TAMPA, FL (via Roy Cummings, TBO.com) — On your marks, get set — tamper!

That in essence is the cry that will go out at noon today when the NFL kicks off free agency with a three-day negotiating period in which teams can actually tamper with another club’s free agents.

That’s right. Tampering is once again legal in the NFL — for the next few days at least.

The league still mostly denounces the practice, but it is legal for the 76 hours prior to the free-agency signing period that begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

But tamper is about the only thing teams can do during this first phase. They cannot visit with or contact prospective free agents, arrange visits with them or physically sign them to contracts.

What they can do is negotiate and even finalize contracts with the certified agents for prospective free-agent players. And for most everyone involved in free agency, there is a benefit to that.

“It’s a great way to start things off because it helps you get a real feel for the interest teams have in your guys,’’ said agent Hadley Engelhard, whose client list includes free agent cornerback Javier Arenas, a former Robinson High standout.

“You can actually talk dollars and cents, so I love it. I had four (free agents) last year and we were able to accomplish a lot during that period that helped us make some good decisions when free agency actually began.’’

The Bucs accomplished a lot a year ago, as well, agreeing to terms on deals with safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and tight end Tom Crabtree.

They will almost certainly be looking for similar results this year. Coach Lovie Smith has expressed a strong desire to reshape the roster he inherited when he took the job in January.







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