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Why one journalist is making the case that NFL free agency rules are a joke

We all knew that - but this article reveals just how irrelevant the league rules really are. With DeMarcus Lawrence one of the top free agents this year, it is very pertinent to the Cowboys.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
You can bet some figures are already floating aound him.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

In free agency this year, job one for the Dallas Cowboys is keeping breakout defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the fold. The team has the option of putting the franchise tag on him, which they will probably do and still work towards a long-term deal. There are some reports circulating about what it would take to get the latter done.

The nice thing is that the Cowboys can negotiate with Lawrence before he and his agent start entertaining offers from other teams during the “legal tampering” window before free agency starts. The window opens on March 12, with free agency kicking off two days later.

There’s only one problem with that last paragraph. It is all a lie.

It has long been an open secret that NFL teams skirt the rules on contacting agents about coming free agents. Now, in an article at SI.com, Albert Breer has revealed they don’t just skirt them. They tear them right off.

Since the NFL does still have the power to levy punishments to teams that engage in negotiations with free agents before the “legal” period, Breer’s research had to be masked with anonymity. But he detailed a case study from a past season where the first contact with the agent about one of his highly regarded clients came BEFORE THE SEASON BEGAN. A potential suitor set up a meeting under the guise of “building relationships” to start feeling the agent out about what kind of contract it would take to land his client.

And that was just the first feeler. By the time the NFL Combine, long reported to be a hotbed of undercover free agent contacts, rolled around, seven teams in total had expressed interest to the agent. Some quickly dropped out of the equation, but counting the player’s own team (which made a lowball offer), that was eight teams involved in the process of outlining the player’s next contract.

That is 25% of the league. For one free agent. Given that bit of data, it is not unreasonable to assume that every NFL team is going around the rules.

And during the Combine, the agent had 27 meetings with various team officials (some may have been duplicates). And he stated in the article that EVERY MEETING discussed this particular player (along with the other clients of the agent).

By the time the Combine was done, the agent had it down to two real contenders for the player, and knew roughly how much he would get. The “legal tampering” period was just the time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Lawrence is the number one free agent pass rusher on the market this year. He is probably second only to Kirk Cousins in the interest out there for his services. Given Breer’s research, you can safely assume that his $17 million figure is based on what his agent is hearing from other teams.

The same thing is probably going on with Anthony Hitchens and RFA David Irving. Their agents will have had the same kinds of clandestine discussions and have an idea what the market is. And the Cowboys, particularly Stephen Jones, are probably well aware of the ballpark for both of them.

Word is that the Cowboys are going to start seriously trying to work out a deal with Lawrence during the Combine, when his agent will be in Indianapolis to take some of those meetings. But Breer’s peek behind the curtains show just how much has likely already been done.

For us on the outside, this seems like a quiet time in the league. But the free agent market is operating all the time, just out of our sight.

It brings up the larger question of just why the league continues the farce about no negotiations until the tampering period. The rules seem designed to give all the advantage to the player’s current team. But obviously, the teams don’t care about that when they are in the market for veteran talent.

There are millions of dollars at stake for the players and the teams, and of course the agents want their commissions to be a large as possible. With that much on the line, it is no wonder that cheating on free agency has become the modus operandi across the NFL. It will influence the negotiations with Lawrence and the others, and how the team uses the franchise tag for DLaw and the tender for Irving.

It seems foolish to continue this way. But then, making smart decisions has never been the strong point of the NFL.

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