A new element has been introduced into free agency. NFL teams will be allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents during a three-day period which runs from March 9 at 12:00 AM eastern time until 3:59:59 PM eastern time on March 12. During the three-day window, prospective unrestricted free agents can’t visit teams or have direct contact with team employees, except those from their current clubs. A player’s ability to re-sign with his current club isn’t affected by the rule. Teams also can’t set up visits with prospective unrestricted free agents until the start of the 2013 league year at 4:00 PM eastern time on March 12.
The rule does not apply to restricted free agents and players who received franchise or transition tags. Players who don’t have an agent, like Baltimore’s Ed Reed, are also prohibited from having discussions with teams during this legalized tampering period. Players can’t sign contracts with new teams until the new league begins.
Currently without an agent, safety Ed Reed won't be able to take advantage of the new three-day window.
The three-day negotiating period was approved last October at the Fall Owners Meetings in Chicago after being recommended by the NFL’s Competition Committee. The rule is designed to curb the customary tampering that starts taking place when NFL teams meet with agents about their impending free agent clients at the NFL’s annual Combine held in Indianapolis during late February. The rule seems to have had a chilling effect since fewer meetings reportedly took place at this year’s Combine. This may also be partially attributed to their being greater lag time between the Combine and the start of free agency under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. There are now two weeks between the events instead of just a couple of days.
Since legalized tampering is in its infancy, it is unclear how it will impact free agency. The NBA has had a signing moratorium period for several years at the start of their free agency period, which is currently ten days. In the NBA, there is a flurry of activity where agreements in principle between players and teams are usually publicly announced during their moratorium.
One benefit to teams with the negotiating period is that they won’t be operating in as much of a vacuum when trying to gauge a player’s market value. Teams will have time to adjust if they have initially miscalculated the market. It may also create a sense of urgency in teams re-signing their own players that are a priority in order to prevent agents from leveraging other teams against them. The first wave of free agency, which is usually just the first few days of free agent signing period, could become compressed if deals are signed at a much quicker rate than in previous years.
Once agents and teams have gone through the legalized tampering period, they will have a better idea of how to use it strategically to their advantage in the future.
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Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org