NFL Draft and scouting combine: What to follow in 2019 offseason
Last Updated: 16/02/19 12:13pm
So, the 2018 NFL season ended with the increasingly familiar sight of the New England Patriots celebrating another Super Bowl win - a record-equalling sixth.
It means we are left with a long, lonely, seven football-less months until the 2019 season kicks off on September 5 and we get to do it all again.
In the meantime, there's still plenty of important dates in the NFL offseason calendar for you to keep track of. This is where the hard work starts for the 31 franchises looking to ensure it is them - and not New England - who lift the Vince Lombardi trophy in Miami a year from now.
NFL Scouting Combine
February 26 - March 4: It may seem like a long offseason but, already, we are less than three weeks from the scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This is where the top draft prospects for 2019 are evaluated by NFL scouts across a series of drills and exercises, including bench press, vertical jump, three-cone drill and the much publicised 40-yard dash.
Poor performances in some, or all, of the drills - particularly the dash - can seriously hurt a player's stock ahead of the draft and, despite a stellar college career, can see them drop down the draft pecking order. Conversely, strong displays can see them rise up team's draft boards.
Free Agency begins
March 13: The 2019 league year and free agency period begins. The big-money move that dominated 2018 was Kirk Cousins three-year, $84m deal with the Minnesota Vikings, seeing the quarterback (briefly) become the highest paid player in the league before being overtaken by Aaron Rodgers. So, who is set to be the main man this offseason?
Nick Foles looks likely to lead the QB market, with the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl winner deciding to void his $20m option, not wanting to stay as Carson Wentz's backup another season. Meanwhile, the fate of former Pittsburgh Steelers superstar running back Le'Veon Bell will be fascinating following his decision to sit out the 2018 season. As for the defensive side of the ball, pass rushers DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney and Dee Ford are set to hit the open market, as are top-tier safeties Earl Thomas and Landon Collins.
2019 NFL Draft
April 25-27: The biggest date in the NFL offseason calendar. The draft has become big business in the US, both the event itself and the televised coverage of it - this year it is being held in in the country music capital of the world, Nashville. Everyone wants to know who is being picked No 1 and who are the future stars of the league and, more specifically, their favourite team.
The draft sees the team with the worst record in the NFL have the right to pick first and, therefore, select the best prospect coming out of college football. That honour this time out goes to the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals, with Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa - brother of Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa - considered by many to be the No 1 pick. The New York Giants (at No 6) are likely to take the first quarterback off the board. Could that be Dwayne Haskins, also of Ohio State? And what will the Oakland Raiders do with their three first-round picks?
Organized Team Activities (OTAs)
Early May: Recently the NFL has let teams have training sessions early on in the offseason, officially called OTAs. These are the only sanctioned practices between the end of the previous season and the start of training camp, in July.
OTAs tend to last a total of nine weeks. The first two weeks involve almost exclusive strength and conditioning training, then football is allowed from week three - but no offense vs defense drills, with each training separately, before the final four weeks see full non-contact practice (no pads).
OTAs are voluntary, and teams are not allowed to penalise players for not attending but, generally, the majority attend, except those who are working through free agency or trying to renegotiate their contract.
NFL Training Camps
Mid July: The real hard work starts here. With preseason round the corner, this is where team practice and preparation for the season ahead gets serious.
Training camp is divided into several different components. The first is scrimmages. These are practice games where teams run nearly full games' worth of plays. Sometimes, two practice sessions are held on the same day, a concept referred to as two-a-days, while other parts of training camp include exercise drills, meetings with coaches and other players at one's position, weight training, and preseason games.
Hall of Fame Game
August 1: The curtain-raiser for the four weeks of preseason is held each year in Canton, Ohio. As well as the action on the field, there's the celebrations surrounding the Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies for the class of 2019 which includes legendary Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Four further weeks of preseason football follows, as teams look to test out various new formations, plays calls and personnel before whittling down their roster to 53 men before the season starts. They're also looking to win and get some positive momentum rolling into the season.
2019 Regular Season starts
September 5: Mark your calendars as the NFL returns! And, as is normal tradition, the Super Bowl winner will host the annual Thursday night kick-off, so we know already that opening night will be in New England once again. But who will they play?
While the full fixture list (including dates) for the 2019 season has yet to be released, we do already know who each team is slated to play home and away. That means the Patriots will line up for the first game of their Super Bowl defense against one of the following:
Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins.
Sky Sports coverage of the NFL will continue through the off-season as we track the player moves and the storylines in the build-up to the 100th year of the NFL - and we will have all three days of the NFL Draft covered in April.