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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Free-agent talks begin in just a few hours



NFL free agents can’t officially sign with new teams until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, but the wheeling and dealing gets underway tonight (or is it tomorrow morning?) at 12:01 a.m. with the start of the league’s new negotiating period.

Aiming to reduce the widespread tampering that goes on every year, when agents and teams engage in talks before players officially become free agents, NFL owners last fall voted to implement the new approach.

But there are limitations: While players can be wined and dined by teams once the signing period begins on Tuesday, the contact, for now, is limited to teams and agents. Players cannot have contact with outside teams because they remain the property of their current clubs.

Teams and agents can agree to deals in principle, but those agreements will be nonbinding since no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.

The Bucs are expected to be linked to many of the NFL’s hottest rumors because of their massive salary-cap space (more than $30 million) and ability to sign marquee players. Tampa Bay is expected to engage in talks with some of the better defensive backs on the market given their need great need at cornerback.

There isn’t universal agreement on what the impact of this new rule will be, but one thing is certain: It will level the playing field between teams that were reluctant to tamper and those that were more willing.

Now, neither should have an unfair advantage.

In any case, things should be interesting throughout the weekend, so keep checking in for updates.

[Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 5:02pm]


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