On Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, the new NFL league year begins and with it comes free agency. Once again this year the NFL will feature a 48-hour-plus “legal tampering period” beginning on Monday at noon ET.
What is this legal tampering period and why should you care? Glad you asked. Essentially it’s the NFL acknowledging a basic fact of a billion-dollar industry: people are willing to break the rules to get ahead.
Before the NFL instituted the legal tampering period, most teams and agents would simply negotiate on the side ahead of free agency anyway. Everyone turned their head to the miraculously quick deals struck once free agency started! The NFL is encouraging communication between teams and agents in this case, ahead of the ability to actually spend money.
A real-life example: you know the posted speed limit on every major American highway? And you know how you can actually go 5 mph faster than that speed limit without any real repercussions in 99 percent of America? That’s nothing more than a tacit agreement to let everyone legally speed.
Same thing here except the league issues a memo (so they basically announce it) every year.
It’s also how you see things like the Eagles/Rams trade of Sam Bradford/Nick Foles and theJimmy Graham deal between the Seahawks and Saints right at the start of free agency last year. Man, that was fun.
Some things to know about legal tampering:
1. No visits with new teams: Teams can’t host players who are free agents. You might see something like Mario Williams visiting with the Dolphins, but it’s different because he was released by the Bills. Someone like Richie Incognito cannot visit with other teams until after 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
2. Handshake deals: Teams can negotiate “all aspects of an NFL player contract” and can swap numbers and contract details during the illegal tampering period but cannot technically “agree” to anything.
3. No contracts and no announcements: Meaning, teams and players and agents can’t announce they’ve got a deal in place. Or theoretically sign any actual deals.
Let’s say Malik Jackson, impending Broncos free agent, has his agent go talk to the Raidersand Jaguars (both of whom have a ton of cap room). Maybe the Jaguars discuss giving him a six-year deal worth $90 million and $35 million guaranteed. He decides that sort of money in a state without personal income tax sounds pretty good! The Jaguars can’t announce it, Jackson’s agent can’t announce and a contract can’t be signed. But the two sides can squat on a deal and announce it at 4:01 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon. Hypothetically.
4. Punishable by fines/draft picks: If the NFL catches you breaking the rules it can punish you. Which is funny because the tampering is legal, you see? In short, don’t announce there’s a contract agreed to with someone else’s free agent until Wednesday. Or fire your PR people if they send out the announcement too early.
5. Another example: Brock Osweiler is set to be a free agent and has a reported deal on the table from the Broncos. He would be an insane person (or an insanely loyal person) not to ride things out until the legal tampering period begins, at which point his agent can begin talking to quarterback-needy teams like the Browns and Texans about how much they’d be willing to pay him.