The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA allowed for a new means of negotiation in 2013 prior to the actual open signing period, which begins on March 12th at 4 pm. Under the new guidelines NFL clubs can begin the negotiating process with the agent of a soon to be unrestricted free agent, provided he has not been re-signed by his current club, three days prior to the open market. That period began at midnight this morning. It's a new dynamic this offseason that could turn the first few days of the market in a dramatically different direction.
ESPN NFL analyst and former six-time NFL Executive of the Year, Bill Polian, was a member of the league's Competition Committee when this idea was first proposed. He admits it had its share of opposition.
"I think it's fair to say that everybody will be interested to see how it works out, what the results of it are," said Polian. "I wouldn't say everybody was enthusiastic about it. We all had some reservation, but, on balance, I think it's fair to say that we felt that it was something that would at least bring some organization to what had been a very chaotic process."
In past years the opening bell to free agency would ring and some NFL clubs would have a team of contract negotiators frantically contacting the representatives of their top free agent targets hoping to get through on the phone and make an offer and at least be in the hunt for the player's services. Time was literally of the essence.
Player agents presumably had just as difficult a time fielding all the calls coming in if they had a high demand client or multiple clients seeking a new contract.
The aim of the new approach is to spread that frantic, high speed negotiating over a three-day period. It should allow all interested parties to make contact with a player's agent, and if things go well have the framework of a contract offer ready to present when the market opens this Tuesday.
"Agents can talk to clubs, they can go back to the old club with what one would assume would be a bona fide offer or some parameters," said Polian. "They can gauge who is interested and who is not interested. All of those things may bring a little more organization to it than had previously existed."
Under the new guidelines the three-day window began at midnight this morning and runs up until 3:59 pm Tuesday. Only the parameters of a deal can be negotiated. No formal contract offers can be presented until Tuesday after 4 pm.
If a team is pursuing an impending free agent on another club they can only speak with that player's agent, not the player directly. If a player doesn't have an agent they can't be contacted by another club. No free agent visits may take place prior to March 12th at 4 pm and restricted free agents and franchised players are excluded from the three-day negotiating window.
Polian, who has been through the free agency process since its inception in the league in 1993, isn't sure how the new negotiation guidelines will impact the first couple of days of free agency when spending is typically the most aggressive.
"I'm going to be anxious to see if we come out of the box with deals at 4:01 p.m., or if it serves as a way to sort of set the market before people begin to do deals," said Polian.
The former NFL GM pointed out how the NBA has already had the preliminary negotiating time period in place in their league for free agency. Deals are essentially verbally agreed upon and then finalized once the free agent period officially opens. Even if the result is the same in the NFL Polian believes it's still better than what used to take place.
"After the first flurry, then the market settles down," said Polian of how the market behaves in the NBA. "Even if that were the case with our league, my personal opinion would be that that would be a good thing."