On Wednesday, the 2016 NFL league year officially begins. As has been the case every season since 2013, the start of the new year and free agency is preceded by the "legal tampering window", which will open today, 12:00 p.m. ET: pending unrestricted free agents are allowed to enter negotiations with all 32 teams.
What does this mean for the league's franchises?
Basically, "legal tampering period" refers to the time frame during which a team's unrestricted free agents can start negotiating with other clubs before free agency begins on Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. ET. Per a league office memo sent to the clubs in March 2013, teams can enter talks with upcoming free agents within the not-quite-three day window but are only allowed to outline the parameters of a potential contract and not make any official offers or host any player visits.
What does this mean for the New England Patriots in particular?
The following Patriots are set to become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday and are subject to the "legal tampering period". Today is the first day, they can start negotiating with other club.
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Tarell Brown
SS Nate Ebner
WR Brandon Gibson
DT Akiem Hicks
RB Steven Jackson
LB Dekoda Watson
OC Ryan Wendell
SS Tavon Wilson
Because they have been released prior to the start of free agency, wide receiver Brandon LaFell, tight end Scott Chandler and linebacker Darius Fleming are free to negotiate even before the new league year begins. Because they are not under contract, they are already free agents and free to sign at any time.
Restricted and exclusive rights free agents, on the other hand, are only eligible to negotiate with the Patriots. They can only start talking to other teams after the Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. ET deadline and only if New England did not tender them prior. Even if the team has already made it clear that it won't retain a player, as has been the case with defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and wide receiver Brian Tyms, he cannot start talking to other clubs before the official start of free agency.