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A 2017 Offseason Calendar for the New Orleans Saints

Is the draft here yet? Here’s the important dates across the league to remember for the next several months.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL offseason arrived painfully early for New Orleans Saints fans, so it’s time to look ahead. Mark your calendars with these important dates in the NFL offseason calendar:

January 2: Futures Contracts and 2014 Draft Pick Extensions

As of this past Monday, the Saints and other NFL teams can begin extending reserves/futures contracts to former practice squad members and guys off the street. This is an understated area of roster-building that the Saints have used before: fan-favorites Tim Hightower and Willie Snead IV got their starts in New Orleans off of these limited reserves/futures contracts. Here’s the current list of players the Saints have signed for 2017:

  • DE Royce LaFrance (Tulane)
  • DT Ashaad Mabry (Texas-San Antonio)
  • DT Justin Zimmer (Ferris State)
  • OG John Fullington (Washington State)
  • QB Garrett Grayson (Colorado State)
  • TE Garrett Griffin (Air Force)
  • TE Jake Stoneburner (Ohio State)
  • WR Jordan Williams (Ball State)

Also, contract negotiations for 2014 draft picks are officially open until May 2. The only player left on the Saints’ roster from their 2014 draft class is Brandin Cooks, who as a first round pick is eligible for a fifth-year team option to keep him away from free agency until the 2019 offseason.

January 16 thru 21: East-West Shrine Game Week in St. Petersburg, FL

The invite-only East-West Shrine Game is an underrated venue for draft prospects to practice and perform in front of scouts from all 32 NFL franchises. Held annually in for 92 years, it is a great opportunity for lesser-known prospects to shine.

Some current and former New Orleans Saints who recently participated in the Shrine Game include:

  • RB Daniel Lasco (California)
  • C Marcus Henry (Boise State)
  • CB Damian Swann (Georgia)
  • CB Ken Crawley (Colorado)
  • DT David Onyemata (Ontario)
  • DT Tyeler Davison (Fresno State)
  • LB Davis Tull (Tennessee-Chattanooga)
  • LB Travis Feeney (Washington)
  • WR Jared Dangerfield (Western Kentucky)

January 24 thru 29: Reese’s Senior Bowl Week in Mobile, AL

There’s no question that the Senior Bowl is the premiere event of the NFL offseason, second only to the NFL Scouting Combine. Scouts, coaches, and executives from every NFL franchise and dozens of college programs converge for a week to observe daily practices, meet with prospects, and socialize. Players can elevate their draft stock to the heavens on a strong week of practice, though the penultimate game is more for passion than serious evaluation. I’ll be covering this event live daily for Canal Street Chronicles.

Recent New Orleans Saints who appeared at the Senior Bowl include:

  • DT Sheldon Rankins (Louisville)
  • C Jack Allen (Michigan State)
  • LB Hau’oli Kikaha (Washington)
  • LB Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
  • QB Garrett Grayson (Colorado State)

February 15 thru March 1: Franchise/Transition Tag Period

The Saints are not expected to have any use for the franchise tag in 2017, but it could affect their plans if other teams choose to apply it to their own free agents. Rumor out of the desert is that the Arizona Cardinals are prepared to give the franchise tag to star pass rusher Chandler Jones if they can’t work out a long-term contract. This is also true of Carolina Panthers elite defensive tackle Kawann Short, who has publicly said he wouldn’t hesitate to sign the franchise tag but privately would likely be reluctant to play on a one-year deal.

February 28 thru March 6: NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN

While the Senior Bowl is a public event that draws fans as well as the NFL community, the NFL Scouting Combine is a much more lowkey, private circus. Even so, Indianapolis is a maelstrom of rumors and activity. Unhindered by the playoffs tournament, every team sends its coaching staff, scouting department, and front office executives to Indianapolis to run draft prospects through thorough athletic and medical evaluations. It’s also the first opportunity many coaches and management staff have to conduct face-to-face interviews with prospects, however brief (these interviews are confined to 30 minutes each).

Along with the football personnel, national media and players’ agents are in town. It’s not uncommon for teams to negotiate and announce extensions for pending free agents at the combine ahead of the free agency period.

March 9: 2017 NFL Year Debut/Free Agency

The 2017 league year officially begins at 3:00 PM CST on March 9 and inevitably brings chaos. Whether it’s Jimmy Graham being traded or Jairus Byrd signing a mega-deal, the Saints always seem to bring the fireworks once the clock formally resets.

Barring more salary cap activity, the Saints are expected to have about $33-million in salary cap room in 2017. They’ll be able to add new talent, but first must get their own house in order. The Saints’ own free agents to-be include:

Exclusive-Rights Free Agents (can be issued a Saints-exclusive one-year contract tender)

  • CB Taveze Calhoun
  • PK Wil Lutz
  • WR Jake Lampman
  • WR Willie Snead IV

Restricted Free Agents (can be issued a one-year contract that other teams can challenge, but not without compensation to the Saints)

  • DE Kasim Edebali
  • CB B.W. Webb
  • SS Chris Banjo
  • WR Brandon Coleman
  • WR Corey Fuller

Unrestricted Free Agents (will be able to negotiate terms with any team without consequence)

  • CB Sterling Moore
  • CB Kyle Wilson
  • DE Paul Kruger
  • DE Darryl Tapp
  • DT Nick Fairley
  • FB John Kuhn
  • G Jahri Evans
  • G Tim Lelito
  • LB Michael Mauti
  • LB Jason Trusnik
  • LB Sam Barrington
  • LS Justin Drescher
  • OT Tony Hills
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • RB Travaris Cadet
  • SS Roman Harper
  • SS Jamarca Sanford
  • SS Shiloh Keo
  • TE John Phillips

March 26 thru 29: Annual NFL Meeting in Phoenix, AZ

Not much typically happens at this meeting beyond an awkward photo of all current head coaches, except for a maverick Bill Belichick and occasionally Sean Payton. The presence of agents and media means some rumors will come out about free agents and draft prospects, but on the whole this is an opportunity to exchange pleasantries over breakfast.

April 17: Offseason Programs Eligibility

We won’t know until later when the Saints will begin their spring offseason program to get players back in shape and assess those rehabbing injuries, but this is the soonest they can start it.

April 27 thru 29: 2017 NFL Draft

Everything leads up to this. Once free agency is resolved and prospects are scouted, worked out, and thoroughly vetted by background checks and interviews, teams unleash havoc and start making their selections. Draft day trades will go down as teams wheel and deal for the most-coveted prospects and fans will be simultaneously jubilant and disgusted. Right now, the Saints are expected to have six picks:

  • Round One, Eleventh Pick
  • Round Two, Tenth Pick
  • Round Three, Twelfth Pick
  • Round Four, Eleventh Pick
  • Round Six, Twelfth Pick
  • Round Seven, Eleventh Pick

May 5 thru 8/May 12 thru 15: Rookie Minicamps

The Saints can designate either of these two weekends to hold rookie minicamps, which are light-contact practices designed to get new players into the routine of NFL life and allow tryouts for undrafted players and veterans in need of a team for the 2017 season. This past year, the Saints signed a handful of players after getting a look at them in rookie minicamps:

  • DE Royce LaFrance (Tulane)
  • LB Tony Steward (Clemson)
  • OT Tyrus Thompson (Oklahoma)
  • WR Jake Lampman (Ferris State)

May 15: Rookies Report to Offseason Programs

New draft picks can begin reporting to offseason workout programs and usually officially sign their contracts around this time, though they may delay because of school schedules or contract disputes.

May 22 thru 24: Annual NFL Meeting in Chicago, IL

With the main action over, this meeting really just serves as a venue for NFL owners to discuss any upcoming business ahead of training camps and preseason exhibition games before teams take the summer off and dismiss players and staff to a much-needed vacation.