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NFL free agency 2014: Negotiating window rules, schedule and more

The 2014 negotiating window is about to open. The three-day period prior to the start of free agency is meant to curb tampering, but does it work? Here are the ground rules. SB Nation's GIF Tournament V

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The NFL instituted a negotiating window -- more affectionately known as the "tampering window" -- in 2013 to curb the very open and supposedly illegal contract negotiations that had taken place ahead of the start of offseason free agency periods in years prior.

The three-day period -- which is set to begin this Saturday, March 8, at noon ET -- allows teams to negotiate with agents of unrestricted free agents prior to the official start of free agency on Tuesday, March 11, at 4 p.m. ET, at which time players can put ink to paper.

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The process is a little confusing. Here's a rundown of the ground rules:

  • The agents of unrestricted free agents and ONLY the agents of unrestricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with teams. If you're the agent of a restricted free agent you must wait until March 11 at 4 p.m. ET before entering negotiations.
  • No contract can be signed until the official start of free agency on March 11.
  • Players cannot talk with or visit teams that aren't their own.
  • Players who are self-represented can NOT negotiate with teams. Last year this rule worked against Ed Reed, who is not represented by an agent.
  • Prospective teams cannot make or discuss travel arrangements with the representation of pending free agents, only contract talk.
  • Have fun! (should be a rule)

The negotiating window passed rather quietly in its inaugural year. Agents indicated that they liked the window because it allowed them to gauge the market before free agency, so presumably the new rules were effective at reigning in the talking that had been going on behind closed doors, as were the NFL's threats of stiff penalties if teams toed the line.

Here's Captain Munnerlyn's agent, Hadley Englehard, via USA Today:

"The window is fantastic," Englehard said. "Because it really allows teams to start being aggressive and for agents to narrow things down and focus on those teams in the ballpark and try to get a deal done once free agency begins."

If the NFL gets its way, you won't hear much again this year. With teams and agents given the go-ahead to discuss numbers, the only remaining gray area is the scheduling of visits. For prized players, teams often jockey to be the first destination on the flight schedule. The NFL has said it would take a hard line against any potential ne'er-do-wells, but it may have difficult time enforcing its rules with so many conversations taking place.

There are not real losers during the negotiating window. The three-day period essentially allows players and teams to get organized. Clubs can quickly gauge which players and starting setting their respective Plan Bs and Cs, ditto agents, and players can presumably get through the free agent process quicker.

And everybody plays nice (or that's the idea, anyway).