The Super Bowl is over and now the entire league has eyes to 2024. The Bears have been focused on the future for some time as they spent January reshaping their coaching staff. They’ve spent plenty of time– and will spend even more time in the coming weeks– considering what to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But there’s a lot more on their calendar than simply deciding between Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Justin Fields at quarterback.
With the big game in the rearview, here’s what next for the Bears to focus on as they get ready for the 2024 season.
FRANCHISE TAG WINDOW OPENS: FEB. 20
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The franchise tag is a tool NFL teams can use to retain a player for one season in case they’re not able to reach an agreement on a contract extension. There are two types of franchise tags, and even a transition tag, but to keep things simple the non-exclusive tag is the most common tag that teams use. Under that tag, a player earns the average of the top-five cap hits of that player’s positions or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.
Players are free to negotiate with other teams under the non-exclusive tag, and if they agree to a deal then the player’s current team has an opportunity to match the deal. If the current team does not match, then the player’s new team has to send the previous team two first-round picks. For that reason, franchise tagged players typically stay put or hold out for a new deal.
There’s been widespread speculation that the Bears may franchise tag Jaylon Johnson if they’re not able to reach an agreement on a new deal for him.
NFL COMBINE: FEB. 27 - MAR. 4
The underwear olympics. This is where all the top prospects in the nation get together to run drills like the 40-yard dash, and show off their strength with workouts like bench press. There will be buzz from the displays of athleticism. It will be hard to ignore. But more value comes from the information gathering around the event.
FRANCHISE TAG DEADLINE: MAR. 5
This is the last day NFL teams have to place a tag on a player.
FREE AGENCY NEGOTIATIONS BEGIN: MAR. 11
Even though the new league year doesn’t begin for a couple more days, teams can begin negotiating with players and their agents for free agent deals. They can’t put pen to paper, though.
FREE AGENCY BEGINS: MAR. 13
By now, we’ll already know about several deals, but Mar. 13 is when all the free agent signings that were negotiated earlier can become official. The Bears’ biggest splashes at this time last year were Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, DeMarcus Walker and Nate Davis.
NFL ANNUAL MEETING: MAR. 24 - MAR. 27
Each year, all the NFL owners get together for a series of top-level discussions about the league. This is when teams get together to vote on potential rule changes.
OFFSEASON WORKOUTS CAN BEGIN: APR. 15
NFL teams with a new head coach can get started a little earlier, but since the Bears retained Matt Eberflus this is the earliest they can begin offseason workout programs.
NFL DRAFT: APR. 25 - APR. 27
The big event. The Bears have the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row. What they decide to do with it will be a topic of discussion probably from now until then.
FIFTH-YEAR OPTION DEADLINE: MAY 2
If Justin Fields is still a Bear, this will be the final day they can exercise his fifth-year option. The option is available for all first-round picks. The salary players earn on the option depends on several factors, and projections say Fields would earn just under $22 million.
ROOKIE MINICAMP: MAY 3-6 OR MAY 10-13
Teams have the option of either of these blocks of dates to get all their rookies in house together for drills and organized workouts. Some second-year players and guys trying to make the team on a tryout will show up too.
From there, OTAs, veteran minicamps and the rest of the summer program will take over the calendar. Before you know it, it will be time for training camp.