Monday, March 11, is the first major day for the 2019 NFL season, as it is the first day where our Buffalo Bills and the other 31 NFL clubs can begin to negotiate with players whose contracts expire at the conclusion of the 2018 league year. This is the start of a two-day window commonly known as the “legal tampering period” in the NFL. When does the 2018 year conclude? I’m glad you asked.
On Wednesday, March 13, the 2018 league year will end at 4 p.m. Eastern time. The free agency period will officially open at that time, and a signing bonanza for all 32 teams should ensue. Any trades that have been negotiated and reported will become official, as well, since teams cannot file paperwork for trades until the start of the new league year.
Another thing that happens on Wednesday by that 4 p.m. Eastern deadline is that all teams must officially submit offers, or tenders, to their exclusive-rights free agents (ERFAs) and restricted free agents (RFAs). Any player left without a tender from his team will officially become an unrestricted free agent.
One last important matter of note: teams must be under the salary cap on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern, as well. The salary cap applies to the “top-51,” or the 51 players with the highest salary cap number on each roster. For the Bills, this won’t be an issue, as they have plenty of cap space to work with heading into the 2019 season.
Here is a breakdown of all the important dates and times to come this week, courtesy of NFL Ops.
March 11-13: Legal tampering period begins at noon Eastern on Monday. Clubs may negotiate with the agents of players whose 2018 contracts are set to expire at 4 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, March 13.
March 13: Prior to 4 p.m. Eastern, clubs must exercise any options for 2019 on all players whose 2018 contract has an option clause for 2019. (EDIT: This excludes fifth-year options for first-round draft choices; those options may be exercised at any time prior to May 3)
March 13: Prior to 4 p.m. Eastern, clubs must submit qualifying offers (AKA “tenders”) to restricted free agents (players with exactly three seasons of accrued free agency credit) with expiring 2018 contracts in order to retain right of first refusal rights through contract negotiations.
March 13: Prior to 4 p.m. Eastern, clubs must submit minimum salary tender to all exclusive-rights free agents (players with fewer than three seasons of accrued free agency credit) with expiring 2018 contracts in order to retain exclusive negotiating rights with said players.
March 13: All clubs must be under the 2019 salary cap as per the “top-51” rule by 4 p.m. Eastern.
March 13: All 2018 player contracts set to expire will do so at 4 p.m. Eastern.
March 13: The 2019 league year begins at 4 p.m. Eastern, as does the official signing period for 2019 free agents and the trading period for all clubs.