Now that the 2018 season is in the books following Sunday's 13-3 victory for the Patriots over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, it's time to fully turn attention to 2019. Here are some exact dates and some estimated ones of importance for Panthers fans over the next seven months before the 2019 regular season kicks off:
February 4 – The day after the Super Bowl brings the beginning of the NFL's waiver system anew. The Panthers are 16th in the waiver claim order – based on being 16th in the draft order – and will remain in that spot until early in the 2019 regular season when the order will be based on the NFL standings.
February 19 – This is the first day (March 5 is the deadline) for teams to designate one franchise or transitional player – a tool that prevents a player from hitting the free agent market in March. Typically, the tagged player either signs a long-term deal before the mid-July deadline (July 15 this year) or plays the upcoming season under the financial terms of the tag. The Panthers have tagged seven players over the years, with four – including defensive tackle Kawann Short in 2017 – signing a long-term extension soon after. Two others (Julius Peppers in 2009 and Jordan Gross in 2008) played a season under the tag, while the Panthers took the rare action of rescinding the tag on Josh Norman in 2016, allowing him to immediately become a free agent. There isn't an obvious candidate for the tag this year.
February 26-March 4 – The NFL Scouting Combine takes place in Indianapolis. Fans get to see the NFL Draft's top prospects run and jump around, but behind-the-scenes interviews and physicals are arguably the more important happenings. Panthers.com will be there as the team takes an important step toward figuring out who it will select at No. 16 and beyond.
March 11-13 - In the days leading up to the new league year, teams have the opportunity to enter into contract negotiations with the agents of potential unrestricted free agents to set the stage for free agency.
March 13 – Speaking of free agency, it officially opens at 4 p.m. Eastern on this day as the new league year begins. Since teams can negotiate with free agents a couple of days ahead of time, the first few hours tend to produce some big-name signings. The Panthers have been a bit more aggressive the past two seasons in terms of being an active player in the first wave, but every year (and every year's salary cap situation) is different.
March 24-27 – The NFL's Annual Meeting descends on Phoenix. Last year's gathering, more commonly known as the "owners meeting," lived up to the name when David Tepper was approved as the Panthers' new owner. This year he'll participate in the meeting with a year of experience under his belt. You usually can count on some rules changes coming out of this.
Mid-April –In the vicinity of tax day, the NFL will offer a break of sorts by releasing the schedule, allowing fans to circle dates on their calendar that coincide with the list of 2019 opponents. The regular season slate won't include the champion Patriots, but if Carolina faces New England in the preseason (the two have met four of the last five years), it would mark the 20th consecutive season the Panthers have shared the field with the franchise that just won the Super Bowl. Players can start prepping for games as a collective unit on April 15, when teams with a returning head coach are eligible to begin the league's nine-week offseason workout program.
April 25-27 – It's draft time. The NFL Draft arrives, continuing its recent road show status with this year's stop in Nashville. The Panthers currently possess six picks in the seven-round draft, having traded their seventh-round pick to the Bills for cornerback Kevon Seymour in 2017. Carolina will pick between 16th and 13th in each round, and the Panthers also appear likely to be awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the third round because of net losses in free agency last year. The league announcement on compensatory picks could come anytime in February.
May 3 – This is the deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year option on their 2016 first-round draft picks – an option the Panthers have used every year since it became available in 2014 (though wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was no longer on the roster come his fifth year in 2018). This year, the Panthers face a decision in the form of defensive tackle Vernon Butler, the No. 30 overall pick in '16 who has been a part of his position's rotation most of his career but not a consistent contributor.
May 4-6 or May 10-13 - The draft picks as well as undrafted rookies and a group of invitees will hit the practice field one of those two weekends for the Panthers' annual rookie minicamp. If history is any indication, a couple of the invited tryouts will be added to the 90-man roster in the days that follow.
Mid-May to mid-June – The offseason workout program kicks into high gear for its final month, with three weeks of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that resemble training camp practices aside from the absence of live contact. After the 10 OTAs, the program ends with a three-day minicamp that takes essentially the same form aside from being mandatory. OTAs, like the rest of the offseason program, technically are voluntary but tend to draw virtually perfect attendance.
Late July – After the players get about a one-month break, the 2019 NFL season begins in earnest with training camp. Wofford College is set to host camp for the 25th consecutive sizzling summer. The Panthers and the Spartanburg, S.C., school are entering the final year of current contract.
August 1 – The annual Hall of Fame Game that christens the preseason remains on Thursday for the third consecutive year. This year's matchup hasn't been determined. Carolina's lone appearance in the game – which adds a fifth game to the participants' preseason slate – was in 1995 against the Jaguars in both franchises' inaugural season.
August 8-11 – For the 30 teams not in the Hall of Fame Game, this is the window for their first of four preseason games. The preseason schedule traditionally is announced shortly before the regular season schedule in April.
August 31 – A roster building process that begins right after the previous season "ends" with roster cutdown day. From their 90-man roster, Carolina must whittle down to 53 days before the regular season opener. No roster at any point in any season is set in stone, but still this ranks as a momentous day.
September 5 – Roughly seven months removed from the Super Bowl, the season starts for real, traditionally with the champs playing host. Teams on the Patriots' home schedule that would make sense for opening night are the Steelers, Chiefs, Cowboys or heck, maybe even the Browns. There's pretty much no way to narrow the opponent or venue for the Panthers' opener; the only game it surely wouldn't be is the road game against the Buccaneers that will be played in London.
View photos of Efe Obada as he visits with two London youths at Bank of America Stadium.