Free agency technically begins at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, but that won't be the first chance NFL clubs have to begin conversations with the agents of players they covet.
Effective at midnight tonight, the NFL opens what has become commonly known as a "legal tampering window." While teams cannot execute a contract with a free agent (other than their own free agents) until Tuesday at 4 p.m., they can contact the agents of pending unrestricted free agents of other teams.
This allows teams to begin their pursuit of players that they believe could add value to their roster, while it allows the agents for players to assess the market that they are expected to have come the start of the new league year.
To be clear, teams cannot speak directly with players from other teams (so while the Patriots could speak with Julian Edelman, they would not be able to, for example, speak directly to Eric Decker). Linebacker Jon Beason has opted to represent himself this offseason, meaning he will be unable to participate in the legal tampering window.
This nearly four-day period was first implemented last offseason. It gives players a glimpse into their market before the market can technically take shape, while also giving teams a head start on their potential signings.
A year ago, Wes Welker used this window to see what else was out there for the Patriots. It was believed that he and his agent were looking for a deal longer than two years and with more guaranteed money than he wound up receiving. As it turned out, Welker's market was not nearly as robust as his representation supposed it would be, as his deal with Denver maxes out at $12 million over two years.
For players like Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib, this is an opportunity to weigh any potential offers they have received from the Patriots against offers other teams are willing to make on the open market.