The NFL’s new league year - and the start of free agency - begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. At that time, players with contracts that expired at the end of the 2022 season are free to begin signing with any team. However, the agents of those players are free to begin negotiating with teams as of today. Welcome to the “legal tampering” period for 2023.
As of 12 p.m. ET on Monday, the league opened the negotiating period. This is 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 2023.
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 2022 player contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 15,” 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 15.
For the Miami Dolphins, their free agent group is headlined by tight end Mike Gesicki. After playing on the franchise tag last year, Gesicki appears headed toward free agency this year. He has the potential to be an elite-level pass-catching tight end, especially if used as a big slot receiver, but in Miami this year, it just never came together in head coach Mike McDaniel’s offensive system for him. He will likely see plenty of interest in signing him this week.
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 15.
The league allows players who represent themselves to have an exception to the no direct contact rule, allowing them to take phone calls from teams.
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.
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 4 p.m. Eastern March 15.
This includes the Dolphins trade for Jalen Ramsey as reported on Sunday, but it will not become official until some time after the March 15 start to the new league year.
Dolphins free agents
Unrestricted free agents
- Justin Bethel, corner
- Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback
- Geron Christian, tackle
- River Cracraft, wide receiver
- Michael Deiter, guard
- Sam Eguavoen, linebacker
- Clayton Fejedelem, safety
- Eric Fisher, tackle
- Trey Flowers, defensive end
- Myles Gaskin, running back
- Mike Gesicki, tight end
- John Jenkins, defensive tackle
- Melvin Ingram, linebacker
- Greg Little, tackle
- Thomas Morstead, punter
- Raheem Mostert, running back
- Nik Needham, corner
- Duke Riley, linebacker
- Elandon Roberts, linebacker
- Eric Rowe, safety
- Adam Shaheen, tight end
- Brandon Shell, tackle
- Trent Sherfield, wide receiver
- Andrew Van Ginkel, linebacker
- Jeff Wilson Jr, running back
Restricted Free Agents
(If not tendered by Wednesday, they will become unrestricted free agents)
- Salvon Ahmed, running back - Re-signed
- Elijah Campbell, safety - Tendered
- John Lovett, fullback