Welcome to the unofficial start to 2021. The NFL’s league year does not officially change until 4pm ET on Wednesday, but starting 12pm ET today, the league will enter the oddly named “legal tampering” period of free agency. While a new contract cannot be executed over the next couple of days, agents and teams can discuss deals and unofficially come to an agreement.
Of course, we will hear plenty of leaks about deals and know the destinations for several of the big-name free agents.
Here is everything you need to know for the legal tampering period:
Legal tampering period start and end
The period will run from noon today until the official start of free agent at 4pm ET on Wednesday.
What is the legal tampering period?
Officially described by the NFL as a period when, “Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2020 player contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 17,” the legal tampering period - not an official name and you will hear it called the “negotiating window” and “negotiating period” as well - is simply a time when teams and agents can start talking about a contract.
Which free agents?
Players who will become unrestricted free agents at 4pm ET on Wednesday are allowed to have their agents talk to teams. The unrestricted part is important, as restricted free agents cannot start negotiations on offer sheets until March 17.
There are rules to the legal tampering period. Players may not visit or talk to teams. Period. There are no phone calls being made to players by teams. Only team representatives and agents are allowed to talk. And talk is all that is allowed to happen. Numbers can be passed back and forth and a verbal agreement can be unofficially made, but nothing official can be agreed to, announced, or signed until 4pm ET on March 17.
Think back to a few years to when the Miami Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh and how there was speculation that the team had done something wrong. The framework of a deal can be in place, but the specifics and the contract cannot be completed until free agency begins. You will hear reports of agreements, but those deals usually get dragged out a few hours or days in order to make sure there is no appearance of impropriety.
Also, a weird situation is if a player represents himself. He still cannot talk to a team, so he will not be contacted during the legal tampering period.
Finally, travel arrangements for visits cannot be made during the period. So, an agent and a team cannot buy tickets to have a player visit the team facilities as soon as free agency begins. Now, if a player happens to be traveling to that city and is there on Wednesday, that is just a coincidence, right?
Teams are still allowed to re-sign their own soon-to-be free agents during this period. Some teams use this period as a chance to gauge the market and demand for a player, then re-sign him to a sensible contract, rather than take a chance that they will be overpaying for the player or bidding against themselves. It is risky because there could be higher demand or the player could see it as an insult that the team did not just re-sign him initially, but it is a possibility.
Teams can work out trades during this period as well, and some do formulate during the legal tampering period, but they will not become official until 4pm ET March 17. This includes the Dolphins trade for offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson from the Tennessee Titans.
Dolphins free agents
Unrestricted free agents
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback
Matt Breida, running back
DeAndre Washington, running back
Mack Hollins, wide receiver
Julién Davenport, tackle
Ted Karras, center
Davon Godchaux, defensive tackle
Vince Biegel, linebacker
Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker
Elandon Roberts, linebacker
Kavon Frazier, safety
Matt Haack, punter
Jason Sanders, kicker - Signed extension
Restricted free agents
Isaiah Ford, wide receiver
Adam Pankey, guard
Calvin Munson, linebacker (tendered - $850K)
Nik Needham, cornerback (tendered- $850K)
Jomal Wiltz, cornerback (tendered- $850K)
Restricted free agents who are not tendered will become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday.
Exclusive rights free agents
Jake Rudock, quarterback
Released players (unrestricted free agents)
Kyle Van Noy, linebacker
Isaiah Ford, tackle - from Tennessee Titans
Benardrick McKinney, linebacker - from Houston Texans
Shaq Lawson, linebacker - to Houston Texans