When Does NFL Free Agency Start? Mark Your Calendars and Prepare for Roster Mania!

Football fans, rejoice! The offseason may be in full swing, but the real action is just around the corner. That’s right, NFL free agency is rapidly approaching, marking the time when players shed their old jerseys and potentially ink lucrative deals with new teams. This period is a whirlwind of speculation, negotiations, and roster reshuffling, with the potential to drastically alter the landscape of the league. So, when does this wild ride begin?

When Does NFL Free Agency Start
When Does NFL Free Agency Start

Mark your calendars: The official start of NFL free agency kicks off on March 13, 2024, at 4:00 PM Eastern Time (ET). But hold your horses, this isn’t your typical “show starts at 8, but doors open at 7” situation. Buckle up, because things get interesting two days prior.

When Does NFL Free Agency Start?

StageDate & Time (Eastern Time)Description
NFL CombineFeb 26 – Mar 4Teams scout and interview college prospects for the NFL Draft.
Franchise/Transition Tag DeadlineMar 5Teams can designate certain players to prevent them from becoming unrestricted free agents.
Legal Tampering PeriodMar 11 (12:00 PM) – Mar 13 (3:59 PM)Teams can negotiate with potential free agents, but cannot agree to contracts.
Pre-Free Agency Action BeginsMarch 11, 2024
Free Agency StartsMar 13 (4:00 PM)Players become unrestricted free agents and can sign contracts with any team.

Who are the best NFL free agents available?

PositionPlayerAgeTeam
QuarterbacksKirk Cousins35MIN
Baker Mayfield28TB
Ryan Tannehill35TEN
Gardner Minshew27IND
Jameis Winston30NO
Jacoby Brissett31WAS
Running backsSaquon Barkley26NYG
Josh Jacobs25LV
Derrick Henry30TEN
Tony Pollard26DAL
Austin Ekeler28LAC
Wide ReceiversTee Higgins24CIN
Michael Pittman Jr.26IND
Mike Evans30TB
Marquise Brown26ARI
Calvin Ridley29JAX
Gabe Davis24BUF
Tight EndsDalton Schultz27HOU
Hunter Henry29NE
Offensive LinemenTyron Smith33DAL
Kevin Dotson27LAR
Mike Onwenu26NE
Trent Brown30NE
Robert Hunt27MIA
Interior Defensive LinemenChris Jones29KC
Justin Madubuike26BAL
Christian Wilkins28MIA
Leonard Williams29SEA
D.J. Reader29CIN
Edge RushersJosh Allen26JAX
Brian Burns25CAR
Danielle Hunter29MIN
Chase Young24SF
Bryce Huff25NYJ
Za’Darius Smith31CLE
Jonathan Greenard26HOU
Josh Uche25NE
Middle LinebackersDevin White25TB
Patrick Queen24BAL
Frankie Luvu27CAR
Lavonte David33TB
CornerbacksJaylon Johnson24CHI
L’Jarius Sneed26KC
Kendall Fuller28WAS
Sean Murphy-Bunting26TEN
Chidobe Awuzie28CIN
Kenny Moore II28IND
Stephon Gilmore33DAL
SafetiesAntoine Winfield Jr.25TB
Kyle Dugger27NE
Kamren Curl24WAS
Geno Stone24BAL
Xavier McKinney24NYG
Kickers/PuntersKa’imi Fairbairn30HOU
Wil Lutz29DEN
Greg Zuerlein36NYJ
Nick Folk39NE
Greg Joseph29MIN

With the Super Bowl confetti barely settled and the offseason upon us, one question burns brighter than the stadium lights: who are the best free agents available in the 2024 NFL market? This year’s crop promises to be particularly exciting, with a mix of established stars, young guns hungry to prove themselves, and veterans seeking a fresh start. So, buckle up, football fans, as we navigate the free agency landscape and identify the names that could reshape the league.

TOP 100 NFL FREE AGENTS

Quarterbacks

The quarterback carousel is always spinning, and this year is no different. Kirk Cousins headlines the group, seeking a lucrative deal after leading the Vikings to the playoffs. Can he maintain his consistency under a new system? Baker Mayfield revitalized in Tampa Bay, might tempt teams looking for a high-ceiling option. Will the Derek Carr saga in Las Vegas finally reach its conclusion? Questions abound, making the quarterback market a must-watch drama.

Offensive Powerhouses

Wide receivers dominate the offensive free agent conversation. Tee Higgins of the Bengals, a rising star with championship experience, could command a king’s ransom. Will Mike Evans continue his iconic partnership with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay? Michael Pittman Jr. in Indianapolis and Allen Robinson in Los Angeles are other intriguing names. On the ground, Derrick Henry, the league’s ultimate battering ram, faces a crucial decision with the Titans. Can Austin Ekeler parlay his dynamic receiving skills into a top-tier running back deal?

Anchoring the Trenches

The trenches are where battles are won and lost, and several free agents can significantly impact both sides of the line. Chris Jones, a disruptive force for the Chiefs, tops the defensive line rankings. Young edge rushers like Brian Burns and Josh Allen offer explosive potential. On the offensive side, Kevin Zeitler brings veteran leadership and stability to the interior line, while talented tackles like Jonah Williams could be the missing piece for a contender’s offensive line.

Secondary Stars

In today’s pass-happy league, a lockdown secondary is invaluable. L’Jarius Sneed of the Chiefs and Antoine Winfield Jr. of the Buccaneers are young ballhawks drawing plenty of attention. Jaylon Johnson, a rising star in Chicago, and veteran Casey Hayward offer different skillsets but both possess shutdown potential.

The Legal Tampering Period

March 11th at 12:00 PM ET marks the beginning of the “legal tampering period.” Think of it as a pre-game show where teams and agents can huddle up and discuss potential contracts. While they can’t officially sign deals, they can lay the groundwork, gauge interest, and test the waters. This period is rife with rumors, leaks, and backroom negotiations, keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The free agency primarily revolves around “unrestricted free agents,” players whose contracts have expired and are no longer under their previous team’s control. These players are free to negotiate with any team, leading to a frenzy of activity as they seek the best fit and biggest payday. Think of it as college graduation for seasoned veterans, a chance to finally choose their own path.

Restricted Free Agents

Restricted free agents (RFAs) are a slightly different breed. These players have expiring contracts, but their teams can retain their rights by placing a “tender” on them. Depending on the tender level, other teams can negotiate with the player, but the original team has the right to match any offer sheet. Imagine them as free agents on a leash, with their former team holding the rope, deciding how far they can roam.

Franchise and Transition Tags

While free agency allows players to explore their options and potentially chase the biggest payday, teams aren’t completely powerless when it comes to retaining their stars. Enter the franchise and transition tags: powerful tools that allow teams to prevent key players from hitting the open market, albeit for a hefty price tag and with certain limitations.

Franchise Tag: The All-Encompassing (and Expensive) Option

Think of the franchise tag as the “get out of free agency” card. By applying this tag to one player per year, a team guarantees their rights for one season at a predetermined cost. This cost is calculated as the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position or 120% of their previous year’s salary, whichever is higher. Talk about a guaranteed raise!

Pros:

  • Complete control: You keep your star player for another year, regardless of other teams’ interest.
  • Negotiation leverage: This gives you time to work out a long-term extension with the player.

Cons:

  • Significant financial burden: Franchise tag salaries are often top-of-the-market, impacting your salary cap significantly.
  • Unhappy player? Players rarely relish being “tagged,” potentially creating tension and impacting team morale.
  • One-year commitment: If you can’t reach a long-term deal, you lose the player after the season without compensation.

Transition Tag: The More Affordable (and Flexible) Cousin

The transition tag offers a slightly less restrictive and cheaper option. Like the franchise tag, it applies to one player, but the salary is calculated as the average of the top ten salaries at the player’s position, typically resulting in a lower cost.

Pros:

  • Less expensive: Easier on your salary cap compared to the franchise tag.
  • Right of first refusal: If another team offers the player a contract, you have the chance to match it and keep them.

Cons:

  • No guaranteed retention: If you choose not to match an offer, you receive no compensation for losing the player.
  • Still a hefty price tag: While cheaper than the franchise tag, it’s still a significant financial commitment.

Deciding Which Tag to Use

Choosing between the franchise and transition tags requires careful consideration.

  • Player’s importance: Is the player critical to your team’s success? If so, the franchise tag’s guaranteed control might be worth the cost.
  • Financial flexibility: Can you afford the significant salary hit of either tag? Consider your overall cap situation and future spending plans.
  • Negotiation strategy: Do you plan to actively pursue a long-term deal with the player? The franchise tag provides more leverage but risks player dissatisfaction.

Alternative Strategies for Player Retention

While the tags represent powerful tools, they’re not the only way to keep key players. Consider these alternatives:

  • Long-term contract extensions: Offer lucrative, multi-year deals to secure your star’s future with the team.
  • Performance-based incentives: Tie bonuses to achieving specific goals, motivating the player, and aligning their success with your team’s.
  • Building a winning culture: Create a positive and competitive environment where players feel valued and motivated to stay.

Remember, the franchise and transition tags are double-edged swords. While they offer control and security, they come with significant financial costs and potential player disgruntlement. Evaluate your needs carefully and explore alternative strategies before wielding these powerful tools.

The NFL off-season is a complex chess game, and player retention is one of the most critical moves. Understanding the nuances of franchise and transition tags, along with alternative strategies, will equip you to make informed decisions and build a winning team!

Navigating the NFL Free Agency Landscape

With the official start of free agency just around the corner, both fans and teams are gearing up for the frenzy. But beyond the excitement, there’s also a strategic element to navigating this crucial period.

For Fans

Know Your Team’s Needs: Analyze your team’s roster and identify their biggest weaknesses. Is it a dominant pass rusher? A reliable wide receiver? Knowing their priorities will help you understand potential signings and their impact.

Follow the Money: Understand the salary cap implications of potential signings. Does your team have enough space to land their top targets? This knowledge adds context to rumors and helps assess realistic expectations.

Embrace the Speculation: While some rumors are just hot air, others offer valuable insights. Learn to filter the noise and pay attention to reports from credible sources.

Celebrate the Underdogs: Don’t just focus on the big names. Underrated players often emerge as key contributors after finding new homes. Keep an eye out for potential breakout stars.

Enjoy the Ride: Free agency is a roller coaster of emotions. Embrace the surprises, celebrate your team’s wins, and learn from their losses. It’s all part of the fun!

For Teams

Prioritize Wisely: Identify your absolute must-haves and differentiate them from “nice-to-haves”. Allocate resources accordingly, focusing on filling critical needs first.

Don’t Overpay: The “fear of missing out” can lead to reckless spending. Stick to your valuation of each player and walk away from inflated contracts.

Embrace Flexibility: Be prepared to pivot. Injuries, unexpected signings by other teams, and emerging opportunities can necessitate a change in plans.

Consider Long-Term Impact: Evaluate how each signing fits into your long-term vision. Don’t sacrifice future flexibility for short-term gains.

Communicate with Fans: Keep your supporters informed and engaged. Explain your strategy, celebrate successes, and acknowledge setbacks. Transparency builds trust and strengthens the fan-team bond.

Remember, free agency is a marathon, not a sprint. Teams that carefully assess needs, utilize resources wisely, and maintain a long-term perspective will be best positioned to emerge from the frenzy with a stronger roster and a brighter future.

More must-reads:

Top 25 NFL Free Agents In 2024

FAQs

Who are the biggest names likely to hit free agency in 2024?

This is still subject to change, but players like Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley, and Ezekiel Elliott are among those generating considerable buzz.

How can I find out which players my team has signed during free agency?

Follow your team’s official website and social media channels for real-time updates. Many sports websites and news outlets also track signings and provide comprehensive breakdowns.

Will the NFL Draft impact free agency decisions?

Definitely. Teams use free agency to address immediate needs, knowing they can fill the remaining gaps with rookies. Draft prospects can influence how teams approach free agency and vice versa.

Can restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents in the future?

Yes, if their team doesn’t offer them a qualifying tender or they remain unsigned after a certain period.

What are some potential surprises we might see during free agency?

Unexpected trades, late-night deals, and under-the-radar signings are all part of the free agency fun. Stay tuned for exciting developments!

So, there you have it! With the clock ticking down to March 13th, the NFL free agency landscape is primed for an exciting chapter. Buckle up, fans and teams alike, and get ready for the ultimate roster reshuffle!

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