One of the biggest pieces in the puzzle that is the NFL offseason is free agency. For the Bucs, that piece seems to be a little bigger than most this year. It not only will tell which pending free agents will be sticking around for the 2020 season, but also may give significant clues to the Bucs' priorities in the draft this year as well.
The first major date in free agency happens Monday, March 16 at 11:59:59 a.m. New York time. That's the new deadline for teams to place franchise or transition tags on pending free agents following an extended deadline for the NFLPA to vote on the new proposed CBA. It gives teams the ability to see if the new CBA will pass before deciding on tagging players. The franchise tag designates that you pay a player the average of the top five salaries at their position for one year, presumably while a long-term deal is being worked out. The transition tag takes the average of the top 10 players at that position, but other teams are free to sign said player to a better or long-term deal with the original team retaining first right of refusal.
The legal tampering period immediately follows on March 16 at noon. Two days before free agency officially opens, clubs may begin contract negotiations with certified agents of players who are set to become unrestricted free agents.
March 18 at exactly 4 p.m. New York time is when all the fun officially begins. That is the opening of free agency where clubs may sign unrestricted free agents. It is also the beginning of the trading period.
Prior to that deadline, clubs must exercise options for 2020 on all players who have option clauses in their 2019 contracts. Additionally, clubs must also submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts in order to retain first right of refusal or compensation. Finally, prior to 4 p.m., clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2019 contracts that have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.
The Top 51 Rule also begins at 4 p.m. on March 18, specifying that all clubs must be under the 2020 salary cap, which has yet to be determined as the new proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement is being submitted for a vote by the NFLPA this Saturday where players will either accept or reject the current submission that the league's owners have ratified.
Happy New (league) Year!