The NFL’s biggest charade, the legal tampering period, begins Tuesday at noon.
League rules stipulate that teams cannot negotiate with other organizations’ pending free agents until then, and cannot finalize a deal until 4 p.m. Thursday.
Of course, any franchise waiting until noon Tuesday to get started on its free agency plan is way, way behind.
In truth, teams have been speaking to agents for weeks — if not months — now, trying to gauge the market and level of interest. If everyone’s breaking the rules, no one is, right?
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Not in the eyes in the NFL. It’ll punish the most egregious offenders. Just ask the Chiefs, who lost two draft picks and were fined $350,000 for breaking the rules while pursuing Jeremy Maclin in 2015.
Pro Football Talk got its hands on a league-issued memo that spelled out exactly is and is not allowed:
“During the two-day negotiating period, all clubs may negotiate all aspects of an NFL Player Contract with the certified agent of any prospective UFA. 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 2016 contract expires.”
In essence, the rule is this: Teams and agents can discuss the parameters of a contract on Tuesday. They can even informally agree on terms. But they cannot announce said agreement and are prohibited from signing a contract until the league year begins Thursday.
That’s also when the Dolphins and Jaguars can officially consummate their trades: Julius Thomas to Miami, Brandon Albert to Jacksonville, with late-round draft picks swapped.
The Dolphins will have roughly a dozen unrestricted free agents (including players recently cut). The most notable: wide receiver Kenny Stills, defensive end Andre Branch and tight end Dion Sims.
If they lose Stills, their touchdown leader in 2017, they will be in the market for a down-field threat. A possible option: San Francisco 49ers wideout Torrey Smith, who announced Monday that he will be released.