The NFL announced Tuesday that the Miami Dolphins did not violate league free agency rules in their discussions with Ndamukong Suh prior to the official start of free agency. Concerns were raised when the details of an agreement between the Dolphins and Suh were leaked two days before free agency began, as were the details of several other soon-to-be free agents and the team with which they would sign.
The issues all revolve around the league's three-day, "legal tampering" period, in which teams and agents can discuss "negotiating positions" but cannot agree to a contract. In other words, teams and agents can have multiple conversations about hypothetical salary and contract lengths that it would take to make a contract acceptable for both sides, but the teams cannot formally offer a contract.
See the difference? No? It does not seem like anyone really does.
The league started the three-day period before the 2013 free agency period. In the first two iterations, it became very quiet among the teams as no one was really sure how to handle a period in which the player is still under contract with his old team, but his representatives are free to talk to potential new teams. This year, the three-day period became a negotiation period in which "hypothetical" contracts seemed to be discussed, then, when the free agency period opened, the actual contracts seemed to mirror the "hypothetical" ones.
For the Dolphins, who signed the biggest free agent on the market in Suh, that led to details of the six-year, $114 million contract leaking before the three-day period was complete. Suh did not actually sign a contract with the Dolphins for the first couple of days of free agency as the two sides finalized all of the language within the contract, but the fact that the money and length of contract had leaked led many to insinuate the Dolphins had violated the rules of the negotiating window.
Never mind all of the other contract details that had leaked, or all of the contracts that were signed at 4:01pm ET March 10, one minute after the free agency period began. It seems pretty likely that the player and team were able to fully negotiate an entire contract in those 60 seconds.
With the number of leaked contracts during this year's negotiating window, the league had stated it would investigate several agreements, including the Dolphins' with Suh. The most interesting part of this may be, normally, a team has to accuse another team of tampering, then ask the NFL to investgate. In this case, the Detroit Lions, Suh's former team, said they were not looking for a tampering case, but the NFL announced the investigation anyway.
Miami and Suh were the biggest names in the negotiating window "investigation." Now that they have been cleared, it does not appear anything will come out of the look into leaked deals before free agency began.
Except maybe a memo before next year's negotiating window reminding teams to not agree to deals before free agency begins - even hypothetical ones.