On Monday, the NFL sent out a memo to all 32 teams, reminding them that free agency doesn't actually begin until Tuesday, March 10 at 4 p.m. ET, and warning teams against premature announcement of signings. Teams may engage in talks with potential free agents for 72 hours before that point, but deals aren't official even a minute before.
"You are reminded that the purpose of the three-day negotiating period is to create a level playing field in the competition for Unrestricted Free Agents, by permitting clubs to express interest in a prospective UFA and to exchange information with certified agents regarding the level of compensation envisioned by the club and the agent," the league wrote in the memo, which was acquired by Pro Football Talk. "Any attempt to undermine the purpose of this negotiating period may be considered conduct detrimental to the League."
According to multiple reports, the undermining of this negotiating period may be harmful to the Philadelphia Eagles, who thought they had former San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore locked up with a three-year deal that would net him $7.5 million in guaranteed money in the first two seasons of the deal. Selected in the third round of the 2005 draft out of Miami, Gore has amassed eight 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers, including each of the last four seasons, but was not in the team's future plans. The Eagles were fresh off their decision to trade LeSean McCoy, their primary back over the last few seasons, to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. They thought for sure that they had Gore in the fold as a power back and complement to Darren Sproles.
And that, as they say, is when all hell broke loose.
On Monday afternoon, reports from two separate NFL insiders -- NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and ESPN's Adam Schefter -- indicated that Gore had come down with a case of cold feet on the Eagles deal, and was now seriously considering a move to the Colts instead. According to Rapoport, Gore was telling friends on Sunday that he would sign with the Eagles, but when Indianapolis expressed interest, things suddenly changed. The Colts have a desperate need for an every-down back, and associate head coach Rob Chudzinski was Miami's offensive coordinator from 2001-2003, when Gore was on the team. Head coach Chuck Pagano was Miami's defensive backs coach from 1995 through 2000, strengthening that particular bond.
It's also possible that having gone through San Francisco's recent churn-and-burn, Gore is less than ecstatic about joining another team in which players are seemingly seen as fungible.
So, we don't know where Gore will sign, and if the Eagles were counting on his services, they'll have to re-jigger. Perhaps they could sign Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who the Dallas brass considers fungible, and who would be a tremendous fit for Chip Kelly's zone-blocking system. They could go with a B-level free-agent back like C.J. Spiller or Ryan Mathews or Justin Forsett, or turn to the draft, where there's a huge and deep class of quality backs.
Perhaps the more important question is, should these deals be leaked before they happen? And in today's social media landscape, is there any way to avoid it? Teams will make offers, players will fly to specific locations, agents will leak information to drive up the value of their clients, and Twitter is a willing receptacle for it all. The league could create a situation where there was no window of negotiation, and there was a relative free-for-all once free agency actually opened, but the players' union might have a good collusion case if the players it represents had no opportunity to explore maximum value for their services. Taking away the time period in which players can receive written offers (that can't be called "offers," of course) seems a bit like restraint of trade.
It's more likely that the NFL will throw this memo at teams every year, and the teams will continue to circumvent the system however they possibly can. Once in a while, as the Eagles just discovered, that may come back to bite you.