NFL free agency officially starts on Tuesday March 11, but the league has their three-day negotiating period beginning at 9 a.m. PT today. Until today, teams were only allowed to negotiate with their own free agents. The negotiation period allows teams to speak with the agents of opposing teams' free agents. The negotiating period lasts from 1 p.m. Saturday, March 8, until 3:59:59 on Tuesday, March 11.
Here's how the NFL describes the negotiation period, and what is permitted. Players that have already been released are free to meet with teams and sign at any point. Players whose contract expired at the end of the 2013 season are restricted by these rules:
Beginning at 12:00 noon ET on Saturday, March 8 and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2013 player contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11.
During this negotiation period, a prospective unrestricted free agent cannot visit a club (other than the player's current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player's current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.
Clubs (other than the player's current club) may not discuss or make any travel arrangements with prospective unrestricted free agent players, their certified agents, or anyone else associated with the player until the expiration of those players' 2013 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11.
The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential unrestricted free agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.
In reality, teams have been in touch with agents since at least the NFL Combine, in some form or fashion. Some players have been connected to teams through rumors, but the 49ers are not one of those teams. The 49ers do not invest too heavily in opposing free agents, rather looking for potential bargains. We saw that last year as the 49ers found primarily role players, along with a couple starters. Here's a quick look at last year's free agency haul:
DT Glenn Dorsey: Signed as a rotational defensive lineman, he took over at nose tackle after Ian Williams broke his ankle
LB Dan Skuta: He and Corey Lemonier were the primary backups at outside linebacker, and also prominently featured on special teams. Skuta proved huge when Aldon Smith went to rehab.
S Craig Dahl: He spent most of his time on special teams, but also filled in for Eric Reid after each of the latter's concussions. His safety work leaves a lot to be desired, but he was part of strong special teams units.
WR Marlon Moore: He got some special teams work, but did next to nothing as a wide receiver. He was released in late October.
K Phil Dawson: Yea, that worked out ok.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha: He seemed to show some things in training camp, but he had clearly lost a step as the season moved along. He was released in early November.
G Adam Snyder: After a year in Arizona, Snyder returned to San Francisco and was the primary backup across the offensive line.
S Raymond Ventrone: He played exclusively on special teams
CB Eric Wright: He started the year on the NFI list, got in some playing time late in the year, and did not get anything other than special teams playing time in the playoffs.
Glenn Dorsey was the first player the 49ers signed. They hosted him for a visit on March 12, and they had him signed in less than 24 hours. We actually did not hear any Dorsey rumors during the three-day negotiating period. And in reality, the three day negotiating period was pretty quiet for the 49ers. Their own free agents were hot and heavy in the rumor mill, but the 49ers were pretty low key. The team hosted John Abraham, and were briefly connected in Sean Smith rumors, but otherwise, there wasn't much of anything.
I suspect we'll see something similar this year. The news to track will be rumors about Donte Whitner, Tarell Brown and Phil Dawson. They are getting a chance to hit the open market, which means their situations will come into a lot more focus. All three are guys that likely would be able to find a deal fairly early in free agency. They are all among the best free agents at their respective positions. And considering teams have money to burn, we could see some owner ready to roll out the big bucks for them.
Consider this your first open thread of free agency. We'll be keeping an eye out for any and all rumors. For now, here is the full list of 49ers free agents heading into the negotiating period:
Unrestricted Free agents
CB Tarell Brown
K Phil Dawson
RB Anthony Dixon
C Jonathan Goodwin
WR Mario Manningham
QB Colt McCoy
WR Kassim Osgood
S Donte Whitner
CB Eric Wright
Restricted Free Agents
CB Perrish Cox
DL Demarcus Dobbs - tendered contract
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
LB Michael Wilhoite - tendered contract
How to track free agency news
1. Niners Nation
2. @NinersNation on Twitter
3. NinersNation on Facebook
4. NN National Media Twitter list
5. NN 49ers Media Twitter list
6. NN 49ers Player Twitter list (sometimes they'll drop hints)