NFL Free Agency 2022: When does NFL free agency start?

The 2022 NFL free agency start date is March 16, but there are many more dates to keep an eye on in the upcoming months.

We are about to dive headfirst into the NFL offseason with 2022 free agency not far away at all. Let’s take a look at the date when NFL free agency begins in 2022, and what we can expect in the next few weeks leading up to the new league year.

If you want to see which players might be available this offseason, make sure to check out Pro Football Network’s Top 75 Free Agent Rankings.

When does NFL free agency start in 2022?

The free agency period begins the same day every season. The date changes, but the start of the league year always signifies the beginning of free agency. However, it’s not necessarily that cut and dry because the legal tampering period also exists.

That period begins 48 hours prior to the start of free agency and allows teams to negotiate deals with players. However, they may not, even in principle, agree to terms. The consequences can be steep for violations, including stripped draft picks and heavy fines.

  • Legal tampering period: Monday, March 14
  • 2022 NFL free agency start date: Wednesday, March 16

What is the legal tampering period?

Tamper (v.): to interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.

Words mean things. The start date for NFL free agency is on March 16. “Legal tampering” needs a redesign because that oxymoron has run its course and needs to retire. It cannot be tampering if it’s authorized. The term is used by old men that want to feel like rebels.

Teams may only speak to unrestricted free agents inside the 48-hour window. Also, while deals may be agreed upon in principle, nothing may be announced publicly until Wednesday. But it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to recognize that deals get done in this window. Contracts are announced almost instantaneously on the first day of free agency. The 2022 NFL free agency period will be no different.

What is not permitted during the legal tampering period?

Players aren’t allowed to speak with teams directly during this time. That only matters if a player chooses to represent themselves in free agency, which we have seen in the past. However, a player may visit the team he was under contract with to end the previous season. For example, as of right now, Davante Adams is set to be a free agent in 2022. Therefore, he may visit with the Packers personally in that 48-hour window.

Exclusive rights free agents and restricted free agents don’t get to have any fun during the 48-hour window. A team would be tampering by speaking with them but in an illegal way.

What happens before the start of NFL free agency?

While free agents cannot negotiate ahead of starting line, players cut by teams can negotiate with any team in the league. Teams often allow that courtesy to veterans who would become cap casualties otherwise. It’s a sign of good faith. However, players may negotiate with the team they were last under contract with before the tampering period begins.

The franchise and transition tags

Ah, the franchise tag — allowing teams to maintain control of a player at the expense of a fully guaranteed contract. Since its inception in 1993, the franchise tag has been an important negotiating tool taken advantage of by players and front offices. But for the most part, nobody likes the thing. It’s one of professional football’s necessary evils.

Teams must apply the franchise tag before the start of 2022 NFL free agency to avoid losing out on the player. Teams have from February 22 until March 8 to decide whether to apply the franchise tag on a player for 2022. The player is then under contract for the next season on a fully-guaranteed basis, but player and team can still negotiate a long-term solution in the meantime.

The transition tag is a different animal and the same beast. The transition tag allows players to negotiate a contract with other teams. The player’s prior team has the option to match whatever deal another organization makes, or they can let the player walk if the price is higher than they’re willing to spend.

However, if there is no offer by the July 22 deadline, the player may only negotiate with his prior club. Only four players have been handed the transition tag in the past decade. Teams have both tags at their disposal but may only use one in any given season.

What happens to restricted free agents once free agency begins?

Restricted free agency is similar to the transition tag. It’s an automatic team option, per se. Teams have until the first day of the league year to tender RFAs at one of four levels.

Restricted free agents may negotiate contracts with other teams on the 2022 NFL free agency start date. Teams have until April 22 to extend an offer to a restricted free agent. Then, the player’s contracted team has until April 27 to match the offer or let the player walk.

Cap implications for teams

Teams must be under the salary cap before March 16. If a team is above the cap number on the start date of the 2022 NFL free agency period, the league has options. They may fine the team, take away draft picks, or even cancel out contracts to make the team compliant. This rarely ever happens. Additionally, teams must remain under the cap during the entire free agency period.

However, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap during the offseason. It remains that way until the season begins in September. That gives the teams the ability to fill out a 90-man roster without worrying about how the final 30+ players — a number of which likely won’t make the roster — affect the cap.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.


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