A look at key NFL dates ahead

The offseason came sooner for the New England Patriots than they had hoped, but the team has hit the ground running in turning its attention toward the 2014 season.

Below is an outline of some important dates during the upcoming offseason, to give a sense of what's in store for the Patriots and the NFL at-large over the next handful of months.

Feb. 17: The window to designate a franchise tag player is open. For the Patriots, cornerback Aqib Talib could be a candidate.

Feb. 19-25: The NFL combine will be held in Indianapolis. Members of the coaching and scouting staff will meet with prospects and view workouts during this process.

March 8-11: NFL teams are allow to contact player agents of pending unrestricted free agents and enter into contract negotiations. This "legal tampering" period was implemented last offseason. While no deals can be formally signed, they can be informally agreed to.

March 11: The 2014 NFL league year begins, as does free agency.

March 23-26: NFL owners meetings, to be held in Orlando, Fla.

April 7: For those teams that hired a new head coach this offseason, they are permitted to begin their offseason workout programs.

April 21: For those who teams that did not hire a new coach, they are permitted to begin their offseason workout programs.

May 2: The final day for restricted free agents to sign an offer sheet. Long snapper Danny Aiken is the lone Patriots' restricted free agent.

May 8-10: 2014 NFL draft. This marks a shift from previous years, as it is being held a few weeks later than its normal time.

May 19-21: NFL spring meeting, to be held in Atlanta.