Free agency began five days ago. But it actually began a week ago, when the legal tampering window opened.
For the first time since the league adopted a negotiating period that implicitly acknowledged the rampant tampering that happens before the official launch of free agency (and ideally ended it), the negotiating period has unfolded in a way that made the illegal tampering even more obvious. Within minutes after the legal tampering window opened, for example, the Raiders and tackle Trent Brown had a four-year, $66 million deal in place. So either Brown accepted the first offer that came from the Raiders (highly unlikely) or the deal was largely done before the time for talking began (very likely).
Brown was the first but not the last. More and more deals were reported throughout Monday and into Tuesday. By the time the party officially began on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, the confetti had fallen, the whiskey bottles had been emptied, and the cigars had been smoked down to a nub.
Thus, if illegal tampering has once again become obvious even with a legal tampering window in place — and if more and more of these deals are going to be reported and dissected long before the free-agency period actually commences — the league should just get rid of the legal tampering window and return to the days when the race starts as the green flag waves, and not multiple laps before.
There’s an important business reason for eliminating the false start to free agency. The NFL currently enjoys three major offseason tentpoles: the Scouting Combine, free agency, and the draft. When the audience believes free agency begins at 4:00 p.m ET on a Wednesday but by Monday night it’s already over, the NFL does a poor job of maximizing the intense interest that naturally and organically by the free-agency process.
A simple fix exists. Instead of opening a legal free agency period, start free agency. So what is there’s tampering before then? Everyone does it, and rarely does anyone get punished for it.