There aren’t any NFL games today per say, but the 2021 offseason is in full swing, and there are plenty of key dates and events surrounding pro football to keep fans interested until the weekly game action gets underway again.
Whether it’s the anticipation around free agency, the official start to the draft or any number of unforeseen transactions, the NFL is always buzzing no matter what date it is on the calendar. Every franchise is engaging in a chess match of sorts, figuring out how to strategically address issues on their rosters to field the most competitive team possible next season.
With all that as the backdrop, prior to taking a full look at the NFL schedule and the home and away opponents for all 32 NFL teams, let’s hone in on some key 2021 dates on the NFL calendar.
NFL calendar: Key 2021 dates leading up to regular season
February 23 through March 9: Deadline to franchise tag players (ends at 4 p.m. EST)
Each team gets to used either an exclusive franchise tag, a non-exclusive franchise tag or a transition tag on one player. The franchise tag pays that player a one-year salary that’s an average of the top five highest-paid players at his position, or 120% of the player’s previous annual salary. It’s whichever number is greater.
A player must remain with his incumbent team if he’s given an exclusive franchise tag. The only other option is to hold out for a long-term contract extension by refusing to sign the franchise tender. A non-exclusive franchise tag means another team can bid for the player, and if the incumbent team doesn’t match, the player goes to another team, earning two first-round picks as compensation.
In the case of the transition tag, it’s a cheaper option than the franchise tag (average of the top 10 salaries at the player’s position, or a 20% pay raise, whichever is higher), but other teams can outbid for the player, and the player’s incumbent team doesn’t receive any draft pick compensation if he signs with a new team.
Thursday, March 17: NFL free agency opens
Trades also become official on this date, but negotiations and blockbuster deals have already been made, with plenty of movement already among quarterbacks.
But to remain on topic, NFL free agency is where players whose contracts are expired are free to sign with any team of their choosing.
For three days before the official start of free agency, teams and players can negotiate contracts. Anything prior to then can be considered tampering and is punishable by a fine from the league office.
Related: Top 50 NFL free agents of 2021.
April 15/April 22: Potential dates for official 2021 NFL schedule release
We’ll get to the opponents for every team in a short while, but these approximations made by Pro Football Network are based on the NFL’s precedent for revealing its full schedule on a Thursday in mid-April.
Last year’s release was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The schedule drop date should revert to the normal timeline in 2021, yet the strong possibility of a 17th regular-season game being added casts some doubt on this notion.
A 17th game would definitely change how the schedule is formulated. Going by what we know, though, there are at least 16 opponents determined for all 32 teams to date.
April 15, April 19: Teams start offseason workouts for new coaches, returning coaches
The offseason programs could change based on how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, but the tentative dates for the start of organized team activities has been set.
Teams who have a new coaching staff get a slight head start on getting their veterans into the building. OTAs were canceled prior to last NFL season, so there’s a chance the protocols could again be modified are acquainted with each other through virtual meetings when possible.
April 23: Restricted free agency ends
As opposed to unrestricted free agents who can sign anywhere, restricted free agents (RFAs) have less say in where they go. They receive an offer from their incumbent team, and a potential new suitor has to exceed that offer to acquire the player. Alternatively, another team can make an offer for the RFA, which the incumbent team must match.
April 28: Deadline to match restricted free agency offers
Just one day before the 2021 NFL Draft, teams are required to match any restricted free agent offer sheets, or decline to do so. This gives teams a slightly clearer picture of how to approach the draft.
April 29 through May 1: The 2021 NFL Draft
This year’s NFL Draft is going to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, and will be televised on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network. There are plenty of places to follow the action.
Due to their winning only one game last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars own the No. 1 overall pick. They’re widely expected to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and usher in a new era of Jaguars football under new head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke.
Lawrence headlines a strong quarterback class, which also features first-round prospects in Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.
It’ll be interesting to see how Jacksonville goes about building its roster, as the team should look a lot different after free agency since the Jags have the most salary cap space in the NFL and can spend a lot on the open market.
Late July 2021: Training camp opens
Official start dates haven’t been revealed, and last offseason teams had to deal with shortened training camps.
This is when the real preparation for the season begins, as teams ramp up the practice schedule and work to get on the same page as they gear up for potential preseason games, and ultimately, lock in for the 2021 campaign.
Thursday, August 5: Hall of Fame Game, NFL preseason begins
It’s unclear what the plans are for the NFL preseason at this juncture. It was canceled in 2020, as was the annual Hall of Fame game, which is played in Canton, Ohio.
In the three prior years it was played, the exhibition opener took place on the first Thursday of August, hence the projected date here.
NFL 2021 season Week 1 kickoff: Thursday, September 9
Once the schedule releases in April, we’ll know who’s squaring off. If history is any indication, it’ll either be a heated, iconic division rivalry game, or a rematch of one of the matchups from the most recent postseason.
Don’t be surprised to see Tom Brady and the Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers the Green Bay Packers, or possibly host one of their division rivals like the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers or New Orleans Saints.
We could also see the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes or the new-look Los Angeles Chargers led by Justin Herbert in action to kick off the schedule. Check back here for a brief breakdown of the official duel when it’s announced.
NFL games today: Full schedules for all 32 teams
The NFL’s official game plan for how it draws out the annual schedule is fascinating. As mentioned before, a 17th regular-season game is possible, and how that shakes out will likely be fully determined soon.
What we do know are the home and away opponents for all 32 teams for their initial 16-game schedule. The order of those games is still to be determined by the official schedule release. For now, enjoy seeing who your favorite team will take on in 2021.
NFL games today: 2021 schedule for AFC North division
Baltimore Ravens 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Cincinnati Bengals 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Cleveland Browns 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for AFC South division
Houston Texans 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Indianapolis Colts 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Jacksonville Jaguars 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Tennessee Titans 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for AFC East division
Buffalo Bills 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Miami Dolphins 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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New England Patriots 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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New York Jets 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for AFC West division
Denver Broncos 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Kansas City Chiefs 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Las Vegas Raiders 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Los Angeles Chargers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for NFC North division
Chicago Bears 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Detroit Lions 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Green Bay Packers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Minnesota Vikings 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for NFC South division
Atlanta Falcons 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Carolina Panthers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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New Orleans Saints 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for NFC East division
Dallas Cowboys 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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New York Giants 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Philadelphia Eagles 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Washington Football Team 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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NFL games today: 2021 schedule for NFC West division
Arizona Cardinals 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Los Angeles Rams 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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San Francisco 49ers 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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Seattle Seahawks 2021 schedule: Home and away opponents
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