2015 NFL offseason: Dates to know for Browns fans


We're eight days removed from the last game of the Browns' 2014 season and roughly 243 away from the 2015 opener.

If that sounds like a long time to wait, that's because it is. Alas, the NFL never truly takes a break, so there will be plenty on the Browns' plate as the temperatures cool and (eventually) warm just in time for rookie minicamp.

Here are the most important dates to know.

Jan. 15: Deadline for underclassmen to declare for 2015 NFL Draft

Players with at least one year of eligibility remaining must reach their decision by this point. It will be a quick turnaround for Ohio State and Oregon players, who will play their final game Jan. 12. Last year, a record 98 underclassmen declared for the draft.

Jan. 17: East-West Shrine Game

The annual college all-star game in St. Petersburg, Florida, pits draft-eligible prospects against each other in an exhibition that serves as the endpoint of a highly scrutinized week of practice. This year's teams are coached by former NFL coaches Mike Singletary and Jim Zorn.

Jan. 24: Senior Bowl

Similar to the East-West Shrine Game but loaded with a number of potential first-round picks. The practices for this game draw hundreds of coaches, general managers and scouts to Mobile, Alabama, for a game that is treated as the city's Super Bowl.

Jan. 25: Pro Bowl

Joe Thomas, Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson will represent the Browns at the NFL's annual all-star game. The game will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, which is also the site for Super Bowl XLIX.

Feb. 1: Super Bowl XLIX

Feb. 7: First of five NFL Regional Combines opens for draft-eligible prospects

Designed for players who are not invited to the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, the events provide a showcase for some potential diamonds in the rough. This year's will be held in Davie, Florida; Houston (Feb. 14); Dove Valley, Colorado (Feb. 21); Owings Mills, Maryland (Feb. 28) and Lake Forest, Illinois (March 7).

Feb. 16: Teams can start designating Franchise and Transition players

Teams can designate one of their unrestricted free agents with each one of these tags. The franchise tag, which is used much more frequently than the transition tag, provides a player with a guaranteed, one-year deal that pays commensurate to the top five players at his respective position. The Browns last used the franchise tag in 2012 for kicker Phil Dawson. The Browns used the transition tag for the first time in 20 years when they applied it to center Alex Mack in March 2014. The deadline to lock up players with these tags is March 2.

Feb. 17-23: NFL Scouting Combine

The main event in terms of evaluating draft-eligible prospects will once again be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It will be the first time we hear from coach Mike Pettine in a group interview setting heading into the 2015 season.

March 1: College Pro Days begin

General manager Ray Farmer, Pettine and a slew of Browns scouts and assistant coaches will criss-cross the country to watch college prospects go through drills and exercises similar to what they performed at the Combine, but in the comfortable environments of their respective college campuses.

March 7-10: Teams can enter into contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents

Consider this the preamble to the storm. This allows teams to talk through and even finalize deals with players, but nothing is official until 4 p.m. on March 10. Among the Browns' notable unrestricted free agents: DL Ahtyba Rubin, TE Jordan Cameron, QB Brian Hoyer, CB Buster Skrine and WR Miles Austin

March 10 (before 4 p.m.): Teams must be under 2015 salary cap, exercise options with restricted free agents

It's unknown yet what the salary cap will be for each of the NFL's 32 teams, but it's anticipated to be higher than last year's total of $133 million. Among the Browns' most notable restricted free agents: FS Tashaun Gipson, LB Craig Robertson and P Spencer Lanning.

March 10 (4 p.m.): 2015 league year and free agency officially begin

It's showtime.

March 22-25: Annual league meetings

Owners and NFL officials head to Phoenix, Arizona, for their annual three-day meetings to discuss a variety of issues.

April 20: Clubs with returning head coaches can begin offseason workout programs

This applies to the Browns in 2015, as Pettine will be back for his second season. Teams with new head coaches can begin two weeks earlier.

April 30-May 2: 2015 NFL Draft

Starting with the first round on a primetime Thursday, the three-day event will be held in Chicago for the first time since 1964. It's a big weekend for the Browns, who boast two first-round selections and 10 overall.

May 8-11: Post-draft rookie minicamps

Teams can opt to hold them from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday. They can also conduct them on the following weekend.

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