If you listen to most of the NFL talking heads, they’ll tell you that the 2016 free agency period opens Wednesday.
Technically, that’s true. Teams can’t officially sign outside free agents until 3 p.m. Central Time Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean deals aren’t getting done.
Starting at 11 a.m. today, teams can start working with agents to lock down the terms of a contract, but the NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams explaining the parameters of what can happen between today and 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“During the two-day negotiating period,” the memo states, “all clubs may negotiate all aspects of an NFL Player Contract with the certified agent of any prospective UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent). However, a new club may not execute an NFL Player Contract with a prospective UFA until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 9, when the player’s 2015 contract expires.”
The memo goes on to make it crystal clear that, despite any discussions or contract parameters that may be met, they won’t apply until the deadline hits, saying, “the only valid, binding and enforceable employment agreement between an NFL player and an NFL club is an NFL Player Contract that has been fully executed by the parties in compliance with all applicable League rules and the CBA.”
Until then, all of the chatter and potential agreements the two sides may strike between today and Wednesday afternoon will be deemed non-binding and unenforceable by either the agent, the player or the organization that has discussions with him.
The league is taking seriously the potential for tampering, which many acknowledge went on in the past since complicated contracts were agreed on within minutes of the official opening of free agency, which would likely be impossible given the complexities contained within most contracts. The league office was quite specific in reminding clubs that no contract can be signed, no agreement documents should be exchanged, and no player should fly to the city in which they’re going to play until the official launch of free agency Wednesday afternoon.
Failure to comply with the league policy will come with some swift and significant penalties. Any variance from the protocol would be viewed as a violation of the league’s anti-tampering policy and would be deemed as conduct detrimental to the league. If the NFL does launch an investigation against a member club, the league would demand access to all relevant documents, including email and phone records and potential travel documentation.
The NFL wants to avoid the kind of embarrassment and potential violation of its protocol that took place last year, when the plum of the free-agent class – Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – was announced to have agreed to terms with Miami two days before free agency officially began and that resulted in several other tentative deals being announced through the NFL rumor mill. The NFL conducted an investigation of the Dolphins for the word leaking out, but no punitive action was taken.
It would appear that, if a similar announcement comes forward, the NFL may take a much dimmer view of such stories becoming breaking news on the NFL landscape today or tomorrow.
It’s not going to stop teams from striking deals that will make young NFL players rich beyond their wildest dreams. However, it may force them to be hush about it for two days – regardless of how giddy they may be about the signing.
- The cost of quarterbacks is going up and there may be a strong reason why Washington gave Kirk Cousins the franchise tag – the Redskins were concerned division rival Philadelphia was going to make a run for him. There may be some validity to the rumor, since days after Cousins was franchised by Washington, Philadelphia re-signed Sam Bradford to a two-year deal.
- Don’t be shocked to hear of more Minnesota Vikings re-signings (in addition to Andrew Sendejo and Kenrick Ellis) before free agency opens, as the team continues to try to lock down deals with the players it prefers to sign on their own terms rather than letting the market dictate the terms.