The NFL‘s free agency period begins on March 15 at 4 p.m. ET. But before the traditional fun begins, the old men in lush offices get to play the role of rebels with the NFL legal tampering period. For a 52-hour period, million-dollar deals will be made in the shadows, waiting to be announced until the league legally allows it.
What Is the NFL’s Legal Tampering Period?
Tamper (v.): to interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.
As someone who takes rules and words very seriously, the legal tampering period is gear-grinding for me. Tampering, by its very nature, is wrong. Teams are able to do it during a short period before free agency and get away with it, but when the Miami Dolphins do it, everyone gets their jimmies rustled, and they lose draft picks.
What is “legal tampering?” It is the 48 hours before free agency begins when teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents. Numbers are exchanged between teams and agents, but the rules state that nothing can be agreed upon until the clock strikes 4 p.m. on Monday.
MORE: When Is the Franchise Tag Deadline in 2023?
However, it’s easy to assume that’s bullocks because a rash of deals always strikes right at the start, and I doubt players and agents are adding teams to a three-way facetime call screaming, “accept!” at the gun.
In practice, agents and teams agree to everything under the sun of these excruciatingly complex contracts. The only reason they consider it “tampering” is because NFL contracts do not legally expire until the start of the new league year, which is on March 15 at 4 p.m.
Teams must communicate through a player’s agent, and players are not permitted to speak with or visit potential landing spots. However, they are able to visit the team they most recently played for. That means Jessie Bates III could meet with Cincinnati if the team actually had any interest in spending that kind of money on him.
How Long Does the Legal Tampering Period Last?
The league’s legal tampering period lasts a smidge over two days in total. During that time, restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents don’t get to have any fun. Their agents may not communicate with teams until 4 p.m. on Wednesday after all the unrestricted free agents have been busy negotiating for 52 hours.
When Does the NFL Legal Tampering Period Start in 2023?
All eyes will be on the top quarterbacks during the tampering period if they are not met with their team’s franchise tag.
Safety Jessie Bates, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, and cornerback Jamel Dean highlight the defensive side of the ball. On offense, tackle Orlando Brown and whichever top running back is not tagged highlight the offensive group. For a comprehensive list, check out PFN’s 2023 free agents by position.