With the end of the 2020 NFL season, the eyes of 18 NFL teams are turning to the offseason, including the start of free agency. With NFL free agency set to start on March 17th, what is the key information to know around the free agency period in the 2021 offseason?
When does NFL free agency start in 2021?
The NFL has set out rough dates for their offseason program. These are subject to change in the current climate if any issues arise, but as of January 5th, these are the tentative dates for free agency.
- Legal tampering period: March 15th
- 2021 NFL free agency start date: March 17th
The 2021 NFL league year begins and free agency starts March 17th. Traditionally, the start of the new league year is when free agency also opens. However, for 48 hours prior to the start of free agency, teams can begin to negotiate with players who will become free agents when free agency starts March 17th. This is known as the legal tampering period.
What is the legal tampering period?
The legal tampering period is a two-day timeframe where agents of unrestricted free agents can begin discussions with NFL teams. However, no specifics of the deal can be agreed upon or announced before the official start of free agency.
What can happen in the legal tampering period?
During the legal tampering period, the agents of unrestricted free agents can begin conversations with teams. During this period, figures can be discussed, along with “all aspects of an NFL player contract.”
What cannot happen in the legal tampering period?
During the legal tampering period, a player cannot talk directly to teams. If a player acts as his own agent, he cannot talk to other teams. Additionally, a player cannot visit with a team besides the one he was contracted to in the previous league year. For example, Dak Prescott would only be able to visit with the Dallas Cowboys, who he was signed to in the 2020 league year.
Additionally, agents of players who are not restricted free agents cannot talk with other teams. Therefore, players who are restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents cannot have their agents begin conversations with teams. They have to wait until the free agency period begins officially on March 17.
What happens prior to the start of NFL free agency?
Leading up to the start of free agency on March 17th, teams can negotiate with their own upcoming free agent. Therefore, using the example above, the Dallas Cowboys can negotiate with Dak Prescott through Super Bowl weekend and up to the beginning of free agency, and even beyond. However, until the legal tampering window, no other team can discuss a deal with Prescott or his agent.
The franchise and transition tags
One option that teams have to keep their free agents from negotiating with other teams when free agency starts on March 17th is to apply a franchise or transition stage. Tagged players are signed to a one-year deal at an amount set by the league. Those players can continue to negotiate a long-term deal with their own team, but not with other teams.
However, teams have to make decisions on franchise or transition tags prior to March 9th. The window for applying the franchise or transition tag opens on February 23rd.
What happens to restricted free agents once free agency begins?
Once free agency starts on March 17th, restricted free agents are free to negotiate deals with other teams. Any team interested in signing a restricted free agent must extend an offer sheet ahead of the April 23rd deadline. If a team extends an offer sheet, the player’s previous team has until April 28th to match the offer.
What is the limit for teams in the free agent period?
Prior to the start of free agency on March 17th, teams must ensure that they are below the salary cap for that particular season. Teams cannot enter the new league year above that salary cap and must either release players or restructure contracts to get under the salary cap.
During free agency itself, teams also have to remain under the cap at all times. If a signed contract would send a team over the salary cap, they must make room for that contract before making the deal official.
Who were some of the big names to sign at the start of free agency in 2020?
The start of NFL free agency is usually met with some immediate signings. With the legal tampering period, the process can be as simple as officially agreeing and announcing a trade that had been discussed in the two-day window. Some deals take longer to be agreed upon, but here are some of the deals signed at the start of free agency in 2020.
Within hours of the start of NFL free agency, names such as Jimmy Graham, Leonard Floyd, Malcolm Jenkins, Andrew Whitworth, and Dante Fowler Jr. had all signed with new teams.
However, due to the 2020 free agency period’s strange nature, some big deals took longer to filter through. Emmanuel Sanders, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, and Tom Brady all officially signed on March 20th. Byron Jones signed a five-year, $82 million contract on March 21st.
After that initial wave of deals, there is often a quieter period of free agency. Transactions still occur regularly, but they do not always make headlines. For some players, the wait to sign can be a long one. For example, Jadeveon Clowney did not sign with the Tennessee Titans until September 6th.