In 2013, the NFL introduced the legal tampering period: the three-day window leading up to free agency allowed players about to hit the open market to enter contract negotiations with all of the league’s clubs, not just the ones still holding their rights until the official start of the new league year. The goal of creating this window was to crack down on illegal tampering taking place — and it looks as if it had another effect as well.
Contracts get negotiated in a record time now, with the four-year, $66 million dollar deal signed by Trent Brown as the latest example. Per rule, the Oakland Raiders were not allowed to enter contract negotiations with Brown — whose deal with the New England Patriots does not expire until Wednesday, March 13, 4:00 p.m. ET — until today at noon Eastern. That is when the aforementioned legal tampering window opened.
Only nine minutes later, however, his camp and the Raiders have apparently already gone over all the details of the record-breaking deal that includes $37.5 million in guarantees and makes Brown the highest-paid offensive tackle in the league on a per-year basis: at 12:09 p.m. ET, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the report that Brown will sign a deal with Oakland once his old one with the Patriots has expired in two days.
Considering that NFL contracts have dozens of pages that cover everything from signing bonuses to injury stipulations, this is an impressive feature. Or could it be that — Gasp! — the contract was already worked on and basically finalized before the legal tampering window even opened earlier today? Against the rules agreed upon by all of the NFL’s teams? Is such a thing possible?! Yes, yes it is.
To leave the realm of sarcastic speculation, the NFL’s legal tampering period is a fine theoretical idea that appears to have little actual meaning to the clubs. While contracts still cannot be officially signed until the start of the new league year, the scramble for the best players about to hit the market does not suddenly start at 12:00 p.m. ET when clubs are permitted to start negotiating with free agents to be.
The NFL is not the rush for land portrayed in movies such as 1992’s Far and Away, but rather a process that has been established for years — one that effectively heats up at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. While teams are not yet allowed to enter negotiations at this point, it would be naive to think that they are not at least trying to get a feel for certain players and how their markets will develop.
Trent Brown is a perfect example for this: the Patriots likely knew that he will be gone, while the Raiders were able to establish themselves as the front-runners and eventual winners of the sweepstakes. Could it be that Brown and Oakland’s front office worked out a deal in only nine minutes? Well, yes, but not one as massive as an NFL contract — especially with other teams in the market for starting-caliber tackles as well.
Ultimately, Brown’s soon-to-become official contract with the Raiders shows us one thing: the NFL’s legal tampering period is a nice idea in theory, but one that hardly has any meaning in the real world of professional football. Teams negotiate either way. But since all of the organizations play under the same fuzzy set of rules, it seems to be okay... that is until the Patriots somehow find a way to take advantage of it, right?