Tuesday, as NFL fans are fully aware, is the beginning of the 2013 free agency period. In a larger sense, it is the kickoff of a new league year.
The 2012 season came to a competitive end on February 3, when the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. However, all 2012 operating conditions remained in effect through the rest of February and the first 11 days of March. The 12th is the rollover date into 2013.
The 12th – specifically at 4:00 p.m. ET – is when all 2013 conditions take effect, most notably the new salary cap and the advancement of player contracts from one year to the next. Those whose contracts had a final year of 2012 are set to become free agents (barring any franchise tags or new deals) and those whose contracts did include a 2013 component will see their new salary numbers count against the cap.
That, of course, is why the last week has seen a flurry of renegotiated deals, outright cuts and even some eye-opening trades. The Buccaneers have not joined in that sort of activity, mostly because they are walking into this year's free market with a very favorable cap situation. The team's one bit of news over the final weekend before the start of free agency was its statement that it would welcome back if he elected to play another season.
Many of the maneuvers around the league in the days leading up to the new league year were predictable, as the team's in obvious salary cap trouble made the necessary adjustments. It was no surprise to see restructurings in Dallas, or the forced-hand trade of Anquan Boldin in Baltimore, or the releases of Chris Gamble in Carolina and Michael Turner in Atlanta. In contrast, what will happen once the clock strikes 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday is completely unpredictable.
What is almost certain is that there will be a flurry of activity somewhere in the NFL. The new three-day "anti-tampering" window for teams to talk to pending free agents may or may not have accelerated the process – NFL Network's Albert Breer astutely noted that it “passed by with a whimper” – but the opening hours of free agency are always eventful. Hundreds of players will become free agents on Tuesday and some will take until June or later to find new homes, but the marquee names generally reach new deals right away.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a driving force in those early signings, quickly snapping up wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright. That incredible haul, certainly the most dramatic one-day free agency haul in franchise history, makes it seem unlikely that the Buccaneers would be the NFL's most aggressive shoppers two years in a row. On the other hand, this year's market is fairly robust, and current team management is obviously not afraid to make the big move if it is in the Bucs' best interests.
Will the Bucs be big movers, moderate players or low-key shoppers in this year's free agent market? Frankly, any of those options seem possible, but we don't have much longer to wait for the answer.