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2020 NFL free-agency primer: dates, times, information to know

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One article to keep you informed on free-agency rules

Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills, along with the other 31 NFL clubs, are preparing for the official opening of the 2020 league year. March is the month where the NFL “New Year” is found, as all league business begins right around the same time each year.

This year, however, there is a slight caveat to all of the “official” dates and deadlines provided by the NFL: If the clubs reach a new labor agreement, the dates that we think we know may end up moving slightly. What that means is that much of what’s to come here, while official for now, may become official in the past tense over the course of the next week.

The free-agent period opens nearly a full week later this year than it has the previous two seasons, as teams cannot begin negotiating with free agents until Monday, March 16. That date begins what’s commonly known as the “legal tampering period,” as contracts do not expire, and thus players are not officially free agents, until Wednesday, March 18 at 4 p.m. EDT.

Here is a list of important dates and times, as well as the corresponding moves that teams will have to make over the course of the next week, courtesy of NFL Operations.


March 10: The deadline for teams to designate franchise and transition players comes at 4 p.m. EDT. (Tenative. With the push back of the NFLPA’s vote on the new CBA, owners may choose to move this back all the way to Sunday the 15th.)

March 16: The deadline for teams to designate franchise and transition players comes at 11:59 a.m. EDT. This was pushed back due to the CBA vote in the NFLPA. (Ballots there are due at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 14th giving teams 36 hours to apply the franchise and transition tags following the closing of the vote.)

March 16-18: Throughout the course of these three days beginning at noon on Monday (EDT), teams may negotiate with the agents and representatives of players whose contracts are expiring on Wednesday, March 18 at 4 p.m. EDT.

March 18: Prior to 4 p.m. EDT, clubs must exercise options on all players whose 2019 contract has a 2020 option; this excludes players on their rookie deal with a fifth-year option.

March 18: Prior to 4 p.m. EDT, clubs must submit qualifying offers (AKA “tenders”) to restricted free agents (players with exactly three seasons of accrued free agency credit) with expiring 2019 contracts in order to retain right of first refusal throughout contract negotiations.

March 18: Prior to 4 p.m. EDT, clubs must submit minimum salary tenders to all exclusive-rights free agents (players with fewer than three seasons of accrued free agency credit) with expiring 2019 contracts in order to retain exclusive negotiating rights with said players.

March 18: All clubs must be under the 2020 salary cap as per the “top-51” rule by 4 p.m. EDT.

March 18: All 2019 player contracts set to expire will do so at 4 p.m. EDT.

March 18: The 2020 league year begins at 4 p.m. EDT, as does the official signing period for 2020 free agents and the trading period for all clubs.