TAMPA — NFL free agents can't officially sign with new teams until 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the wheeling and dealing is already under way, as the league's new negotiating period started at 12:01 this morning.
Aiming to reduce the widespread tampering that occurs every year, when agents and teams engage in talks before players become free agents, NFL owners voted in the fall to implement the new approach.
But there are limitations: While players can be wined and dined by teams once the signing period begins 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 because no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.
The Bucs are expected to be in the thick of many of the NFL's hottest rumors given their massive salary cap space — more than $30 million — and their availability to sign marquee players (they have expressed interest in recently released Falcons defensive end John Abraham). Tampa Bay is expected to engage in talks with some of the better defensive backs on the market given their great need at cornerback.