Tom Brady, NFL, free agency
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Updated for 2021 offseason: Nov. 18, 2020

NFL announces 2021 free agency will open March 17

There was some question regarding the start of free agency around the NFL world this coming March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have no idea whether the season will end on time with the Super Bowl being held on February 7.

We now have confirmation form the league that free agency around the NFL world will open March 17. This means teams will have to designate franchise tag players and get under the cap ahead of free agency. Technically, it’s the start of the new NFL league year.

2020 NFL free agency: Updated March 6, 2020

When the season comes to an end, the NFL knows how to keep its fan base entertained. The NFL offseason is a special time of year between the NFL Draft and free agency with fans from across the country hopeful that their team will make big moves. So when does NFL free agency start? We’ve got your answer.

Of course, the weeks leading up to the start of NFL free agency lead to plenty of rumors and speculation. As football fans anxiously wait for the 2020 NFL offseason to officially kick off, reports of potential signings and blockbuster trades grab everyone’s attention. Fortunately for NFL fans, free agency is right around the corner.

While discussions between the NFL and NFL Players’ Association regarding a new collective-bargaining agreement hang over the start of free agency, it won’t impact the start of the new league year. While a new CBA could lead to teams spending even more money this offseason, fans will still get to enjoy a fun NFL free agency period even without it.

Now let’s dive into when NFL free agency starts and prepare football fans with what they need to know before the free-agency frenzy kicks off.

When does NFL free agency start?

  • Franchise & transition tag deadline – March 12 – This is the deadline for teams to either apply the franchise tag or transition tag to their pending free agents. Tagged players have until July 15 to reach a long-term extension, otherwise, they play on the one-year deal.
  • Legal tampering period March 16 – NFL teams can begin contacting agents representing unrestricted free agents and start negotiating contracts with them.
  • Contracts expire – March 18, 4 p.m. EST – All contracts for the 2019 season expire on Wednesday, March 18 at 4 EST. Any players set for unrestricted free agency officially become free agents.
  • Start of 2020 league year – March 18, 4 p.m. EST – The 2020 NFL league year begins and NFL teams are allowed to officially make trades and sign players.

It’s worth noting that while the legal tampering period is March 16, NFL teams have discussed contracts with free agents before then. It’s the reason why when the new league year starts, NFL fans will be treated to a flurry of big signings at the start of free agency.

Who are the top players available in free agency?

While the franchise tag will remove some of the top talents from the free-agent market, there will still be plenty of big names for teams to pursue. Whether your favorite team needs a quarterback, a playmaker on offense or any impact defender, there will be plenty of options available. We’ve also got some exciting bold predictions that would shake up the NFL offseason.

  • Dak Prescott – While there’s no sign of progress in contract discussions, the Cowboys have made it clear they will keep Prescott at all costs. He’ll likely be hit with the franchise tag, allowing him to make a staggering amount on a one-year deal.
  • Tom Brady – At least eight teams are interested in signing Brady in what is shaping up to be the biggest offseason storyline in years. Wherever the legend decides to sign, the move will have ripple effects throughout the NFL.
  • Philip Rivers – Another future Hall of Famer hitting the open market. Rivers is receiving interest from the Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders and a few other teams. While he’s near the end of his career, he might still have just enough in the tank for one more playoff run.
  • Derrick Henry – Arguably the NFL’s best running back in the past year, Henry is a candidate for the franchise tag. If he hits the open market, the recent history of big contracts for running backs backfiring could hurt his market.
  • Melvin Gordon – The star running back will test free agency after his decision to holdout early in the 2019 season backfired. He’s still very talented and will draw interest, but might have to settle for a lower contract than he expects.
  • Amari Cooper – Prescott is the team’s top priority, but the Cowboys are also determined to re-sign Cooper. Talks are ongoing and he’s likely to return, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he hit the open market and landed a massive offer elsewhere.
  • A.J. Green. – While Cincinnati’s star receiver wants to test free agency, he’ll receive the franchise tag this offseason. The Bengals don’t plan to tag-and-trade Green, so he won’t be joining a contender anytime soon.
  • Robby Anderson – The Jets are pushing to re-sign their top receiver, but Anderson might be better off hitting the open market. He’s young, fast and there will be a few teams willing to give him the big contract he is seeking.
  • Hunter Henry – The 25-year-old tight end would be extremely coveted if he hit the open market. However, the Chargers will apply the franchise tag. From there, Henry will certainly make a push to help reset the market and become one of the top paid players at his position.
  • Austin Hooper – Hooper is already drawing interest from across the NFL and the Green Bay Packers are an important team to watch. He’s an exciting, athletic tight end that will make for a strong addition to any offense.
  • Byron Jones – The Cowboys won’t be able to match the record-setting offers Jones is expected to receive. The 27-year-old cornerback might stay in the division with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants prepared for a bidding war.
  • Chris Harris Jr. – The veteran Pro Bowl corner is going to take advantage of a lush market of bidders. Harris Jr. wants to get paid and those offers will be out there, but he also might be willing to take less to pursue a Super Bowl ring.
  • Jadeveon Clowney – The star edge rusher has put a high price on landing his services, but there should be no trouble of achieving it. Clowney will weigh his options, but a return to Seattle remains a possibility.
  • Shaquil Barrett – Coming off a breakout season with a league-leading 19.5 sacks, the Buccaneers are expected to place the franchise tag on Barrett.

Given all of the top free-agent talent available, we’re expecting plenty of surprises this offseason. There are a plethora of players available in free agency and just as many teams with money to spend.

What NFL teams have the most cap space?

There are still plenty of moves left for NFL teams to create more cap space. As of now, though, a few teams are in the best position to spend like crazy in free agency, per OvertheCap.com.

  • Miami Dolphins$88.1 million – This is the moment Miami’s front office spent a year preparing for. They have glaring needs on both sides of the ball and could target several former New England Patriots.
  • Indianapolis Colts – $86.2 million – The Colts took a cautious approach last offseason, but we expect them to be more active this year. Indianapolis needs a quarterback and lots of help on defense.
  • Buffalo Bills – $82 million Coming off a promising season, the Bills will look to provide quarterback Josh Allen with more help and to strengthen their defense.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – $80 million – Tampa Bay needs to find a quarterback to become a contender. Once that is addressed, it can throw its remaining cap space towards upgrading its defense.
  • Dallas Cowboys – $77.3 million – The Cowboys will likely spend a majority of their cap space and Prescott and Cooper. There will still be enough left, though, to make a few moves to become a Super Bowl contender.
  • New York Giants – $74 million – The Giants must strengthen their pass rush and secondary this offseason. Fortunately, there are quite a few options available and the front office has money to burn.

There will be plenty of teams active in free agency, although the Atlanta Falcons ($4.3 million, Pittsburgh Steelers ($1.58 million) and Minnesota Vikings ($1.38 million) will far more quiet because of their lack of cap space.

What about the NFL Draft?

The NFL’s offseason schedule sets up perfectly for teams and football fans. After a few weeks of exciting moves and big signings, the league will jump right into the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Cincinnati Bengals will officially be put on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick at 8 pm. EST on April 23. From there, NFL teams will spend the next three days making moves, addressing needs and drafting some of the league’s future stars. Until the moment arrives, fans can enjoy the latest 2020 NFL mock draft as a potential preview of everything that could unfold.

Matt Johnson
NFL, MLB & college football writer for Sportsnaut. Graduated from San Diego State University with BA in Journalism, 2019. Grew up in Sacramento, now based in Indianapolis. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection, With the First Pick