Shift in tag window shows that NFL has flexibility on CBA talks

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The shifting of the opening of the tag window from February 25 to February 27 doesn’t matter. The shifting of the closing of the tag window from March 10 to March 12 does, because when in the deadline-driven business that is the NFL, all that really matters is the closing of the window.

(That said, sometimes teams will apply the tag early as a way to let potentially tampering teams know they’re wasting their time. It’s probably not a coincidence, for example, that a report has emerged that the Ravens are likely to apply the franchise tag to linebacker Matthew Judon. With the Scouting Combine — a/k/a Tampering Central — opening tomorrow, the report may prompt some, most, or all teams to focus their Combine-week tampering efforts on other players.)

But here’s the real reason for the creating of this post: The two-day delay in the closing of the tag window shows that the league has flexibility to adjust fundamentally artificial deadlines to accommodate CBA talks.

Currently, the new league year begins on Wednesday, March 18. So what if it starts the next day? Or the day after? Or the following Monday, or Wednesday?

One practical impediment is that the league has arrangements in place to hold its annual meetings in Florida starting Sunday, March 29. It won’t be easy for teams to be chasing free agents while sitting in meetings on rules changes and whatever else they sit in meetings talking about. But free agency could, in theory, be tabled until after the meetings.

Sure, Pro Day workouts will be happening and coaches and General Managers will be attending. But that’s one of those things that will prompt the owners to say “deal with it” when dealing with the bigger goal of securing labor peace and then using that to secure the ultimate broadcast bag.

The only real deadline when it comes to starting the league year is the draft, which starts on April 23. Given the way free agency unfolds (first wave of big spending, second wave of bargain shopping, third wave of signing players whose teams have a right to match), all business could get done before the draft by starting the league year on Thursday, April 2. The league could also potentially push it to Thursday, April 9, with Monday, April 6 a potentially ideal middle ground.

Then there’s the possibility that the league won’t bat an eye at free agency coming after the draft. Some coaches have mused that it should happen all the time. And in 2011, the lockout forced a rushed free agency period in early August, months after teams picked their players. (The lack of free agency is one of the reasons why three underwhelming quarterbacks — Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder — went No. 8, No. 10, and No. 12 overall that year.)

The bottom line is that the folks who write the checks can do whatever they need to do in order to allow the CBA talks to get wrapped up before teams start spending money under the rules of the final year of the current deal. The inconveniences arising from bumping the start of free agency by days, weeks, or even multiple months are minuscule potatoes in comparison to the one contract that the NFL currently is focused on getting signed. And if giving the NFL Players Association a little more time, a little more time, a little more time to come to terms with the potential reality that the best deal they’ll get is on the table now, the league may be willing to find a way to do it.