JACKSONVILLE – This will happen fast.
That's always true of the NFL in February, March and April – but for the Jaguars, it could be as true as it has been in more than a half decade.
That's what a deep playoff run does. It tightens up the ensuing offseason.
It's less than two and a half weeks from the Jaguars' AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots. Fast forward less time than that, and teams will be able to start designating their franchise and transition players for the 2018 season.
The NFL Scouting Combine begins less than a week after that – and then we're on to unrestricted free agents and all of the pre-draft buildup.
We at jaguars.com as usual will be covering the combine, and we'll get deep into unrestricted free agency and the draft in the coming weeks and months. Thursday will mark the beginning of a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' offseason with analysis from senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton.
For today, we'll take an early look at key offseason dates with a preliminary look at the free-agency period that will begin with the March 14 start of the 2018 NFL League Year:
Key 2018 NFL offseason dates:
*February 20: First day teams can designate Franchise or Transition Players.
*February 27-March 5: NFL Scouting Combine; Lucas Oil Stadium; Indianapolis, Indiana.
*March 6: Teams must designate Franchise or Transition players before 4 p.m. "New York" time.
*March 12-14: Teams may negotiate with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. "New York" time on March 14 – the start of the 2018 League Year. A contract cannot be executed with a new team until March 14 at 4 p.m. "New York" time.
*March 14: The 2018 League Year begins at 4 p.m. "New York" time. Free agency begins, and all teams must be under 2018 salary cap by that time. Teams by then must also have exercised options, submitted qualifying offers to restricted free agents and submitted tenders to retain exclusive negotiating rights to former undrafted rookie free agents with expiring contracts.
*March 25-28: Annual League Meeting; Orlando, Florida.
*April 2: Teams that hired new head coach after the end of the 2017 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.
*April 16: Teams with returning head coaches – a group that includes the Jaguars – may begin offseason workout programs.
*April 26-28: NFL Draft; AT&T Stadium; Arlington, Texas.
*May 4-7 or May 11-14: Teams may hold their rookie post-draft minicamp on Friday-Sunday or Saturday –Monday in either window.
Top projected free agents:
*Quarterbacks: Kirk Cousins, Redskins; Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers; Drew Brees, Saints; Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings; Case Keenum, Vikings; Sam Bradford, Vikings.
*Running backs: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers; Dion Lewis, Patriots; Carlos Hyde, 49ers.
*Wide receivers: Allen Robinson, Jaguars; Jarvis Landry, Dolphins; Sammy Watkins, Rams; Marqise Lee, Jaguars; Terrelle Pryor, Redskins; Jordan Matthews, Bills; Mike Wallace, Ravens.
*Tight ends: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks; Tyler Eifert, Bengals.
*Offensive tackles: Nate Solder, Patriots.
*Interior linemen: Andrew Norwell, Panthers; Justin Pugh, Giants; Weston Richburg, Giants.
Defensive ends/Edge defenders: DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys; Ezekiel Ansah, Lions
Defensive tackles: Sheldon Richardson, Seahawks; Star Lotulelei, Panthers; Dontari Poe, Falcons.
Linebackers: Nigel Bradham, Eagles.
Safeties: Lamarcus Joyner, Rams; Morgan Burnett, Packers; Eric Reid, 49ers; Kenny Vaccaro, Saints.
Cornerbacks: Trumaine Johnson, Rams; Malcolm Butler, Patriots; Bashaud Breeland, Redskins; Brent Grimes, Buccaneers.
The above list likely will be greatly reduced by teams re-signing their own players – or by teams applying the franchise or transition tags to prevent them from becoming unrestricted free agents or from reducing their marketability.
Quarterback is the most-talked about position in free agency this offseason because Cousins is expected to become an unrestricted free agent on March 14. This is notable because Cousins is considered by some a potential franchise quarterback – and they rarely hit the open market. Brees also is scheduled to become a UFA, but it's difficult to imagine the 39-year-old Brees signing elsewhere.
Brees and Cousins are the only two free-agent quarterbacks who would seem enough of an upgrade for the Jaguars to consider being involved. Blake Bortles, the starter the last four seasons who led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game, has a year remaining on his contract at $19.1 million. He likely would have to be released for the Jaguars to pursue a free-agent quarterback, which means the key time for the Jaguars for this position could be the March 12-14 negotiating window.
The Jaguars over the past two offseasons dramatically improved their roster by signings UFAs such as defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Barry Church, cornerback A.J. Bouye and free safety Tashaun Gipson. Unless they opt to release Bortles and pursue a quarterback such as Cousins, look for the Jaguars to be more low-profile this offseason – with tight end, wide receiver and/or offensive line possible targets.
JAGUARS FREE AGENTS
Jaguars players scheduled to become:
*Unrestricted free agents: Robinson, Lee, cornerback Aaron Colvin, guard Patrick Omameh, safety Peyton Thompson, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, quarterback Chad Henne, linebacker Lerentee McCray, long snapper Matt Overton.
*Restricted free agents: running back Corey Grant, inside linebacker Donald Payne and running back Tyler Gaffney.
*Exclusive rights free agents: tight end Ben Koyack, offensive lineman William Poehls, wide receiver Shane Wynn.
This area likely will produce the major news for the Jaguars between now and March 14, with the focus being the team's efforts to reach long-term deals with key free agents such as Robinson – and perhaps Colvin. Robinson likely will be the top priority, with the franchise tag possible if a long-term contract can't be reached. Colvin would seem to be the next priority among UFAs, with Omameh and Posluszny perhaps possibilities for shorter, cap-friendly deals.
Look for the team to extend tender offers to many of the RFAs, offers that will keep those players from becoming free agents on March 14.