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The Bengals’ offseason kicks off in earnest next week with the NFL Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine provides a stage for more than 300 of college football’s top players to showcase their skills in front of coaches, GMs and scouts in an essential stop on the road to the NFL Draft. Drills begin March 2 with live coverage on the NFL Network beginning at 3:00 p.m. that day and continue throughout the week.

Cincinnati has rebuilt its offense through the 2020 and 2021 drafts and used last year’s draft to add depth to the defense that may now be needed to replace starters like Jessie Bates, who are out on contracts. Bengals will use the Combine to scout out the next batch of prospects they might draft.

March 7: Franchise tag expires

As of Wednesday, teams have been allowed to designate their franchise title or transition players. The deadline to do so is 4pm on March 7th.

Last year, the Bengals used the title to keep Bates around for another season after they were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract. It doesn’t seem certain they will use a tag this year, but possibilities could include Bates again (unlikely), linebacker Germaine Pratt, strong safety Vonn Bell or tight end Hayden Hurst.

Pratt probably earned a bigger contract than Cincinnati wants to pay for in the long run, but the cost of tagging a linebacker this year is about $20.9 million, and even that seems too steep. Tagging Bell would cost $14.5 million and Hurst would cost $11.3 million if the team cannot agree on new contracts.

Also, College Pro Days begin on March 7. In addition, from that day until April 19, visits to “top 30” facilities can take place (clubs can bring 30 non-local players for physical exams and visits) and until April 26, video and telephone interviews with players take their seats.

March 13-15: trading period

Beginning at noon on March 13 and ending at 3:59 pm on March 15, teams may contact and begin contract negotiations with players who will become unrestricted free agents when their 2022 contracts expire. No prospective free agent is permitted to enter into a contract with a new club until 4:00 p.m. on March 15, when free agency officially opens.

March 15: start of the new championship year

Before 4:00pm on this date, clubs must exercise any 2023 options they wish to activate. They must also submit qualifying offers to their limited free agents on expiring contracts to retain first refusal rights, and must submit a minimum wage offer to retain exclusive trading rights to their players on expiring contracts who have less than three seasons accrued of free agent agency credit.

The trading period also starts at 4pm

April 17: The off-season training program can begin

Clubs with returning coaches can start off-season training, while teams with new coaches can start as early as 3 April.

Teams can hold their beginner minicamps May 5-8 or May 12-15.

The Bengals had a shorter offseason schedule last year due to their Super Bowl run. A move to the AFC Championship to wrap up the 2022 season and expectations of making another deep run this season could also impact training 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 pick #1. 28 overall. Most of the Cincinnati mock drafts will target players on the defensive end of the ball in the first round.

The team is expected to need cornerbacks, safety, tight ends, linebackers, offensive tackle and possibly running backs.

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