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2018 NFL free agency: Legal tampering window opens today; what does it mean for the Patriots?

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For the next three days, unrestricted free agents are allowed to assess the market.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, the 2018 NFL league year officially begins. As has been the case every season since 2013, the start of the new year and free agency are preceded by the so-called “legal tampering period”: Starting today 12:00 p.m. ET, pending unrestricted free agents are allowed to enter preliminary negotiations with all the teams in the league, not just the ones that still hold their rights until March 14.

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 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 clubs.

WR Danny Amendola

CB Johnson Bademosi

RB Rex Burkhead

CB Malcolm Butler

SS Nate Ebner

OT Cameron Fleming

LB Marquis Flowers

LB James Harrison

DT Ricky Jean Francois

RB Dion Lewis

WR Matthew Slater

OT Nate Solder

OT LaAdrian Waddle

Of the players listed above, two are safe bets not to return to the Patriots: Cornerback Malcolm Butler, after his benching in Super Bowl 52, already released what sounds like a farewell statement in which he thanked the organization for giving him a chance. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois did the same last week: He announced that he will leave New England after not even one whole season with the team.

This leaves a total of 11 soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, including core players like starting left tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Danny Amendola and special teams aces Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner. They will all get a feel for their potential market over the next three days – and as a result, negotiations with the Patriots are about to intensify.

While unrestricted free agents are allowed to enter early negotiations today, restricted and exclusive rights players are still only eligible to talk to the teams currently holding their rights. They can start meeting other teams after the Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. ET deadline if they were not tendered prior to that date. New England already took care of its lone restricted free agent last week: The team signed special teamer Brandon King to a two-year, $2.6 million contract.