The Effectiveness of the NFL’s Three-Day Unrestricted Free Agent Negotiating Window

At 4:00 p.m. ET today, the 2013 NFL free agency signing period kicks off.  For NFL fans, general managers and players alike, the signing period marks one of the most exciting times of the NFL year.  It is a time where teams can rebuild rosters to further Super Bowl hopes and players can seek out new opportunities to build a lasting legacy in the league.

This year, the possibility exists that there will be a flurry of activity shortly after the start of the signing period.  This is due to the fact that this year marks the first time that a three-day negotiating window was opened before the start of the signing period.  During this time, NFL teams were allowed to contact and negotiate with agents for this year’s unrestricted free agents.  This period served only as a negotiation window, and teams and agents were not allowed to execute contracts until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.  In fact, the NFL even sent out a memorandum warning teams of “tampering” and reminding them that agreements between players and teams could not be reached during the three-day window.

Due to the fact that teams and agents had a chance to possibly hash out many of the details surrounding a player’s contract, chances are that some players will be ready to sign shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET.  However, signing an unrestricted free agent quickly after the start of the signing period may lead the NFL and other clubs to believe that tampering occurred.  As such, it is to be seen which team announces that it has signed the first unrestricted free agent of the 2013 free agent class.  Then, it will be seen whether the NFL and other clubs are satisfied that the respective agreement was made outside of the course of the three-day negotiating window and within the signing period.

Another reason why the three-day negotiation window may preclude a flurry of activity today, is during the window, unrestricted free agents were not allowed to visit other teams and could not have direct contact with team employees.  Thus, chances are that this negotiation window only represented a chance for agents to better test the market for their clients.  Due to the fact that many players are hands-on when it comes to selecting where they play, chances are most players want to get on the ground at a potential team’s site and visit with personnel from the team to learn how their presence on the team will be utilized.

Given these factors, the question exists as to whether this three-day negotiation window was necessary.  If teams and players were unable to reach agreements on various terms of a prospective contract, what is the point of negotiating?  If anything, the purpose the three-day negotiation window serves for both sides is an information grab.  By negotiating with a variety of teams during the window, unrestricted free agents can get a jump on getting an idea of where their best offer may lie.  Similarly, by negotiating with a variety of players, teams can get a sense of who best fills their team’s position needs and at what price tag.

Most agents and team executives would tell you that too much information is never a bad thing.  As such, it’s likely that the NFL will continue allowing the three-day negotiation window.  However, expect teams and agents to press forward for the right to reach agreements during the course of the window.  The NFL is unlikely to allow this, as it will argue that in doing so, the negotiation window essentially becomes a signing period.  Nonetheless, the three-day negotiation window has presented one more story line for NFL fans to watch this season, as they can now wait to see which unrestricted free agent is scooped up by a team the fastest.


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