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TWENTYMAN: Offseason dates to watch

With the Super Bowl in the books, the official start of the offseason is underway for all 32 teams in the NFL.

This is an important offseason for the Detroit Lions as they look to make the right moves that will propel them into the thick of the NFC North race in 2019.

Here are some important offseason dates to keep an eye on as we navigate through the NFL offseason:

Feb. 19 – First date for clubs to designate franchise or transition players. The franchise tag binds the player to the team for one year. The transition tag guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The Lions used their franchise tag on defensive end Ziggy Ansah last year.

Feb. 26 – March 4 – NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This is an important date on the pre-draft calendar for teams. It’s the first time they’ll get the official measurements for the underclassmen. Most draft eligible prospects will be in attendance for testing, meetings and medical evaluations. The 40-yard dash testing is typically the highlight of the week for fans.

March 11-13 – Clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2018 player contracts at 4 p.m. on March 13. This is also known as the 'legal tampering weekend.' The Lions currently have 16 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this offseason.

March 13 – Prior to 4 p.m., clubs must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts to retain a right of first refusal/compensation. The Lions have two restricted free agents, defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Kerry Hyder Jr. A restricted free agent is one with three or less accrued seasons (six or more regular season games) of service, who has received a "qualifying" offer (1st round, 2nd round or original round) from his current club. He can negotiate with any club through a certain date. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club has right of first refusal, a five-day period in which it may match the offer and retain him, or choose not to match the offer, in which case it may receive one or more draft picks for the upcoming draft from the player's new club.

March 13 – Prior to 4 p.m., clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2018 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit. The Lions have three exclusive rights free agents in defensive end Mitchell Loewen, linebacker Steve Longa and safety Charles Washington. If the Lions extend contract offers to these players they can sign with the Lions only or sit out the 2019 season.

March 13 – All clubs must be under the 2019 Salary Cap (projected to be between $187 to $191.1 million) prior to 4 p.m.

March 13 – The 2019 league year and free agency period begin at 4 p.m. Teams can start officially signing and announcing free-agent acquisitions.

March 24 – 27 – Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. This is when the league will adopt new rule changes or amendments for the 2019 season.

April 15 – Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs. Teams with new head coaches can begin on April 1.

April 19 – Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.

April 25 – 27 – NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee. The Lions currently have nine picks in the draft before the announcement of compensatory picks. They have a pick in all seven rounds and two picks in the sixth and seventh rounds.

May 3-6 or May 10-13 – Clubs can elect to hold one three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday. Last year, the Lions elected to hold their minicamp on the second weekend.

June 2 – For any player removed from the club’s roster or whose contract is assigned via waivers or trade on or after June 2, any unamortized signing bonus amounts for future years will be included fully in team salary at the start of the 2020 league year.

July 15 – At 4 p.m., deadline for any club that designated a franchise player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2019 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

July 22 – Clubs can have players start reporting for training camp.

August 1 – Football is back. Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio kicks off the preseason schedule.

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