The free agency period officially opens on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET. As a practical matter, it begins at 12:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, when teams are allowed to officially negotiate and reach unenforceable agreements in principle with players will become unrestricted free agents 52 hours later.
This means that teams with: (1) money to spend; and (2) wants and needs to fill will be pushing aggressively for agents representing free agents to make quick decisions so that teams can move on to the next guy on the list, if the first guy isn’t interested in doing a deal. This forces players who may know nothing about a team and teams that may know nothing about a player to engage in speed dating and even faster consummating.
That’s why a longer pre-free-agency period that allows for visits by players with teams makes plenty of sense — for both sides. Last year, the Texans gave quarterback Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract without ever meeting him. And while a sit-down or a standing white-board session or hours of otherwise talking football and eating steak may not have caused the Texans or Osweiler to look elsewhere, it would have been something more than nothing at all.
Absent the ability to actually meet the guy before the draft, teams may be more comfortable pursuing players of whom they have first-hand knowledge. Which is why it makes sense to connect dots between new coaches and players they’ve worked with (e.g., former Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay and receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garςon). It’s also why the pre-draft process from past years gets dusted off, with coaches and scouts cracking out the files they created four or more years ago, when evaluating and possibly meeting with players who are now available to be signed sight otherwise unseen.
Even if the pre-free-agency period was longer, teams would still be rushing to get agents representing free agents to agree to terms quickly. The budgets have been set, the targets have been identified, and the race commences not on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET but at 12:00 p.m. ET today.