In recognition of the rampant illegal tampering that occurs in the weeks preceding free agency, the NFL has created a three-day window for legal tampering, prior to the start of free agency. This year, that window opens on Saturday, March 7.
Given the rampant reports of agreements in principle that emerged during a similar time span following the lockout but before deals could be signed, it was believed when the NFL launched the legal tampering process that a similar dynamic would occur. That hasn’t happened, in large part because the NFL annually has reminded teams to refrain from announcing agreements in principle. The NFL has even instructed teams to refrain from making actual offers during the three-day period.
Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize the concept of negotiating with the ban on actually making offers during negotiation, since the making of offers is necessarily part of the negotiating.
The version of the memo sent last year permits a team to “[s]ubmit a written summary of the club’s negotiating position,” to “[e]xpress its position as to signing bonus, length of contract, amounts of signing bonus and yearly compensation, and other items,” to “[a]djust its negotiating position in response to a certified agent’s position,” and “[e]ngage in an oral exchange of positions.”
However, the team must say that it is simply articulating a “negotiating position,” not “making an offer.” Under the 2014 memo, no offers can be made, and no express or implied agreements can be reached.
Despite the unnecessary complexities the NFL has added to the process, the three-day window benefits looming free agents. As one G.M. told PFT on Friday morning, the legal tampering period has helped plenty of players get paid plenty of money.
Last year, for example, news that the Vikings had re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a monster deal during the three-day window shocked many fans. For the Vikings, the move was justified by the information Griffen’s agents was able to obtain during the three-day window.
This year, there’s a good chance that multiple impending free agents will do deals to stay with their current teams based on the “negotiation positions” that emerge during the three-day window. There’s an even better chance that the “negotiation positions” in many cases will transform into an unofficial agreement in principle with a new team, to be finalized at 4:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The best chance is that teams and agents will continue to keep the cards close to the vest in deference to the league’s very strong desire that the news of new players in new cities stays under wraps until the market officially opens. Some league insiders insist it’s part of the NFL’s vision for an eventual college-style “signing day.”
While it’s inevitable that certain nuggets and/or tidbits will emerge in the coming days, the trend suggests that the only hard news will come if/when players re-up with their current teams.