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What to expect for the Bills in one of the NFL's busiest weeks

NFL teams and player agents can stop their ruse now.

Both sides no longer have to pretend they haven’t been talking about impending free agents for weeks. That’s because the league’s “legal tampering” period is now open.

Ignoring the absurdity of that phrase, here’s what that means, directly from the NFL’s official language: “Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents.”

Those negotiations can’t result in a signed contract until 4 p.m. Wednesday, which is the official start of the new league year, but it helps explain how multimillion deals can be completed in what would appear to be minutes.

Bills fans of a certain age will remember the team signing linebacker Jeff Posey to a four-year contract in 2003. That signing would have been forgettable if not for its timing. The deal with Posey was reached shortly after midnight – before the time of the new league year starting was changed – and has become a humorous reminder of the league’s look-the-other-way approach to “tampering.”

It’s naïve to think that agents and teams haven’t laid the groundwork for potential interest in players well before now – the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which is annually held a couple weeks before the start of free agency, is a prime spot for such meetings – but now, there is actually a built-in time for it on the league’s calendar.

The start of the “legal tampering” period kicks off one of the busiest weeks of the NFL calendar. Before the start of the league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday, here’s a look at what teams will need to have taken care of:

  • The contracts of any team’s top 51 players have to be under the league’s salary cap. The “top 51” rule is used in the offseason, when teams have a maximum of 90 players on the roster. The Bills are safely under the cap, with $22.8 million in space as of Monday morning. That will amount will go up when the new league year begins (more on that in a moment). Four teams – Miami, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Kansas City – are projected to be over the salary cap right now, which means they will have to make accompanying roster moves and/or contract adjustments.
  • Teams must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents to retain a right of first refusal or be eligible for compensation if that player signs elsewhere. The Bills do not have any restricted free agents this offseason.
  • Teams must submit minimum salary tenders to retain exclusive negotiating rights with players who have fewer than three accrued seasons. The Bills have four such players this offseason – tight ends Nick O’Leary and Logan Thomas, defensive end Eddie Yarbrough and cornerback Lafayette Pitts. It would be a surprise if offers weren’t made to all four.

All 2017 player contracts expire at 4 p.m. Wednesday. When the new league year begins, the flurry of deals agreed to in the past week all can become official (pending physicals). That includes the Bills’ agreement to send quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a third-round draft pick (No. 65 overall).

Expect a flurry of free agents to find new homes shortly after the start of the new league year. The Bills announced the signings of safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, fullback Patrick DiMarco, kicker Stephen Hauschka and guard Vlad Ducasse on the first day of free agency.

The start of a new league year also means bonus payments to players start to come due. Here are a few of the more important payments the Bills will have to make soon, via contracts website spotrac.com.

  • Defensive end Jerry Hughes has a $1 million roster bonus due Sunday, while right tackle Jordan Mills is due a $350,000 roster bonus and DiMarco’s $1.5 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the same day.
  • Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander will have $1 million of his $2.45 million base salary become guaranteed Friday, the same time that a $400,000 roster bonus is due.
  •  Hyde’s $3.7 million base salary becomes guaranteed Sunday, the same time a $1 million roster bonus is due. Additionally, Poyer’s $2.5 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed and a $150,000 roster bonus is due Sunday.

Left tackle Cordy Glenn also has a $2 million roster bonus due Sunday, but the Bills will no longer be responsible for that after they agreed to trade Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday in a deal that saw the teams swap spots in the first round of next month's draft. By doing so, the Bills will save $4.85 million against the 2018 salary cap.

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