As of last night, there are officially just two more weeks until the 2015 NFL regular season gets underway, with the Patriots set to host the Steelers at Foxboro on Thursday, September 10. We may not know yet who will be playing quarterback for New England in that game, but we do know that there are still a handful of key dates to keep an eye on as the preseason winds down. Here’s a round-up of those dates:
Tuesday, September 1
Teams must reduce their 90-man rosters to 75 players by 3:00pm central time.
The first set of roster cutdowns for teams around the NFL must be made by next Tuesday, following the third week of preseason games. In most cases, the players released by Tuesday will be back-of-the-roster contributors, UDFAs, and players who aren’t fully healthy.
Prior to this date, players with less than four years of NFL experience can’t be placed on injured reserve without passing through waivers first, which would allow other teams to have a shot at picking up those players. After this date though, teams can freely place anyone on IR.
Saturday, September 5
Teams must reduce their 75-man rosters to 53 players by 3:00pm central time.
Any players on the active/PUP or active/non-football injury or illness lists may be moved to the reserve versions of those lists.
If Tuesday’s cutdown deadline was the opening act, next Saturday’s deadline is the main event, with teams removing 22 players from their rosters in order to get their squads set for the regular season. Generally, players whom a team wants to keep on its practice squad will be cut on this day, and some bigger-name veterans may also be released.
As for players on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury/illness lists, if they hope to play during the first six weeks of the season, they’ll have to be placed on the active roster as of this day. If they move to the reserve/PUP and reserve/NFI lists, they won’t be eligible to play until at least Week 7 of the regular season. Dennis Pitta is one player who will start the year on the reserve/PUP list, but he won’t be the only one.
Sunday, September 6
Claiming period for players waived during final roster cuts ends at 11:00am central time. After that time, teams may establish a practice squad of 10 players.
After 3:00pm central time, teams are permitted to place one player on the injured reserve list with the designation to return.
A flurry of activity occurs on Sunday morning during the last Sunday of the year that doesn’t feature any NFL games, as teams around the league place waiver claims, establish practice squads, and make their final cuts and roster moves in preparation for Week 1. Of course, those rosters and practice squads will undergo plenty of changes in the subsequent weeks – and even subsequent days – but if a player is still on his team’s roster after this date, he’s well-positioned to begin the regular season with the club.
The IR-DTR slot, meanwhile, will be used by some – but not all – of the NFL’s teams on this date. A year ago, 27 of 32 franchises used the IR-DTR spot at some point, but only seven did so prior to Week 1.
Wednesday, September 9
After 3:00pm central time, all contracts for each team must fit under the salary cap (top-51 rule expires at 11:00pm central time).
A bookkeeping technicality more than anything, this deadline probably isn’t worth monitoring closely. But when it arrives, it will signal that we’re only about 24 hours away from the NFL regular season kicking off.