The schedule the NFL uses with its free agents is set up specifically to dictate which teams can talk to which players.
The franchise tag deadline hits first, then teams have a little bit of time to work with players they decided not to franchise in order to get a deal done. This gap—between the tag deadline and the opening of free agency—allows a player to negotiate with his team with full knowledge that they will not franchise him.
In that sense, it works. It gives teams a good chance to extend their own players before they have to bid for them with other teams. It also allows players to make educated decisions about their own contracts with all available information.
However, this offseason has seen a number of big-time “trades” happen, even though players can’t be traded before free agency opens. First it was LeSean McCoy being traded to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso. Then it was Matt Cassel being sent to the Bills for picks. Then it was Brandon Marshall being traded from the Bears to the Jets for a fifth-round pick.
The problem is, none of those trades were actually official when they were announced. Teams can agree in principle, but then they have to simply sit around and wait for free agency to open before any exchanges can be made. And that begs the question:
Why not simply move the early trade deadline back and allow teams to trade players after the franchise tags are sorted out? There is no reason at all for these guys to sit in limbo, still on one team and yet knowing they will be traded within seconds of free agency opening up.
Having this odd and useless limbo period also opens up a dangerous door where teams could go back on their word. Yes, they may have agreed in principle, but they can’t sign on the dotted line until free agency. What if Chip Kelly gauged the fan reaction and decided that keeping McCoy would be better for his ability to keep his job, and nixed the trade?
A fiasco like that is unfair to the players.
As noted, it’s unlikely teams would back off of trades like that, and it’s well-known that most players and coaches consider these moves a done-deal, even though they technically aren’t. However, that just proves how useless it is to have the limbo period at all.
If a team can make a trade before free agency, why not move the dates around so they can really, honestly make the trade, speeding up the process and removing any potential confusion?