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What is the legal tampering period? 2022 NFL free agency’s soft opening

The start of the 2022 NFL free agency period unofficially begins this afternoon. What is “legal tampering” and when can players start signing with new teams?

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL league year begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern, however, 12 p.m. Easten time today marks the unofficial start to the year. Like people celebrating their “birthday week,” the NFL no longer starts the league year - and free agency - just at the set time. Instead, we now have a three-day build-up to the start of free agency, a period with the colloquial contradiction in terms name of the “legal tampering” period. During this period, teams can contact agents and discuss potential contract terms for a player who will become a free agent at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

Two-and-a-half days of teams being allowed to discuss signing a player who is under contract with a different team. Thus “legal tampering.”

Contracts cannot be executed and, technically, a deal cannot be finalized prior to the start of free agency on Wednesday. However, throughout the next few days, we will have a pretty good idea of where several of the big-name players will be playing in 2022.

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 4 p.m. 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 2021 player contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 16” 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 4 p.m. Eastern 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 16.

Rules

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 4 p.m. Eastern on March 16.

Think back to 2015 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.

Last year, the league allowed players who represent themselves to have an exception to the no direct contact rule, allowing them to take phone calls from teams.

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?

Re-signings

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.

Trades

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 4 p.m. Eastern March 16.

Dolphins free agents

Unrestricted free agents

  • Vince Biegel, Linebacker
  • Malcolm Brown, Running back
  • Jacoby Brissett, Quarterback
  • Justin Coleman, Cornerback
  • Isaiah Ford, Wide receiver
  • Will Fuller, Wide receiver
  • Mike Gesicki, Tight end - Franchise tagged
  • Mack Hollins, Wide receiver
  • John Jenkins, Defensive tackle
  • Duke Johnson, Running back
  • Phillip Lindsay, Running back
  • Greg Mancz, Center
  • Jason McCourty, Safety
  • Emmanuel Ogbah, Defensive end
  • Michael Palardy, Punter
  • Duke Riley, Linebacker
  • Elandon Roberts, Linebacker
  • Brennan Scarlett, Linebacker
  • Durham Smythe, Tight end
  • Albert Wilson, Wide receiver

Restricted Free Agents
(If not tendered by Wednesday, they will become unrestricted free agents)

  • Sam Eguavoen, Linebacker (RFA)
  • Patrick Laird, Running back (RFA)
  • Nik Needham, Cornerback (RFA) - 2nd Round Tender
  • Jamal Perry, Cornerback (RFA)
  • Sheldrick Redwine, Safety (RFA) - Not-Tendered
  • Preston Williams, Wide receiver (RFA)

Exclusive rights free agents

  • Salvon Ahmed, Running back (ERFA) - Tender
  • Elijah Campbell, Cornerback (ERFA) - Tender