The Bengals have some big decisions to make in how to fill out some key roster spots that are set to be opening, either by negotiating new deals with players on expiring contracts or replacing them in free agency or the draft.
Here is a look at some of the key dates coming up on the NFL calendar and what to watch for this offseason.
Feb. 28-March 7: 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 March 2 with live coverage on NFL Network starting at 3 p.m. that day and continuing throughout the week.
Cincinnati rebuilt its offense through the 2020 and 2021 drafts and used last year’s draft to add depth on defense that now could be needed to replace starters like Jessie Bates, who are on expiring contracts. The Bengals will use the Combine to scout out the next batch of prospects they could be drafting.
March 7: Franchise tag deadline
Beginning Wednesday, teams were allowed to designate their franchise tag or transition players. The deadline to do that is by 4 p.m. March 7.
Last year, the Bengals used the tag to keep Bates around for another season after they were unable to come to an agreement on a long-term contract. It doesn’t seem as certain they will use a tag this year but the possibilities could include Bates again (unlikely), linebacker Germaine Pratt, strong safety Vonn Bell or tight end Hayden Hurst.
Pratt likely earned a bigger contract than what Cincinnati wants to pay long-term, but the cost to tag a linebacker this year is around $20.9 million, and that seems too high as well. Tagging Bell would cost $14.5 million and Hurst would cost $11.3 million if the team can’t reach an agreement on new contracts.
Also of note on March 7, College Pro Days begin. Additionally, starting that day through April 19, “top 30″ facility visits can take place (clubs are allowed to bring in 30 non-local players for physical exams and visits), and through April 26, video and phone interviews with players are allowed to take place.
March 13-15: Negotiation Period
Beginning at noon March 13 and ending at 3:59 p.m. March 15, teams are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2022 contracts. No prospective free agent is permitted to execute a contract with a new club until 4 p.m. March 15, when free agency officially opens.
March 15: Start of new league year
Prior to 4 p.m. on this date, clubs must exercise any options for 2023 they wish to trigger. They also 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.
April 17: 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 3.
Teams can hold their rookie minicamps May 5-8 or May 12-15.
The Bengals had a shorter offseason program last year because of their run to the Super Bowl. A trip to the AFC Championship to end the 2022 campaign and expectations to make another deep run this season also could impact the workout plans this year.
April 27-29: NFL Draft
The NFL Draft takes place in Kansas City, Mo., and the Bengals have picks in each of the seven rounds, starting with the No. 28 pick overall. Most mock drafts project Cincinnati will be targeting players on the defensive side of the ball in the first round.
The team is expected to have needs at cornerback, safety, tight end, linebacker, offensive tackle and possibly running back.