Miami Dolphins

NFL’s legal tampering period begins Tuesday at noon. Here’s what it means.

Break the rules (overtly, at least), and Roger Goodell will drop the hammer.
Break the rules (overtly, at least), and Roger Goodell will drop the hammer. AP

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?

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.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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