When does NFL free agency start: Date, time and more to know as Tom Brady headlines star-studded class

To likely many people's surprise, the NFL's 100th season technically isn't over just yet. Yes, we know that the Kansas City Chiefs were able to secure their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, which unofficially ended the league's centennial season. In reality, there are still a few days remaining until the new league year begins. 

When that does come about and free agency kicks off, it's poised to be one of the biggest games of musical chairs that the league has seen in quite some time, specially at quarterback. We have a number of big name signal callers entering free agency this offseason, and there is projected to be quite a large amount of movement. The Chargers have already announced they are moving on from longtime quarterback Philip Rivers, the return of Drew Brees to New Orleans likely spells the end of Teddy Bridgewater's tenure with the Saints, and the Titans currently have both Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota looking at unrestricted free agency. 

Oh yeah, and there's this guy named Tom Brady, who is set to hit the market for the first time in his two-decade long career. 

Changes are coming. 

To make sure you don't miss out on any of this action, we've broken down every question you may have about the upcoming free agency period, from when it begins, what the legal tampering period means, and how much money your team has to spend. 

When does free agency begin? 

Free agency officially begins at the start of the new league year, which is on Wednesday, March 18 at 4 p.m. ET. 

This is when a free agent's 2019 contract expires, allowing him to officially sign a new deal with whichever club that'll have him. Unrestricted free agents and teams can verbally agree to deals prior to this date during the legal tampering period. 

What happens during the legal tampering period? 

The NFL's legal tampering period begins on March 16 and goes up until the start of the new league year. This is essentially where the bulk of the action happens as teams are at that point allowed to speak with free agents and discuss terms. They can come to a verbal agreement on a contract, but it won't become official until the start of the new league year. 

Who are some of the top players on the market? 

Earlier this offseason, CBS Sports senior NFL writer Pete Prisco broke down the top-100 free agents. Some of those players (i.e. Dak Prescott, Shaq Barrett, etc.) are expected to be tagged prior to them actually hitting the market, but it's still a strong class regardless, especially at quarterback. Tom Brady is the headliner of this group as he's slated to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Some other free agent quarterbacks include Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Jameis Winston

Here are some other names that Prisco has inside his top 25: 

5. A.J. Green, wide receiver (Bengals
7. Amari Cooper, wide receiver (Cowboys
8. Chris Harris, cornerback (Broncos
10. Jadeveon Clowney, outside linebacker (Seahawks
12. Byron Jones, cornerback (Cowboys) 
22. Joe Thuney, left guard (Patriots
25. Derrick Henry, running back (Titans)  

Who has the most cap space? 

The Dolphins lead the way with a projection of nearly $94 million in available cash to fill the various needs across the roster, according to Spotrac. The Colts, Bucs and Bills follow behind them with around $85 million to spend on free agents. After that, things start to fall off a bit, but there are still plenty of teams with enough dough to add top-tier talent. 

Here's a quick look at the top 10 (as of March 5): 

  1. Miami Dolphins: $93,657,524
  2. Indianapolis Colts: $86,137,492
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $84,989,175
  4. Buffalo Bills: $83,074,551
  5. Dallas Cowboys: $73,983,128
  6. New York Giants: $73,312,080
  7. Houston Texans: $62,992,061
  8. Washington Redskins: $61,903,010
  9. Cleveland Browns: $58,307,140
  10. New York Jets: $56,112,397

What jumps out of this group is that four clubs in this top 10 have first-year head coaches, so it'll be interesting to see how they shape their respective rosters to begin their tenures. 

To see how much cap space each team has, check out Spotrac's projections here

Will the CBA discussions impact the start of free agency? 

No. There are no plans to change the start of free agency, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network. In fact, Page 68 of the proposed CBA states that "the 2020 League Year shall begin on March 18, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. New York time." 

Where can I find more info on the start of free agency? 

CBSSports.com will have all the latest breaking news you need to know about every free agent signing as it develops. You can also watch instant reaction to those moves on CBS Sports HQ, our 24/7 sports news network.

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