The NFL begins a new era of sorts tonight as they open the first ever "negotiating period" prior to the start of free agency next Tuesday. Beginning at 9:00 p.m. PT tonight (Friday evening), NFL teams can enter into negotiations with agents for unrestricted free agents. Players cannot sign contracts until 1:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday, but in the meantime they can start to negotiate the parameters of deals.
There has been some confusion about what exactly this entails, and the NFL offered a bit of clarification in their No Fun League way. The NFL sent out a memo to the league, which included this explanation of impermissible conduct:
Clubs are further advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year. Any announcement of an agreement or an agreement in principle by a club or another party, including, but not limited to, a certified agent, player, or media organization may subject the club to a tampering investigation.
Normally when deals are not official, we hear reports of "agreements in principle". It sounds like we will probably not hear that phrase used a whole lot over the next three days. Instead, we'll probably hear about the two sides getting close on contract parameters and that sort of thing. We'll just have to read between the lines.
One point of clarification: players that were already released can meet with teams and came sign new contracts. That means the 49ers could sign John Abraham, who got into town earlier this evening. Additionally, they could sign Cullen Jenkins, who met with the team earlier this week. We'll see if they get something down with Abraham in the next 24 hours.
Given the new nature of this negotiating period, it's hard to tell what kind of rumors will flow in and when. For tonight we'll have this open thread. As rumors flow in we'll get more posts over the next few days. We'll see just how busy it ends up getting.