Much like a middle school dance, NFL teams and potential free agents are lined up on opposite sides of the proverbial dimly lit gym. Both sides can now start making eyes at one another and begin pairing off for when the dancing begins.
The two-day negotiating period for prospective unrestricted free agents began at noon Tuesday.
Stretching until the new league year opens on Thursday, March 9, at 4 p.m. ET, the negotiating window permits clubs to contact and enter contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents.
"Negotiate" is the key word here. Per a memo distributed to teams, obtained by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, the league office explicitly notes that "a new club may not execute an NFL Player Contract with a prospective UFA until" the new league year opens."
It adds: "... any written or oral communications between a prospective UFA's certified agent and representatives of a club that occur during the two-day negotiating period and that relate to the possible employment, or terms of employment, of such a player are non-binding and are unenforceable by the player or the club."
During the free agency negotiating period players are not allowed to visit a team other than its current franchise. No direct contact between the player and any employee or representative of a club can take place.
Relegating negotiations to certified agents and team employees means players that represent themselves -- like Russell Okung -- cannot talk to teams until free agency opens Thursday.
The NFL offered a warning for teams that violate rules of the negotiating period.
"Clubs are advised that any attempt to undermine the purpose of this negotiating period may be considered conduct detrimental to the League, as well as a violation of League's Anti-Tampering Policy," it said in the memo. "If an investigation becomes necessary, the involved club(s) may be required to provide the League office with all relevant documents to assist with the investigation. Without limitation, such documents would include any and all email and telephone communications (voice and text) between any employees of the club, the player, the player's certified agent, or any involved third-party. This would also include documents relating to travel arrangements for the player, such as, airline reservations, including private aviation, ground transportation and lodging."
The negotiating period -- cut down from three days to two days in 2016 -- has led to a wave of free agency signings as soon as the window opens. Expect nothing less this year when the 2017 league year official begins Thursday.