NFL free agency dates 2024: Start time, signing period, best players available

Here's all the info for NFL free agency, including key dates and players to watch

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The NFL offseason is getting busy.

While the Super Bowl was just a month ago, the league isn't slowing down. Teams went to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine starting on Feb. 29, where draft prep continued.

Now, it's time for free agency. Several star players could be changing teams, either by signing new contracts or requesting trades. It's sure to be a hectic few months before practices begin again in the summer.

With that in mind, here are all the dates to know for NFL free agency:

What are the key dates for NFL free agency?

Feb. 20 to March 5 (4 p.m. ET): Franchise tag period

From Feb. 20 to March 5, teams were able to utilize the franchise tag or transition tag to keep one of their pending free agents from reaching the open market. Here's a full look at all the players who were tagged.

March 11 (12 p.m. ET) to March 13 (4 p.m. ET): Legal tampering period

Beginning on March 11, teams can start negotiating with unrestricted free agents from other clubs. While they can't officially sign opposing players during this 52-hour window, they can agree to deals and many agreements will be reported at this stage.

March 13 (4 p.m. ET): Free agency opens and new league year begins

As soon as the legal tampering period ends, players are free to officially sign contracts with other teams. This also marks the beginning of the new league year. From this point on, free agents are able to sign contracts at any time.

When is the NFL franchise tag deadline 2024?

Teams were able to use the franchise tag from Feb. 20 to March 5, 2024. Any player scheduled to be a free agent this year was eligible to be tagged, but there were different types of tags that could be used.

Exclusive franchise tag: Teams must offer the selected player a one-year contract no less than either the average of the top-five salaries at that player’s position based on April of the current year or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.

No player was given the exclusive tag in 2024.

Non-exclusive franchise tag: Teams must offer the selected player a one-year contract no less than the average of the top-five cap hits of that player’s positions or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.

Eight players received the non-exclusive tag in 2024: Justin Madubuike (Ravens), Michael Pittman Jr. (Colts), Josh Allen (Jaguars), L'Jarius Sneed (Chiefs), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Buccaneers), Brian Burns (Panthers), Jaylon Johnson (Bears) and Tee Higgins (Bengals). Before free agency began, Madubuike and Johnson both received long-term extensions from their teams.

Transition tag: Transition tags are similar to franchise tags with two exceptions. Rather than top-five, transition tags use the average of the top-10 highest players at a position and don’t provide any guaranteed compensation clause. Unlike the franchise tag, teams are given no promise of an asset at the end of the deal. If a team refuses to match a competing team’s offer, therefore losing the player, they don't receive any draft picks in exchange.

Patriots safety Kyle Dugger was the only player to receive the transition tag in 2024.

When is the legal tampering period for NFL free agency 2024?

For 52 hours -- from March 11 at 12 p.m. ET to March 13 at 4 p.m. ET -- teams can legally tamper with free agents from other clubs. This essentially means that any free agent player can negotiate a contract or have a meeting with any team. While they can't officially sign the deal during this window, deals will be reported and signed as soon as the free agency period opens.

When can NFL teams sign free agents in 2024?

The second that the legal tampering period ends -- 4 p.m. ET on March 13 -- teams can sign opposing players to contracts. This period is the same as legal tampering, just with players officially putting pen to paper.

Who are the top NFL free agents 2024?

Many of the top impending free agents were kept off the open market due to the franchise tag or agreeing to a contract with their incumbent teams before March 11. Here are 15 of the top players who are set to be free agents (not including players who have been tagged or extended):

  1. Kirk Cousins, Vikings QB
  2. Christian Wilkins, Dolphins DL
  3. Danielle Hunter, Vikings DE
  4. Jonathan Greenard, Texans EDGE
  5. Tyron Smith, Cowboys OT
  6. Calvin Ridley, Jaguars WR
  7. Saquon Barkley, Giants RB
  8. Michael Onwenu, Patriots OT
  9. Josh Jacobs, Raiders RB
  10. Leonard Williams, Seahawks DE
  11. Bryce Huff, Jets EDGE
  12. Justin Simmons, Broncos S
  13. Xavier McKinney, Giants S
  14. Patrick Queen, Ravens LB
  15. Marquise Brown, Cardinals WR
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