Offseason program kicks off April 15

"There is no offseason."

It's a popular saying in NFL circles these days, and as the free-agent signing period is set to open Tuesday at 4 p.m., buzz around the Patriots and the NFL will ramp up.

But for players already under contract, another key date looms: Monday, April 15.

That is when Patriots players have been informed their voluntary offseason training program will start. Five weeks away, that is the earliest date teams (except those with new head coaches) can begin their offseason workouts. For comparison, the Atlanta Falcons will not begin their program until April 22, coach Mike Smith said at the NFL combine.

Rules regarding offseason programs were overhauled with the 2011 CBA, and limit teams with existing head coaches to nine total weeks of voluntary strength and conditioning and on-field instruction, culminating in a mandatory minicamp, typically in mid-June.

Last season, the Patriots began their offseason program on the first allowable day, April 16, and held organized team activities in late May and early June.

It was only seven weeks ago when the Patriots cleaned out their lockers following their loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship. And in just a few more weeks, they'll be back at work at Gillette Stadium.

So much for the "offseason."