A Cowboys' slant on NFL key dates

IRVING, Texas – The NFL is on to 2016 now that Super Bowl 50 is over.

This was the first week teams could begin cutting players, but the Dallas Cowboys are in no rush to make any big-name moves just yet.

Let’s take a Cowboys’ slant on the key offseason dates

Feb. 16: Teams can designate franchise or transition players

Cowboys slant: Unlike last year, when the Cowboys put the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, the Cowboys do not have a candidate for the franchise or transition tag this year. Per the terms of his contract, the Cowboys could not put the tag on defensive end Greg Hardy if they wanted to. They don’t want to.

Feb. 23-29: NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Cowboys slant: With the fourth overall pick, this will be a big week for the Cowboys to get to know the top prospects. They got to know North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz fairly well at the Senior Bowl, but you would expect them to have face-to-face meetings with Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch, the other top quarterbacks available, in Indianapolis. The biggest part of the week is not the workouts -- it's the interview and medical exams.

March 1: Deadline to designate franchise or transition players is 4 p.m. Franchise tags are one-year fully guaranteed contracts for players set to become free agents.

Cowboys slant: See the Feb. 16 writeup.

March 7-9: Teams can begin to contact and enter into contract negotiations with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents March 9. Contracts cannot be signed until 4 p.m. March 9.

Cowboys slant: It’s laughable to call this the legal tampering period because tampering is rampant the entire offseason. It’s just that nobody says anything about it because they all do it.

March 9: By 4 p.m., teams must submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents with expiring deals and to whom they want to retain a right of first refusal or compensation.

Cowboys slant: Guard Ronald Leary and safety Jeff Heath are the Cowboys' only pending restricted free agents. Unlike last year, when they chose not to tender an offer to cornerback Sterling Moore, the Cowboys will extend the tenders to both players. Leary could get a second-round tender, while Heath should get the right-of-first-refusal tender.

March 9: By 4 p.m., all teams must be under the 2016 salary cap.

Cowboys slant: Over the last few years the Cowboys have done a good job of cleaning up their cap so they are not in a position to restructure contracts just to get under the ceiling. As of now, the Cowboys have less than $1 million in dead money against the cap.

March 9: Free agency begins at 4 p.m.

Cowboys slant: They will be in position to do whatever they want to do in free agency. They can create plenty of cap room by restructuring the deals of Tyron Smith and Tyrone Crawford. They would rather not touch the contracts of Bryant and Tony Romo. It would be surprising to see the Cowboys set the market with early deals in free agency. Patience is often the best route.

March 20-23: Annual league meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

Cowboys slant: Stephen Jones is a member of the Competition Committee. At this meeting rule changes are voted on for the upcoming season. The preseason schedule will be announced as well. Given that the Cowboys will be in Oxnard, California, for training camp it would not be a surprise to see them play the Los Angeles Rams in the first week of the preseason.

April 18: Teams with returning coaches can begin organized team activities.

Cowboys slant: If Romo opts to have surgery on his left collarbone, as expected, then he should be back in time to take part in the OTAs. Missing 12 games in 2015 might leave Romo in better shape than he has been in recent years.

April 28-30: 2016 NFL draft in Chicago.

Cowboys slant: Whom the Cowboys pick in the first round could go a long way in telling Romo’s future, especially if they take a quarterback. If they don’t take a quarterback in the first round, finding help in the second or third rounds would make sense, but this is a team that has plenty of needs, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

April 30: After the last pick of the draft, teams can sign undrafted free agents who were eligible for the 2016 draft.

Cowboys slant: For years the Cowboys have excelled in this area. Last year they signed La'el Collins, who turned into their starting left guard, and added Lucky Whitehead, who became their return specialist. Romo is the posterboy for undrafted success, but Dan Bailey and Barry Church are two success stories.

July 15: By 2 p.m., teams that designated a franchise or transition player must sign him to a multi-year contract or extension or have him play on the tag, meaning that he cannot receive a contract extension until the end of the regular season.

Cowboys slant: No worries here. Last year the Cowboys signed Bryant to a five-year, $70 million deal that including a fully guaranteed $32 million.