Technically, free agency begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. As a practical matter, it starts tomorrow at noon ET.
That’s when the so-called legal tampering process commences. It started several years ago as a vehicle for exchanging offers without striking deals. Common sense quickly prevailed, and the league allowed teams to negotiate with impending free agents and to strike tentative deals.
So what now happens is that tentative deals get quickly reached and leaked after noon ET on Monday, primarily since much of the negotiation has happened during the illegal tampering window. Everyone does it, and the league rarely does anything about it.
As the deals begin to get reported on Monday and into Tuesday, by Wednesday most of the work already will be done. Last year, for example, 82 of the top 85 PFT free agents had deals in place, or were franchise-tagged, before free agency actually opened.
There’s one key caveat to the unofficial free agency period. Either the team or the player can back out before finalizing the deal after Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. It happens rarely, but it’s not unprecedented; Frank Gore once backed out of a deal with the Eagles to sign with the Colts, for example.