We have reached one of the most exciting weeks on the NFL offseason calendar: free agency. Starting on Monday afternoon, a frenzy of news could come crashing in, and players will be agreeing to deals with new teams.
But things can be a little confusing in the first couple days, especially with the “legal tampering” period now a part of the process as of 2013. So this post is meant to be a full explainer of the free agency process and a quick and easy guide to answer any questions you may have.
When does it start?
The legal tampering period—where teams can talk to the agents of players on expiring deals—begins on Monday, March 13 at noon ET.
However, any agreements made during that period cannot become official signings until the start of the new league year on Wednesday, March 15 at 4 p.m. ET, when the players’ previous contract officially expires.
What is the legal tampering period?
The legal tampering period is a stretch of time where teams may contact the agents of players on expiring contracts and begin to work out a framework of a deal. Teams cannot talk directly to the players or bring them in for a visit during this time. Still, you will see reports of teams “agreeing to terms” with a player. Details of the agreed-upon contract may even leak during this period.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that these “signings” are not official until the new league starts on Wednesday. It doesn’t happen often, but every couple of years or so we see a player agree to terms with a new team, only to back out before it becomes official at the start of the league year on Wednesday.
Note: Teams cannot negotiate with the agents of players who are restricted free agents that received tenders from their original team until the start of the new league year. This applies to players on the non-exclusive franchise tag, as well. In other words, Lamar Jackson's negotiations with other teams cannot begin until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.
What is free agency?
When the clock strikes 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, every player who was on an expiring contract suddenly becomes available for anyone to sign. Any restricted free agent who did not receive a tender from their original team also becomes an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team at any time.
As for restricted free agents who received a tender* they can negotiate with other teams and agree to an offer sheet (unless they are an exclusive rights free agent), but their original team will have an opportunity to match those offers.
*As of Monday morning, the Detroit Lions do not have any restricted free agents who received a tender. The deadline to place a tender on a restricted free agent is Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.
As has been the case since the end of the regular season, teams are still very much permitted to sign their own free agents at any point, including during the tampering period—which is how the Lions seemingly like to operate. For example, last year the Lions re-signed Alex Anzalone, Tim Boyle, Tracy Walker, Charles Harris, and Kalif Raymond all during the tampering period.
What about trades?
Trades can be agreed upon, in principle, at any time. However, they will not become official until the start of the new league year on Wednesday, March 15. Again, be aware that in very rare instances, an “agreed upon” trade can break down before becoming official.
How much cap space do the Lions have?
The Lions have approximately $22.3 million in cap space for 2023. This does not account for the cap space they will need to sign their draft class, and it will obviously rapidly change once the Lions start re-signing their own players. For reference, last year the Lions opened free agency with roughly $23 million, so they are in a similar spot as last offseason.
However, it’s worth noting that the Lions have several ways to create more cap space. There are several players who could be cut to save extra cap space. There are also eight Lions candidates to have their contracts restructured.
Where can I see all of the moves the Lions have made?
We have a 2023 Detroit Lions free agency tracker that not only keeps track of all of the Lions’ signings and re-signings, but it will also provide updates on where the Lions' free agents land if they end up signing with another team.
For even more coverage of all the latest news and rumors, we also have a Lions free agency rumor tracker that will bullet point every piece of free agency news and rumor related to the Lions.