2017 important offseason dates for the Chicago Bears

The real fun begins March 9 when the Bears can sign free agents or make trades

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Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace talks to reporters during an end of season NFL football news conference Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in Lake Forest, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) — Charles Rex Arbogast

The 2017 offseason officially begins after the Super Bowl, and it’ll be a crucial six months for Ryan Pace, John Fox and the Bears before the team heads to Bourbonnais for training camp.

Here are some key dates on the NFL calendar and what to watch for from a Bears perspective.

February 15: First day for clubs to franchise or transition players — The only free agent the Bears could consider tagging is Alshon Jeffery, but that would mean a second franchise tag in a row for Jeffery. He made $14.599 million last season, and the 2017 tag would be 120 percent more, so approximately $17.518 million guaranteed. That would be a hefty chunk of the Bears’ cap, too. Even though the team has plenty of cap space, do they want to allocate that much to Jeffery? It’s an option if the Bears know they want Jeffery back, just not on a long-term deal.

Franchise-tagging day is also noteworthy for the Bears to keep an eye on other teams with regards to potential free-agent targets. Will the Chiefs give Eric Berry the franchise tag again? What about Washington and Kirk Cousins?

February 28-March 6: NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis — This will be the next time we hear from Pace and Fox — likely on March 1 — as the NFL descends on Lucas Oil Stadium to not only watch NFL draft prospects train and interview with clubs, but it’s also a time to get ready for the following week’s free agency.

March 1: Deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players

March 7-March 9: From noon ET on March 7 to 4 p.m. ET on March 9, clubs are “permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents.”

March 9: At 4 p.m. ET, the 2017 league year and free agency begin, along with the trading period — Expect Pace to be aggressive, but calculated, in free agency, like he has been in his first two seasons. The biggest “splurges” were on Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan, allowing the Bears to still spend on Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Royal. Free agency will help dictate draft needs — will the Bears spend big money at cornerback or safety?

As for the Bears’ own free agents, assuming Jeffery isn’t tagged, he will be able to talk to the other 31 NFL teams. Will the Bears re-sign Brian Hoyer? He is the other notable free agent.

The start of the league year also marks the beginning of the trading period. If the Bears were to trade for, say, Jimmy Garoppolo, it would likely come together quickly on March 9. The Bears could also field trade offers, if there are any, for Jay Cutler. Any move involving the QB position during this week could spell the end of Cutler’s time in Chicago, or extend it.

March 26-March 29: Annual league meeting in Phoenix

April 3: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2016 regular season may begin offseason workout programs

April 17: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs — The Bears can begin their offseason strength and conditioning program at Halas Hall. This would be the first time the team could install any new training plans to curtail injuries in 2017.

April 27-29: NFL Draft in Philadelphia — As of now, the Bears hold the No 3 pick in Pace’s third draft as GM. If no quarterback is added to the roster through free agency or trade, all eyes will be on the draft to see if the Bears select the signal-caller of the future.