The NFL’s Free Agency Schedule Change: The Storm Before the Storm

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a subtle alteration to the NFL’s offseason calendar in 2014. At first glance, one might not think much of it; but, upon further inspection, the modification will likely lead to even more free agency excitement and maneuvering than usual.

Most, if not all, of NFL fans know that free agency begins at 4pm Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, March 11.  This is always an exciting time because there are often significant signings occurring shortly after the opening of the new league year, and there is little doubt that anything will be different this year.  It's also been interesting in the past that such complicated big-money deals could be completed in such a short period of time.  Often, only in minutes.

With these agreements happening so quickly, the NFL began to recognize the obvious: even though the rules explicitly stated that no contact was supposed to be made between a team and a prospective free agent, contact was clearly being made and contracts were getting worked out far in advance of the official start time.  In response to these blatant rule breakers, this offseason the league has decided to give teams and prospective free agents an official window of time in which to broker their deals in advance.  You could call it the "If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them" rule or the "We Give Up" rule.

The new rule and noted day on the schedule reads as follows:

March 8:

"Clubs 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 2013 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 11.  However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 11."

In other words, teams and pending unrestricted free agents will now have just over three "recognized" days before the new league-year begins to work out and finalize their intricate contracts.  The added bonus for players is this: since these new "pre" free-agency negotiations, which in the past had happened in the shadows, can now happen in broad daylight for all to see, you can expect leaks, rumors and mud-slinging to start surfacing early on March 8th and continue through the weekend in order to get other teams interested and increase a player's value.  For Redskins fans and NFL fans, it's just another juicy way to follow the league and watch the Adam Schefter's of the world reach their daily Twitter maximum sooner in the process than usual.

Also, look for teams who have typically overspent in the past (cough, cough, Redskins) to be used as leverage to drive up player prices in a very public way throughout the process.

Come Saturday, let the games begin.

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