As of midnight last night, the NFL officially entered uncharted waters. For the first time in free agency history, teams are allowed to begin negotiating with the agents of players about to become unrestricted free agents prior to the start of the new league year. Yes, it appears a new day has dawned on the free agency process, as the illegal tampering of old has been replaced by an identical, but now totally legal round of tampering. So basically, it's business as usual.
But just because negotiating is now legal, however, does not mean that teams are allowed to actually finalize any kind of agreement with free agent players. The NFL may have decriminalized tampering, but this isn't the Soviet Union goodness sake (I kid, I kid). In an effort to remind teams of this fact, the league sent out a memo late last night, detailing "do's" and "don't's" of the new three-day negotiating window.
Clubs were advised in PP-26-13 that during the three-day negotiating period for prospective Unrestricted Free Agents, they are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12, and that no contract can be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.
Clubs are further advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year. Any announcement of an agreement or an agreement in principle by a club or another party, including, but not limited to, a certified agent, player, or media organization may subject the club to a tampering investigation.
So in the end, I guess nothing has really changed. The three-day negotiating window is just an acknowledgement of a process that was already taking place and deals still can't be announced before the official start of free agency.