Yes, I’m a baseball fan, and an ardent Giants fan going way back. But football is, was, and will always be my first sports love. The 49ers of my youth were juuust about to hit the big time when I became a fan starting in 1968 as a 7 year old. Dick Nolan had taken over, and he was installing his idea of the defense that his mentor Tom Landry was installing in Dallas. The Niners did have some recently drafted talent in Gene Washington from Stanford, and a solid 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game behind Ken Willard. That defense was very good, yet the offense never really got over the hump despite the efforts of Ted Kwalick, Washington, Dick Whicher and others. Plus, I was always a better football player than baseball player! Good field, no hit.
Anyhow, here we are at the precipice of a familiar cliff. 3 trips to the promised land, and 3 trips left agonizingly short. We’ve already talked about the draft needs and the free agents we should re-sign (Boldin and Dawson top my list, among others), the reasons we have come up tantalizingly close, and the ways to get better. This close to the end of it all is a terrible place to be. But here are the important upcoming dates for the 2014 NFL season:
Regional Combine – Houston.
Teams can begin designated free agents as “franchise players.”
Scouting Combine – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
Regional Combine – Costa Mesa, Calif.
Teams can begin negotiating – but can’t finalize a contract – with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents at 1 p.m. PT on March 11. Before this time, teams must:
•exercise 2014 option clauses in the 2013 contracts of players.
•submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents.
•submit a minimum salary tender to retain negotiating rights with players who have expiring contracts and less than three full seasons of experience.
•be under the 2014 salary cap.
Free agency begins.
Annual owners meeting – Orlando, Fla.
Super Regional Combine – Detroit.
Teams with returning head coaches may begin off-season workout programs.
Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
Deadline for teams to exercise right of first refusal to their restricted free agents.
NFL Draft – New York, Radio City Music Hall.
Teams report to Training Camp a maximum of 15 days before their first preseason game.
Free agents previously designated as “franchise players” must be signed to multi-year contracts by 1 p.m. PT, or they’re only eligible to be signed to one-year deals.