Starting Saturday, all teams will have the opportunity to start talking to Cardinals free agent-to-be Antonio Cromartie about a new contract.
There can be no contract offers extended yet. But the free agent discussion – at least officially – can commence.
While the free agent signing period doesn't begin until 1 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday, the ability for teams to talk to the agents of players who are about to become unrestricted free agents starts Saturday at 10 a.m. Arizona time. Visits cannot happen (or even be scheduled), but initial discussions can occur.
The "tampering" period was put into place by the NFL since so much discussion was going on anyway in the days leading up to the free agent signing period. This way, players have a good idea of what teams are interested in their services, and what their worth on the open
market will be.
It also means there will be signings as early as Tuesday as the biggest names will quickly agree to deals and the market begins to sort itself out.
This season may bring with it some furious activity. Already 21 of the 32 teams have more salary cap space than the estimated $14 million the Cardinals figure to have heading into the week, and a whopping 12 have at least $30 million of cap space with which to work.
There remain a couple of days for the Cardinals to try and re-sign some of their own free-agents-to-be, but that might be minimal at best. The Cards did not tender offers to their remaining restricted free agents-to-be, defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and quarterback Ryan Lindley, although there remains a chance they re-sign Ta'amu before the free agent period opens.
But it is unlikely unrestricted free agents like defensive tackle Dan Williams, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and Sam Acho re-sign before testing the market and from there, money usually talks. The publicity around Williams grows – reports say the Redskins could make a major run at him – while Cromartie could head back to his beloved East coast to rejoin Rex Ryan in Buffalo or former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who now coaches Cromartie's old Jets team.
Both General Manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians haven't been shy talking about the areas within which they will be looking in free agency. Arians stressed the need to increase speed on defense – particularly inside linebacker – and the need to add competition on the interior of the offensive line.
The Cardinals also could use a running back, pass rusher, additions to the defensive line and maybe even tight end.
Even though no deals can be reached, the beginning of talks inevitably also ratchets up the rumor mill, as specific names of team targets – including those of the Cardinals – leak out over the weekend, heading into Tuesday.
Images of running backs who are scheduled to hit the free agent market on March 10