With the month of March only a couple days away, business is about to ramp up again around the National Football League. What are some of the key dates to look forward to in this upcoming 2022 offseason and how are they relevant for your Dallas Cowboys?
March 1st – Scouting Combine begins
Starting this Tuesday, the NFL's annual scouting event begins in Indianapolis, IN and will run through March 7th. After a brief scare when 155 prospects threatened to boycott over the league's announced COVID restrictions, the NFL has since revised those plans and the combine appears to be proceeding as normal.
Obviously this is a big event for the Cowboys and their 31 competitors. Dallas has enjoyed very successful draft picks in recent years with Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, and more. With only so much they are able to accomplish through free agency this year, the Cowboys will be relying on some of their 2022 rookies to be immediate contributors.
March 8th – Franchise/Transition Tag deadline
We're a little less than a week away from the deadline to place the Franchise or Transition Tag on an upcoming free agent. This is a significant move both in likely retaining talent but at the cost of a heavy hit to the salary cap, with consequences being felt pretty quickly when the free agency market opens.
The Cowboys have some players who might get tagged this year. We've seen it happen many times as a procedural placeholder during long-term negotiations, such as with Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence recently. So even if Randy Gregory, Dalton Schultz, or someone else gets tagged in a few weeks, don't be surprised if their actual 2022 contract looks much different.
March 14th – “Legal Tampering” period begins
Teams can begin talking contracts with free agents but can't make anything official for two days prior to the actual start of free agency. There are often at least a few leaks of agreements during this time so it is newsworthy.
And as always, I will state my ongoing disdain for the term “legal tampering.” It's not tampering if it's legal. It's just a negotiation.
March 16th – Free Agency begins
The official start of free agency and what's become an annual disappointment for Cowboys fans. The biggest names on the market will fly off the shelves while Dallas waits a week or so to make a big move or any move at all. Finally, you'll see a breaking story that RB Corey Clement has been brought back on a one-year deal.
In fairness, Dallas doesn't have the salary cap space to be major players in the peak of free agency. Their biggest moves may come in the next two weeks before the market opens in efforts to re-sign talent and perhaps parting ways with potential cap casualties.
March 27th – Annual League Meeting begins
NFL owners and other decision-makers will gather to discuss issues facing the entire league. Often the biggest news to come out of the annual meeting are rule changes, and those are sure to be a hot topic this year after officiating, particularly the new taunting rule, and the overtime format were major negative topics throughout the 2021 season.
April 22nd – Deadline for players to sign RFA tenders
April 27th – Deadline for teams to match RFA contracts
The dates to finalize business with restricted free agents are easily forgotten as these aren't generally key players. However, the Cowboys have at least one RFA of note this year in backup LB Luke Gifford. With Keanu Neal and Leighton Vander Esch both unrestricted free agents, Gifford could be in line for a larger role on defense if he returns.
April 28th – 2022 NFL Draft
Easily the biggest date for many fans, the draft is clearly the NFL's marquee offseason event. Dallas currently holds the 24th pick in the 1st Round, meaning it will be a long wait that Thursday night to see who hopefully joins Parsons, Lamb, and others as the next major rookie addition to the roster.
I have a feeling we may be writing more about the draft over the next two months. Maybe a couple articles here and there; you never know.
May 2nd – Deadline to Exercise 5th-Year Options
One of the last big decisions before training camp in July as teams decide whether or not to add a fifth year to the rookie contracts of their 2019 1st-Round picks. Last year, Dallas declined this option on LB Leighton Vander Esch after his struggles with injuries in 2019-2020.
This year the date is meaningless for the Cowboys as they had no 1st-Round selection in 2019. That was the pick traded to the Raiders for WR Amari Cooper the year before.