Most NFL free agency business already done during ‘legal tampering’ time

March 13, 2019 GMT

The NFL’s new league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m., meaning free agents can sign with new teams at that time.

It’s a time to anticipate big news about star players switching uniforms. But what is there left to learn?

After all, Landon Collins agreed to terms with the Redskins, Nick Foles found a new home with the Jaguars, Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson got the trades they wanted and some other players decided to stick with their old teams.

No longer are there stories like former Jets coach Rex Ryan showing up on Bart Scott’s doorstep at midnight on the first night of free agency. In the two-day period before the new year, which many refer to as the “legal tampering” period, most of free agency’s biggest business has already been arranged.

All NFL teams were allowed to begin negotiating with the representatives of prospective unrestricted free agents starting the Monday before free agency. By Tuesday, the total value of new contracts crossed the $1 billion threshold even though they had to wait to put pen to paper.

Free agency has evolved since its introduction in 1993, when the most significant free agent signing in NFL history occurred: Reggie White chose to sign with Green Bay, shifted the balance of power in the NFL and foretold free agency’s boom and boon.

“In the first year of unrestricted NFL free agency in 1993, Reggie White signed with the Packers after a five-week nationwide tour of teams,” Newsday columnist Bob Glauber tweeted. “This year, virtually every big-time free agent will have agreed to a contract BEFORE the official signing period begins on Wednesday.”

Former Redskins linebacker Preston Smith reportedly agreed to a deal with the Green Bay Packers Tuesday. The Packers also will bring in linebacker Za’Darius Smith from Baltimore and safety Adrian Amos from Chicago. The Buffalo Bills are getting both longtime Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley and back-up Redskins tackle Ty Nsekhe.

But these players are a step or two removed from the highest echelon of free agents, like Foles, Collins or even Dante Fowler Jr., the pass-rush specialist who opted Tuesday to return to the Los Angeles Rams on a one-year deal.

The Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL on Tuesday night with a reported acquisition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants for the 17th overall pick this year, the Browns’ second third-round pick this year and safety Jabril Peppers. The NFL Network first reported the trade and later was confirmed by ESPN.

The primary holdout among star players is running back Le’Veon Bell, who tweeted Monday that he was “sooooo torn right now” about his decision.Bell, 27, held out the 2018 season after the Pittsburgh Steelers placed the franchise tag on him for the second straight year and did not come to a new contract agreement with him.

The New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens were the main teams bidding for Bell, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Tuesday. He said the Jets made a “best and final offer” for Bell, but the running back has told friends how much he likes Baltimore.

If he were to sign with New York, Bell would be the prize signing of a busy period of spending for the Jets. They reportedly have agreed to terms with Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, as well as former Redskins slot receiver Jamison Crowder and Bears receiver Josh Bellamy.

The Jets entered free agency with over $82.5 million in salary cap space, and still have the type of cash to remain in the hunt for Bell, who was considered a top target to add to new coach Adam Gase’s offense.

If there’s one caveat about the “legal tampering” period, it’s that one side can have second thoughts and back out of a verbal agreement. The Jets experienced this with Anthony Barr, a free agent outside linebacker from the Minnesota Vikings. After Barr and the Jets worked out a deal, Barr got cold feet Tuesday and decided to return to Minnesota, according to reports.

⦁ Based in part on wire service reports.