The NFL's "league year" officially starts on March 5 with the expiration of player contracts and the beginning of free agency. It unofficially begins this week in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine.
There, at Lucas Oil Stadium, the coaches and personnel poobahs gather to exchange greetings and information, gab with agents and get serious face time with the college players they might like to draft in April.
There are physical examinations (for the players, not the coaches and personnel poobahs), psychological testing, extensive interviews.
Many of the players will take part in a variety of drills – your basic 40-yard dashes, your three-cone drill, 225-pound bench presses. Quarterbacks will throw, receivers will catch, linemen will show off their quickness of foot, their technical skills, their bulk.
All of which spawns another round of mock drafts from the many mavens who divine, occasionally with accuracy, what the 32 teams will do come April.
Who's No. 1? That's always a popular question. More critical is: Who's our No. 1? Who are we going to grab?
Can't tell you who the Redskins will take.
Can tell you what they will take.
They will take their time. They will study the players, match them against team needs and desires, watch film and attend campus workouts. They will not be stampeded into some seemingly sexy pick nor will they hurry to let the world know how the decision-making process is going.
Here lies a chance to secure a franchise cornerstone. Who would skimp on the process?
The Redskins hold the fourth overall selection in the first round, which this year takes place on a Thursday night … prime-time viewing. Live, from Radio City Music Hall in New York. Home of the Rockettes. And, given what some teams do in the draft, also home of the rockheads. Each year there are odd choices, reaches, gambles. Some pay off and some sink the ship.
There are no guarantees in the draft. No sure things.
Even the surest thing is no sure thing. In 1998, with the top overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts agonized over which quarterback to take. They looked at every throw ever made by the two players at the top of their board, talked endlessly about arm strength, delivery, poise, upside.
They decided, almost at the last possible second (or so they said), on Peyton Manning. They left Ryan Leaf to the San Diego Chargers.
How'd that work out? Manning is a four-time Associated Press Most Valuable Player, a Super Bowl MVP, a one-time champion who just played in his second Super Bowl. Leaf failed professionally and his personal life is also a mass of bruises.
Conventional wisdom says the Redskins are taking a quarterback or an offensive tackle with their No. 1 pick. I did not go to that convention, though I heard there were terrific parties and a great buffet.
No one knows what coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen will ultimately do, aside, perhaps, from them and their confidantes. They all know this from long and sometimes painful experience – an excellent college player might never be anything more than an expensive mistake at the next level.
Round one of the draft takes place April 22. Rounds two and three are scheduled for Friday, April 23rd. The final four rounds go on April 24.
Draft decisions can be impacted by free agency and other personnel moves. If the Redskins release players before March 5, they'll create more needs and opportunities for new people.
If they sign a few free agents, Shanahan and Allen might reconfigure their draft board a bit to shore up the other weaker areas. Or they may hew to the oldest line in the book – take the best player on your board, regardless of need.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.