Free agency kinda sorta starts tonight

So the deal is that the NFL has established this three-day legal tampering window prior to free agency, during which agents and teams can talk to each other about contracts. It starts at midnight ET tonight. No one can sign any free agents before Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and no free agents can visit teams. Technically they're not even allowed to make travel plans, according to these new rules. But you know what happens when agents and teams start talking, right? Information gets leaked. So it's entirely possible that, in the hours that follow midnight tonight, we could start hearing news about who's interested in whom and maybe even about pending agreements between players and teams.

I don't know for sure what it will be like, since this has never happened before. But my guess is I'll at least try and stay up past midnight to see how much is happening at that point. Maybe it'll be nothing, and we'll just circle back in the morning and assess the landscape. Maybe it'll be complete chaos. But hang with us. I highly recommend our free-agent tracker, which will be a great resource for all of us in the coming weeks.

Here's a summary of the new rules about this three-day window, courtesy of the NFL:

Beginning at 12:00 midnight ET on Saturday, March 9 (i.e., after 11:59:59 p.m. ET, on Friday, March 8) and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

During this negotiation period, a prospective Unrestricted Free Agent cannot visit a club (other than the player’s current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player’s current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.

Clubs (other than the player’s current club) may not discuss or make any travel arrangements with prospective Unrestricted Free Agent players, their certified agents, or anyone else associated with the player until the expiration of those players’ 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential Unrestricted Free Agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.