The soft opening for the NFL free agency period begins today, with the league allowing teams to "legally tamper" with soon-to-be free agents. The period opens at 12pm ET, running through to Tuesday's free agency grand opening.
This is the third year in which teams will be allowed to contact a player's representatives prior to the official start to free agency, but there are several restrictions the league imposes on the teams during these three days. Contact directly with the player, including visits to the team, are not supposed to happen. Actual contract offers cannot be made, though general "negotiating positions" can be expressed. Included in those negotiating positions can be signing bonus numbers, contract length, yearly salary, and guaranteed money, to which the representative can send a response position, and the team can adjust their original position.
Sounds a lot like making an offer and negotiating it. The league, however, will not allow a team to make an offer; according to a memo explaining this period last year, the league told teams they had to express to the representatives that they were simply articulating their negotiating position, and nothing constituted an official offer.
In other words, teams and agents can essentially work out an entire contract, as long as they do no say it is a contract or offer. Then, as soon as the league year turns over and free agency begins, the team can officially make an offer using the exact "negotiating position" previously worked out with the agent, to which the player immediately agrees, and the deal is done.
The league also reminds teams during this period that they cannot announce "deals in principle" or "agreements" as those would violate the ban on making offers.
It really is a lot of talking in circles. Basically, teams and representatives will be talking for the next three days, trying to hammer out numbers that cannot be called an official offer. The one thing this weekend can do, in terms of official signings, is allow a player who wanted to "test the market" get an idea of his value on the open market, then re-sign with his original team.
If the last two years has taught us anything, there will likely not be a lot of news leaking out during the next few days. Teams seem to lock down during the legal tampering period, keeping exactly with whom they are speaking under wraps.
Those discussions all then become known when a contract is announced immediately after the free agency period begins.
This year's free agency signing period starts at 4pm ET on Tuesday.