Before we can get to free agency, the NFL legal tampering period opens for team but what exactly is it and how does it work?
With free agency right around the corner, things are about to get crazy in the NFL.
But the actual frenzy of free agency happens before deals can even be signed and only agreed to. While fans look forward to seeing what their teams do in free agency, it’s the NFL legal tampering where most of the action takes place.
It’s a little wonky, sure. Why have a free agency tampering period ahead of actual free agency?
Here’s a quick little primer on what the NFL legal tampering period is and how it all works.
What is NFL legal tampering? (Updated 2023)
Ahead of actual free agency beginning, the NFL legal tampering period opens to allow teams get a head start on negotiating with players. It’s a rule that essentially existed for years off the books, and the league simply baked it into the process rather than continue to fight an uphill battle.
During the NFL legal tampering period, teams have the right to discuss “all aspects of an NFL player contract” without actually signing a deal. Nothing can be made official during the tampering period but both teams and players can get right up to the finish line. Once the new league year begins, everything that’s been talked about and agreed upon can become official and contracts can officially be offered and signed.
The legal tampering period this year begins on Monday March 13th at noon ET and ends on Wednesday March 15th at 4 pm ET.
When is NFL Free Agency?
It doesn’t take a detective to figure out when free agency begins when stacking it up against the beginning and end of the legal tampering period.
NFL free agency begins on March 15th at 4 pm ET, right when the legal tampering period expires.
It’s at this point the new league year begins, which means contracts negotiated during the tampering period can be officially signed. New deals aren’t the only thing that kicks in once free agency starts and the new league year begins.
When the new league year begins, trades that have been agreed upon become official and salary cap moves get locked in. This means that any team that tried to get back under the cap officially has those funds that it freed up. Money created by releasing players prior to this point isn’t actually available, even if it’s essentially on its way and can be used as though it’s real when talking with free agents during the tampering period.
For example, the Bucs shed over $50 million in salary with restructured deals and players who were released, but none of that actually takes effect until Wednesday.