For the first time in NFL history, teams are permitted to open contact with agents early. In the past this was tampering, but now it's the "three-day negotiating period." Here's what that means come this weekend.
Free agency officially opens on Tuesday, March 12 at 4 p.m. ET -- it's here where teams can begin to sign unrestricted free agents. While that's the big date teams and fans are waiting for, negotiations can begin early. Affectionately referred to as the "tampering period," there are very specific rules that differ this from the true start of free agency.
Beginning midnight on Saturday, March 9, (that means one minute after 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday) NFL teams are allowed to begin negotiations with the agents of unrestricted free agents. Unlike the Tuesday afternoon opening, players are not allowed to talk to teams directly, they're unable to visit their facilities, and if the player is self-represented (i.e. doesn't have an agent) they cannot have any contact with a team.
It's here where the "tampering" moniker comes into play. A rare opportunity for teams to try and get an early start on free agency, while also needing to show restraint to deal strictly with an agent, and not over-step by talking to the player directly. This only applies to unrestricted free agents, meaning that players who are subject to a qualifying offer (restricted free agent) still need to wait until Tuesday to begin their negotiations.
Time will tell whether the league's new schedule helps, or hinders the free agency process -- but it should cut down on the regular claims of tampering each year.