Key dates in offseason for Cincinnati Bengals

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

This time last year, the Cincinnati Bengals were preparing to head to Buffalo for a divisional round playoff game that would send them to a second straight AFC Championship. On Sunday, they will be watching from afar as the Bills host the Kansas City Chiefs instead.

Cincinnati missed the playoffs with a 9-8 finish this season, and instead of preparing for games, the Bengals are getting a headstart on the offseason.

With four weeks until the Super Bowl, there is still plenty of time before the offseason really kicks into full gear, but with some big decisions to make regarding the roster and pending free agents, the Bengals will need the extra bit of prep work.

Here is a look at some of the key dates coming up on the NFL calendar and what to watch for this offseason.

Feb. 27-March 4: NFL Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine provides a stage for more than 300 of the best college football players to showcase their skills in front of coaches, GMs and scouts in a key stop on the path to the NFL Draft. Drills begin Feb. 29 and continue throughout the week.

Cincinnati rebuilt its offense through the 2020 and 2021 drafts and used the 2022 and 2023 drafts to add depth on defense that resulted in several rookies and first-year starters filling holes this season. The Bengals will use the Combine to scout out the next batch of prospects they could be drafting, and with turnover expected at key spots on offense, it could be another Ja’Marr Chase vs. Penei Sewell type of debate.

March 7: Franchise tag deadline

Beginning on Feb. 20, teams were allowed to designate their franchise tag or transition players, but the deadline to do that is by 4 p.m. March 5.

Last year, the Bengals didn’t use the tag, but it’s possible they do this time in order to keep Tee Higgins around for another year if they still are unable to come to an agreement on a long-term contract. It happened with Jessie Bates in 2022 and then he earned a big contract with Atlanta.

Also of note, College Pro Days begin around this time as well.

March 11-13: Negotiation Period

Beginning at noon March 11 and ending at 3:59 p.m. March 13, teams are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2023 contracts. No prospective free agent is permitted to execute a contract with a new club until 4 p.m. March 13 when free agency officially opens.

March 13: Start of new league year

Prior to 4 p.m., clubs must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts to retain a right of first refusal, and they must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

The trading period also begins at 4 p.m. and free agency officially opens.

April 15: Offseason workout program can begin

Clubs with returning head coaches can begin offseason workouts, while teams with new head coaches are allowed to begin as early as April 1.

Teams can hold their rookie minicamps May 3-6 or May 10-13.

April 25-27: NFL Draft

The NFL Draft takes place in Detroit, Mich., and the Bengals have the No. 18 pick overall.

With the potential departures of Higgins and Tyler Boyd, there could be gaping holes at wide receiver, and the drat seems a likely place to rebuild like they did in 2020 and 2021. Right tackle Jonah Williams and defensive tackle D.J. Reader also could be gone in free agency, so there are needs on the offensive and defensive lines. The tight end position still needs addressed as well. The Bengals didn’t land one in the draft last year but likely will be looking again.

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