For the NFL, the ball drops at 345 Park Avenue on Tuesday, March 12, at 4:00 p.m. That’s when the 2013 league year begins.
This year, the clock strikes twelve — sort of — three days earlier.
From Saturday, March 9 through Monday, March 11, teams will be allowed to negotiate with looming free agents, by communicating directly with their agents.
Based on a calendar of key 2013 dates the NFL has circulated, the negotiating window apparently closes at midnight ET on Tuesday. Then, 16 hours later, contracts can be negotiated and signed.
What it means is that, starting at midnight on Saturday the 9th, reports will surface of agreements in principle. Technically, they’ll be unenforceable. And it’s possible that there will be some double dealing and reneging and other intrigue, with reports of agreements with one team leaked in order to push other teams to getting deals done.
Regardless, the real negotiations will begin at or about the Scouting Combine later this month. That’s when the illegal tampering always begins, and everyone does it.
And they’ll continue to do it unless and until some unlucky team gets caught and receives the bounty treatment, absorbing a penalty so significant that it scares everyone else straight.
At least for a little while.