At 12:00 noon ET today (March 7), the so-called "legal tampering" period for NFL free agents begins. In a sense, this is the league caving in to reality. For years, there was no contact officially allowed by the league prior to the actual beginning of free agency (this year, 4 pm ET on March 9). That meant everything had to be negotiated after that point. But given the rapidity with which some deals were inked, it was obvious that there had been a lot of unsanctioned talks. Over the past several years, the NFL has grudgingly allowed certain contacts, although the supposed restrictions were neither clear nor consistent. This season, the league has refined the guidelines to make more sense, according to a copy of the official memo sent out and obtained by Pro Football Talk.
"During the two-day negotiating period, all clubs may negotiate all aspects of an NFL Player Contract with the certified agent of any prospective UFA," explains the March 2 memo to all teams, a copy of which PFT has obtained. "However, a new club may not execute an NFL Player Contract with a prospective UFA until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 9, when the player's 2015 contract expires."
Apparently this means that all the terms of a contract can be worked out verbally, but nothing can be signed or committed to formally. It sounds like the teams can have the contracts drawn up in advance, but there is only the word of players and their agents that they are actually going to sign. However, as the article goes on to explain, the agents involved have a vested interest in making sure that their clients live up to any verbal agreements, since a failure to do so would create future problems for the agent in working with teams.
There is a restriction on making travel arrangements prior to the expiration of old contracts. This may mean that the players cannot board a flight to their new city before that 4 pm deadline, but it seems a hard rule to enforce if the player decides to pay for his own ticket in anticipation of signing a new deal. In any case, the action is likely to start very soon after that time rolls around, with deals being announced all over the league.
None of this applies to veteran players who have already been released from their prior contracts, such as Mario Williams. He has already made a visit to the Miami Dolphins and is expected to go talk to the New York Giants and possibly the Jacksonville Jaguars, and other trips may be in the offing for him. He is now one of the top available edge rushers, perhaps the most desired one in the league, so he might want to see how many bidders he can get involved.
For the majority of players who have to wait for their old contracts to expire on Wednesday, there are going to be a flood of rumors. Remember that much of the information you see flying around the interwebs is generated by those agents, often in the hopes of luring in other suitors for their clients. And the Cowboys, along with several other teams, will likely be quiet for several days as they let others get sucked into the high dollar contracts of the first wave that are more likely than not to result in overpaying for the services rendered. That does not mean they will not begin talking to some agents to start sorting out who might fit their salary goals, however.
Nothing is final until the ink goes on the dotted line. Stay tuned and we'll try to make sure you have the best information available about who will be joining (or re-joining) the Dallas roster.