TAMPA — 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.
“We have systems that we want to run and this roster wasn’t set up with our systems in mind,’’ Smith said recently. “Not that it’s going to be that different, but we have some changes we have to make.’’
The biggest changes will likely come up front, possibly on both sides of the ball. Smith believes the Bucs need an influx of talent at defensive end and he might seek to retool the offensive line, as well.
Tampa Bay also will be on the lookout for a veteran quarterback to push or possibly replace Mike Glennon, who went 4-9 as a rookie starter last year after replacing the deposed Josh Freeman in Week 4.
“To say right now that Mike is the answer and he’s our quarterback of the future and we’re going to build around him and give him a 20-year contract, we’re not there,’’ Smith said.
“I like him as one of our quarterbacks right now, but we’re going to have at least four in camp and at least one (veteran) will be in the mix. And then you just let it all play out.”
Smith, the former Bucs linebackers coach who spent nine years coaching the Chicago Bears before returning to Tampa Bay, is an old hand at free agency. His general manager, Jason Licht, is not.
Licht, who came to the Bucs after four years as director of player and pro personnel with the Arizona Cardinals, is entering his first free agency period as a GM.
His free-agent philosophy, however, will sound familiar to long-standing Bucs fans. Like his predecessor, Mark Dominik, he believes the first order of business is to sign your own free agents.
That means Licht will spend some time the next few days trying to keep players such as fullback Erik Lorig, linebacker Dekoda Watson and long snapper Andrew Economos off the market. He does, however, have other objectives.
“We’re going to try to fill as many holes as we can in free agency and we’re going to do it wisely,” Licht said. “We only have five picks (in the 2014 draft), so we’re hoping to (maximize free agency). I don’t want to go into the draft with our first pick, having to pick a position.”