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Important Off-Season Dates for Bears, NFL

NFL: 2015 NFL Draft Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that the Chicago Bears have a massive rebuilding project this off season, so I thought I would take a look at some important "league year" dates coming up starting early in 2017.

Week 17 of the 2016 NFL season concludes January 1, 2017.

The next day, January 2, is actually a big day for teams who had successful drafts in 2014. That date marks the earliest date that clubs can renegotiate or extend rookie contracts for players drafted in 2014.

For your Chicago Bears, it wasn't quite all we would have hoped for. In fact, the 2014 draft pretty much sucked for the men in Navy & Orange. Kyle Fuller was taken in the first round, followed by Ego Ferguson (second round), Will Sutton (third round), Ka'deem Carey (fourth round), Brock Vereen (fourth round), David Fales (fifth round), Pat O'Donnell (sixth round) and Charles Leno, Jr. (seventh round).

It's hard to imagine the Bears front office rushing to extend any of those players with the possible exception of Charles Leno, Jr. Left tackles are expensive in this league, and it might be worth the money to renegotiate Leno's deal. If Leno or any other player's contract is extended or reworked, that contract is no longer considered a "rookie deal" and "rookie deal" rules no longer apply.

January 2 is also when clubs can exercise their fifth-year option on their first round draft pick if they so choose. Since our first rounder, Kyle Fuller, is in the organization's doghouse at the moment, it's almost a virtual certainty that this will not happen in Chicago this year. This past season, the Bears did exercise Kyle Long's fifth year option, and later they signed Long to a hefty extension.

Another milestone on January 2 is that assistant coaches that are under contract to teams not in the playoffs can interview for open head coaching positions. This could potentially include somebody like Vic Fangio. January 2 is also "Black Monday" so we will have to see if John Fox is retained as well.

Another league period that opens up on January 2 is the Reserve/Futures Contracts seasons where teams are able to sign people who are not currently under contract to fill out the the 90-man off-season roster. Even teams in the playoffs can sign players to Reserve/Futures contracts, but those players signed by them are not eligible for the post season. Players on rosters under contract are not eligible for Futures contracts (including those on IR).

The next important date league-wide is January 8, but it remains to be seen if it will matter to the Bears.

On January 8, assistant coaches that are under contract to playoff teams that have a bye in the first round may be interviewed for head coaching openings. Obviously, if John Fox is retained in Chicago, this date is meaningless to us.

Following the Divisional Playoffs ending January 15, assistant coaches under contract to playoff teams that won their wild card games can be interviewed.

January 16 is the deadline for underclassmen to apply for "special eligibility" for the NFL draft. After that date is passed, we will know the contents of the 2017 draft pool.

There are other minor coaching interview dates, but the next big event of the year hits February 15, when clubs can slap the franchise tag on a player. This potentially is a HUGE date for the Bears and Alshon Jeffery. The last date to designate players is March 1, 4:00 PM Eastern.

The NFL Combine runs from February 28-March 6.

The REAL off season fun begins March 7 at noon Eastern. From then through March 9, teams are able to engage in contract negotiations with players that will be unrestricted free agents. This period is often annoyingly called "legal tampering" time, but it's nothing of the sort... it's not tampering at all.

Free agency officially begins on March 9 at 4:00 Eastern. That time also marks the beginning of "trading season" when teams are allowed to make trades.

Offseason Training Programs for teams with new head coaches begin on April 3, while teams with returning head coaches start April 17.

April 21 is the deadline for restricted free agents to sign, and April 26 is the deadline for clubs to have the right of first refusal.

The 2017 NFL Draft will take place April 27-29 in a city not nearly as good for it as Chicago was.