The Scouting Combine will be the center of the NFL Universe this week because of the tangible numbers that will be applied to all the draftable prospects. Free agency is an afterthought for most fans during this time but, in NFL circles, all the groundwork for free agency is laid at the combine.
NFL teams are prohibited from negotiating with pending free agents until March 9. This will be the first year that teams can negotiate with players prior to free agency actually opening. Free agency begins at 4 p.m. March 12. Despite negotiations being prohibited, they occur en masse at the Combine.
Every NFL decision-maker, agent and coach is in Indianapolis, so it is only natural that discussions will occur. Agents will approach teams about players trying to judge the market for their clients and teams also will figure out what the salary demands for players will be. Technically, this is tampering but, apparently, the NFL only cares about tampering when they can bust the Detroit Lions doing it.
The free agency groundwork done at the combine is a major reason why incredibly lucrative contracts (i.e. long complex legal documents) are signed and turned into the league office within 30 minutes of free agency opening. This is what gives the opening gun of free agency such a frenetic feel; the negotiations have already occurred, it’s just the time when pen can be put to paper.
The new negotiating window will dampen that pace a little this year as teams will have a league-approved negotiating period, but the salary cap could really dampen the first few days of free agency.
Lions Gab: Better to avoid big-money players in this year's free agency
Detroit Free Press | Feb 20