CINCINNATI -- With the Super Bowl now over and the 2014 NFL season officially behind us, the slow march to the next training camp has begun for all 32 teams.
Free agency and the draft are the two big upcoming events for the Cincinnati Bengals and others. In addition to those events, there are meetings team president Mike Brown, head coach Marvin Lewis and other members of the front office must attend as the league ratifies and tweaks some of its many rules.
Yes, it's called the offseason, but there really isn't much "off" to it. Let's take a quick look at some of the key upcoming dates the Bengals have circled on their calendars:
Feb. 16: The first day teams can designate franchise or transition players.
A player typically gets the franchise tag when a team wants to keep him around another year, but isn't ready to commit to signing him to a longer-term deal. Michael Johnson (2013) was the last Bengal to get the franchise tag. There don't appear to be any franchise-tag candidates this year, but receiver A.J. Green could get it next year at the end of his fifth-year option. He's hopeful the Bengals get a longer-term deal done between now and then.
Feb. 17-23: NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
The Bengals and the other teams get to evaluate invited talent as they start whittling down their respective draft boards. They'll get a chance to talk to players whom they may not have seen at the Senior Bowl, and they will get a better look at their speed and strength.
March 2: By 4 p.m. ET, teams must designate franchise or transition players.
March 10: The 2015 league year and free-agency period begins at 4 p.m. ET. Teams must all be under the 2015 salary cap by 4 p.m. ET.
Sometime in the next month or so we'll know what the new salary cap will be. It's currently estimated to be just shy of $150 million per team for 2015. If that's the case, the Bengals are in good shape. According to NFL Players Association records, they are at about $110 million (that does not include the $8.7 million in dead money they'll roll over). With little additional salary-cap room needed, the Bengals can be a little more aggressive than usual this free-agency period, as Lewis has said. Still, don't expect them to go after high-priced potential free agents like Ndamukong Suh.
March 22-25: Annual league meeting in Phoenix.
April 24: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
The Bengals have two players whom they have to think about extending tenders to: defensive tackle Devon Still and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. They are the team's only restricted free agents this year. Neither figures to receive higher-round tenders.
April 29: Deadline for prior clubs to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.
If Still and Lamur hold equal offers from other teams, this is the day when the Bengals have the option of letting them go to those teams, or to keep them. If another team offered a higher-round tender, the player must sign with that team, like Andrew Hawkins did last offseason.
April 30-May 2: NFL draft, Chicago