A franchise tag on Chandler Jones is one of the first offseason dominoes that could fall.
The Cardinals' offseason plans became much clearer on Thursday when Carson Palmer announced he was returning for the 2017 season. With Palmer and star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the fold, the team hopes to shake off last year's 7-8-1 campaign and return to contention.
Much will depend on how the roster shapes up this offseason, as the Cardinals have several key unrestricted free agents. Here is a look at some key dates to remember:
Feb. 15: This is the first day of a two-week period where teams can designate a player with a franchise tag. Coach Bruce Arians said in January the Cardinals would tag outside linebacker Chandler Jones if the two sides don't agree to a long-term extension. Joel Corry, a former agent who is now an analyst for CBS Sports, projects Jones' franchise tag salary at $14.75 million if the cap comes in at $168 million. The deadline to tag a player is March 1.
Feb. 28-March 6: The NFL Scouting combine will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Cardinals' draft needs could vary depending on free agency, but the scouting department will begin to wrap up its evaluations by meeting with prospects and watching them partake in a variety of drills.
March 7: This is the start of free agent negotiations, where teams have two days to speak with agents about their pending unrestricted free agents before the start of the new league year. It is during this time that players will start to get a firm grasp on their market value. Last year, quarterback Drew Stanton re-signed in this window, deciding the Cardinals were his best fit. It wouldn't be a surprise if one or more of the team's prospective free agents re-signed here as well.
March 9: The new league year begins at 2 p.m. Arizona time, and all unrestricted free agents will be free to sign with any team. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety D.J. Swearinger, linebacker Kevin Minter and center A.Q. Shipley are among the Cardinals' most prominent unrestricted free agents. The team is hoping to bring many of them back, but there will inevitably be roster turnover. The Cardinals won't have a bunch of cap room – especially if Jones is franchised – but they will be scanning the available free agent pool in hopes of upgrading the roster.
April 17: Teams with returning coaches – like the Cardinals and Bruce Arians – can begin their offseason programs.
April 27-29: The NFL draft will be held over these three days. The Cardinals have the 13th overall selection in the first round, their highest position since taking Jonathan Cooper at No. 7 overall in 2013. Even with Palmer in the fold, it wouldn't be a surprise if the front office looks hard at the available quarterbacks in search of an eventual replacement. Other positions the team has been most linked to in various mock drafts: cornerback, wide receiver and inside linebacker.
The offseason is always fluid, with one move sometimes causing a chain reaction. By the time May rolls around, the Cardinals should have most of their roster filled out. These will be the most notable days on that journey.
Images of the Cardinals' star duo, who have both announced their intentions to play in 2017