Around this time of year the NFL usually releases its league calendar. This year it is kind of empty, as a large part of the 2011 league calendar will be determined by the labor dispute. But like the good foot soldiers that we are, we will march on undeterred, so below is an estimation of what the Cowboys offseason calendar could look like if a CBA is signed in time. It also serves as reminder of what the fans, players and teams will miss if the labor dispute is not resolved quickly.
Feb. 10 - Feb 24 -- Franchise Tags. The League told teams they can apply franchise tags during this 14-day window. The NFLPA of course disputes this.
Feb. 23-March 1 -- NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, Ind. Like clockwork, the underwear olympics kick off great discussions about tangible data vs. intangibles like heart and desire, combine measurables vs. game film and stats vs the be-all and end-all of football analysis, the eye-test.
March 4 -- Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. If no agreement is reached by this date, you're officially allowed to panic. Because apart from the draft, none of the things so meticulously laid out in the NFL calendar after the break are likely to happen.
March 4 -- Free Agency begins. High on the list of Cowboys free agency needs: Sign Doug Free, RT, RG, and almost any position on defense.
April 28-30 -- NFL Draft, New York City. This is by far the biggest week of the NFL off-season. Traditionally, the NFL likes to start the hype by announcing the next season's schedule on the Tuesday before the draft and then escalate the hype to a fever pitch for the actual draft on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
May 6 - May 9 -- Rookie Mini-Camps. These typically take place on the weekend after the draft and provide a first glimpse to the football-starved fans of what the draft picks can do on the field ("Dez Bryant is an absolute talent, you don't see that many come in and look that good that early").
May 18 - 20 -- First OTA's. Again, no fixed dates, but this is when the Cowboys usually start their OTA's and continue having them on a bi-weekly basis. This year, the Cowboys are due one extra OTA, owing to the fact that the NFL/NFLPA rules see Garrett as a new head coach and new head coaches are afforded one extra OTA.
OTA's and mini-camps are where 75-80% of the playbook is installed. Teams with new coaching staffs, like the Cowboys, will be hit particularly hard if this piece of preparation is cut short or canceled altogether.
July 29 -- Training Camp. Cowboys Kickoff Spectacular at the Alamodome, or a similar such event, kicks off training camp, usually at the end of July. Will the Cowboys again split training camp locations? They are under contract in San Antonio, but Oxnard has traditionally been more conducive to the hardcore outdoor workouts toward the end of training camp.
Sept 8 - - Kickoff weekend, Lambeau Field. The first game of the season has gone to the defending Super Bowl champion since 2004 and that is likely to be the case again this year. But will there be NFL football on September 8th?