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Welcome to the NFL’s legal tampering period

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, the NFL’s first wave of free agency gets underway.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Under NFL rules, teams are strictly prohibited from contacting players under contract with other franchises; teams can’t even communicate with agents for such players. And since NFL player contracts all run to the conclusion of a particular league year, there can be — in theory, at least — no negotiating between teams and pending free agents between the end of the previous season and the time player contracts end in mid-March.

That is, except during one of the most absurd parts of the NFL season: the “legal tampering period,” which begins at 11 a.m. Arrowhead Time on Monday and runs until the beginning of the 2021 league year at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

During these 50 frantic hours, teams are allowed to act as if player contracts have already expired; they are free to negotiate (and even conclude deals) with any player set to become a free agent when their contract ends. But any deals made during this time won’t become official until the league year begins on Wednesday.

We’re not supposed to notice that many of these contracts will be announced very soon after the legal tampering period begins — as if there might have been some communication between teams and agents before it began. As Brad Pitt might have said in a certain 1990s movie, that’s the first rule of the legal tampering period: we don’t talk about the... uhhh... other tampering period.

Of course, there’s already been plenty of free agency activity. But up to now, it’s been limited to teams signing their own pending free agents to new deals — which is allowed — signing former practice-squad players (whose contracts expire when their former teams finish their seasons) to reserve/future contracts and so on.

In addition, some free-agent players — those who were released from their contracts before the new league year has begun — have already been signed to new teams. This is what the Chiefs did with tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz; it’s only because their availability to begin the 2021 season is in question that they didn’t spend their weekends negotiating with new teams.

But most of the so-called “first wave” of free agency — in which the biggest NFL free agents will make the splashiest moves to new teams — will take place in the next couple of days. The Chiefs — who have little cap space available to make big free-agency moves without doing some signing-bonus conversions with existing players — might not be very involved in this early activity.

But then again, we’re talking about Kansas City general manager Brett Veach. It wouldn’t be the first time he has made a bold personnel move that no one expected.

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