that we’ve had a couple of division games recently. They take up a heck of a lot to determine because until we played them there was a lot of nervousness.”
“So basically I don’t know.” It’s not quite the answer fans would be hoping for, but does he have a date for an announcement in mind? “The best guess is the end of November. I hope that I will know by the end of October for sure.”
With two stadia to play with the NFL now have options in London. There would be no way we’d be having four games at Wembley in 2017; it might even struggle to host three because of the venue’s commitments to soccer.
Alistair explained, “you have seen this year that Spurs are playing Champions League games at Wembley. Next year all their games will be there. Chelsea are being rumoured to be there as well. We don’t own our own stadium, we’re tenants and we go where there’s availability.”
“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant. There would have been considerable more work for us to get it ready. I can’t see a situation in the near future when we’ll have to play there.”
England has two World Cup qualifiers at Wembley during the 2017 NFL season on October 5 and November 11. That might rule out a Week 4 game there and will definitely prevent a Week 10 game from taking place at the home of English football.
The autumn internationals for England’s rugby union side take place throughout November, thus limiting access to Twickenham from Week 10 onwards.
The latest an NFL fixture has taken place in London is Week 10, so there’s every possibility of a game happening late in the season. But, that is the business end of the campaign which could make it more difficult to convince a team to give up a home game. The last bye weeks are in Week 11.
Options will increase in 2018 when Tottenham open their new stadium, designed to cater for the NFL. NFL UK will have three options with a commitment to at least two games at Wembley, two at Tottenham and one at Twickenham.
Fans wanting more than three games in 2017 might have to wait a year, but as Alistair Kirkwood said, “basically I don’t know.”
“Hardly anyone knows how complex it is,” said the NFL UK MD, “and how difficult it is to move things to get these games going.”
“If I was a betting man, and if I was allowed to bet as a league employee I would probably say that around Thanksgiving would be the most likely time (for an announcement).”
As the saying goes, everything comes to those who wait.
Eagles – When the Eagles traded away starting QB Sam Bradford, it looked like they were heading towards a transitional season to bed in rookie Carson Wentz. However, as they head towards the 2nd half of the season, they’re looking good for a post season slot, and have just thoroughly beaten the last remaining perfect team. That trade is not looking too shabby for the Eagles now!
Broncos – Amazingly there were a lot of people writing off the reigning champs at the start of the season. Many thought the handling of the Brock Osweiler situation in the summer would cost the Broncos a real chance at retaining their title, especially with the underwhelming battle for starting QB between Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. However, you need to be brave to question John Elway these days (as one fan on Twitter recently found out), while Siemian looks to be an able replacement for Peyton Manning. The Broncos have continued where they left off.
Cowboys – Another example of a team written off due to a QB situation. When Tony Romo shocked nobody with a serious injury in the pre-season, up stepped 3rd round draft pick Dak Prescott, an untested rookie who would surely stink the place up, right? Wrong – Prescott, aided by another rookie in Ezekiel Elliott, has blown the league away with some fearless play. The Cowboys sit atop a very competitive NFC East, and look to be powering their way to the post-season. Tony Rom-who?
Falcons – You have to go back to the days of Tony Gonzalez to find a decent Falcons team, yet there are a couple of guys who remain from that playoff-relevant roster – Matt Ryan & Julio Jones. Both have been on fire so far this season, aided by some well coached young talent. Dan Quinn, along with Kyle Shanahan, has made this side one of the most exciting offences in the league (an amazing turnaround from the weary final seasons under Mike Smith). Along with Ryan and Jones leading the league in passing and receiving, a fearsome ground game with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman has reignited this franchise.
Who is Surprising Down?
Jags – Everyone in the UK has been rooting for the Jags to finally turn the corner towards relevance. Ever since they took up their annual residency at Wembley, we’ve been witness to the slow rebuilding project under Gus Bradley and David Caldwell. The roster is littered with picks from around the top of the draft, but still the mediocrity continues. If Bradley and Coleman are to get this team back to competitiveness, it won’t be this season.
Bengals – For the first time in years, the Bengals might actually struggle to lose in the first game of the playoffs; they might struggle to make the playoffs entirely. The whole roster seems to be a bit banged up, but the bigger problem might be the annual decimation of their coaching staff. In recent years Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Hugh Jackman have all enhanced their CVs to get HC roles elsewhere, leading the Bengals to some sort of revolving door of coordinators. This season the Bengals are definitely missing the consistency on both sides of the ball that they’ve enjoyed in previous years.
Packers – It seems we’re 1 or 2 weeks away from Aaron Rodgers telling Packers fans and media to R-E-L-A-X. While they remain on the edge of playoff contention with a 4-2 record, again there are questions about Rodgers form (the fact that he sits behind the likes of Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill in passing yards this season is no joke). Most of the Packers problems comes from having a stagnant running game, with both Eddie Lacy and James Starks missing through injury. Until an answer is found on the ground, it looks as though Rodgers will continue to push the ball into difficult situations for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom have shown indifferent form and speed this season.
Panthers – If people were talking down the prospects of the Broncos, the same people were talking about a potential dynasty in Carolina. It’s been the complete opposite, as the Panthers defence has crumbled with the loss of Josh Norman as a lynchpin in the secondary. Cam Newton may have got favourite target Kelvin Benjamin back, but he looks a shadow of himself compared to the MVP run of 2015. It’s not easy to go from worst to 1st, as the Panthers did over a couple of seasons following the selection of Newton in 2011, but the Panthers are proving that the fall from 1st to worst can be an awful lot quicker.
Week 5 is in the books, and 6 backup QBs were earning their money this weekend.
Despite the absence of their highest profile player, which teams have kept their season on track?
Derek Anderson for the Panthers
Anderson might not have expected to start in Monday Night Football until the surprise early announcement that reigning MVP Cam Newton wouldn’t progress out of the concussion protocol in time. Anderson is one of the better backups in the league, but consistently made poor decisions throughout an ugly home loss to the Buccs. The Panthers will hope to have Newton back next week, but their season is already on the rails following a shocking 1-4 record.
Charlie Whitehurst for the Browns
Clipboard Jesus seems to have a career that will never end, but his time in Cleveland might be over after just 1 game. Whitehurst was only brought into the building a week ago, with the Browns already having RGIII, Josh McCown and Cody Kessler struck down in the opening 4 weeks, but he was forced to look into the abyss, as Tom Brady returned to guide the Patriots to an easy win. Charlie’s performance will be instantly forgotten in a game no-one expected them to win, while one of McCown or Kessler will surely be back on the field in week 6. But with a 0-5 record, who is starting under centre is just one of the Browns many problems.
Brian Hoyer for the Bears
The Bears looked like a rudderless ship under Jay Cutler in the opening games of the season, but while they suffered another defeat, Hoyer (with a little help of surprise breakout RB Jordan Howard) is reinforcing his reputation as a strong backup / low level starter. Hoyer kept his side competitive through Week 5, albeit against an equally average Colts side. The Bears seem to finally be looking at life beyond Jay Cutler, but Hoyer isn’t going to kill them while on the field, and it seems he might keep the job for a longer spell despite the imminent return of #6.
Drew Stanton for the Cardinals
Stanton has not been a lucky charm for the Cardinals, but he managed to get the job done in Week 5. Despite only throwing for a measly 124 yards, he managed to lean on the skills of the evergreen Larry Fitzgerald, and the boisterous running of David Johnson to get the Cards a priceless division win over San Francisco. I’m not sure even the Cards think he can repeat the act, and they’ll be desperate for a healthy Carson Palmer this week.
Paxton Lynch for the Broncos
The Broncos aren’t just the reigning SuperBowl champs, they’ve been the best team in the league for over a year, and so far this season the unlikely starter Trevor Siemian has been the surprise success story. Ultimately the long term job should end up in the hands of 1st round pick Paxton Lynch, but he looked nervous and unprepared against the high flying Falcons. With Siemian due to return, expect things to get back to normal in Denver, but this preview of the future already has some concerns.
Dak Prescott for the Cowboys
Some might have already forgotten that Prescott is a backup – the rookie has started the season like a seasoned pro, and Cowboy fans are already talking about the next superstar QB/RB combo in fellow rookies Prescott and Elliott. But on the sidelines there is a big grinning reminder of who really sits at the top of the depth chart – Tony Romo is sure to return when finally healthy, but this might be his last year to try and win something with the Cowboys – Prescott is building a glowing resume, and won’t be holding the clipboard for long.
While Sundays AFC South divisional game between the Colts and the Jags wasn’t the best exhibition of clinical Quarterback play, it proved a fantastic opening to the 2016 International Series!!
The NFL had Wembley rocking once again, as a full house got behind their adopted Jags to help them to a narrow victory. Just like in last years fixture, the Jags had to weather a late comeback, but ultimately a 4th quarter Allen Hurns TD was enough to get that vital 1st win, making the flight home a little more comfortable for Blake Bortles and Gus Bradley.
Despite the predictable late rally, Andrew Luck had a day to forget, and the game turned on a 4th & 1 decision to toss the ball to Dwayne Allen rather than tucking and running himself.
Blake Bortles had a hot and cold afternoon in the October sun; in the 1st half he seemed to have problems getting the ball released, but with Allen Robinson in fine form, he did enough to get an early lead. In the second half he improved, and despite one bizarre play which he threw and caught himself, he was able to find the game winning play to Hurns, and keep the Jags alive in the AFC South.
The 5th Down’s own fearsome threesome we’re working hard on Sunday, and recorded a special show from the bowels of Wembley Stadium. KB, Dubs and Dave caught all the reaction from the Colts vs Jags game; grabbing interviews with Jalen Ramsey and Paul Posluszny, along with lots of UK fans. There’s also an exclusive tour from inside the Colts’ tunnel and a special interview with Team GB linebacker Niall Scott-Grant.
This weeks pod is a special show dedicated to the first International Series game of 2016. KB & Dubs preview the Colts vs Jags game at Wembley with interviews from both camps. Denard Robinson & Dwayne Allen talk up their trips to London. There’s an exclusive interview with former England rugby union world cup-winning captain Martin Johnson and a look back at Week 14 in the CFL.