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Free Agency Soon, But "Tampering" Talks First

NFL will open legal window to talk to potential players ahead of Wednesday's signing period


Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim can begin talking to free-agent players Monday, with the free-agent period officially starting Wednesday afternoon.

Free agency doesn't start for another couple of days, but laying free agency groundwork starts sooner.

The NFL's "tampering" period begins on Monday at 9 a.m. Arizona time, when teams can officially start talking to players scheduled to become free agents -- just not sign them yet. (That can't come before the start of the new league year, Wednesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time.)

It also means the Cardinals' chase for a quarterback begins in earnest.

"If you have plan 'A' and … (find out) something else is going to happen, you have to quickly regroup and move on to 'B' and not get caught flat-footed," General Manager Steve Keim said.

The quarterback dominoes will dominate the NFL landscape, but it's not the only position the Cardinals figure to look at in free agency. There are other spots to consider, such as offensive line or cornerback.

Another factor will be new coach Steve Wilks, whose arrival figures to influence not only the roster makeup in terms of scheme fit, but also could draw particular free agents with whom he (or his assistants) might have a previous relationship.

The Cardinals are working on a handful of their own free agents in an attempt to keep them off the open market, re-signing long snapper Aaron Brewer last week and still with a chance to get another deal or two done by Wednesday. The Cards have 18 of their own unrestricted free agents remaining and another three restricted free agents.

Notable names dot the quarterback free-agent class starting with Kirk Cousins and – for now – Drew Brees, but overall, the NFL's group of free-agents-to-be isn't considered exceptionally strong. There are a handful of players who could get big money aside from QBs, like Carolina guard Andrew Norwell, wide receiver Allen Robinson, tackle Nate Solder, Carolina defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, but the market will be interesting to see play out.

"You just have to be prepared for every scenario," Keim said. "It doesn't mean you can't be disappointed you didn't get some of your targets."

The NFL has already had a bunch of moves and expected moves come down. Trades can't officially be executed until Wednesday, but a number have already been reported -- among them, the Chiefs trading QB Alex Smith to Washington and CB Marcus Peters to the Rams. Any veteran cut can sign right away as well, which is why former Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman now plays for the 49ers. 

The Cardinals don't have the most cap space in the NFL but that matters little in a league that, across all 32 teams, has become adept at knowing what moves to make to sign the players they want.

The recent past has also shown Keim that the Cardinals are often thought of as a destination, which also doesn't hurt once the talking commences.

"The past three or four years, we have had an influx of calls from agents that go out of their way to tell us this is where a player wants to be," Keim said. "Years past, there was a time when we quite frankly may have overpaid for a player in free agency, or we had to sell a dream. We still do that. There is a still a recruiting part of the process. But there is no question the community, the fan base, the stadium, the cost of living, life in Arizona, those are tremendous things to sell.

"My question coming up through the ranks (in the organization) has always been, 'Why not us?' "

Images of some of the most notable cornerbacks scheduled to hit the open market

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