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CIRCLE THE DATE

Now that the regular season is over, here's what NFL fans have to look forward to.

The NFL’s new “tampering window” allowing contact between teams and agents for pending free agents from other teams opened early Saturday morning like a half-cocked auction.

You can look and even make an unofficial bid, but you can’t agree to buy.

An NFL memo sent to all 32 teams has placed a chilling effect — at least publicly — on just how much can be accomplished before the start of Tuesday’s free-agent signing period. As first reported by CBS Sports and ESPN, the league has sternly warned that no verbal agreements can be reached between clubs and free agents from other squads.

If the league gets wind of such deals being made or the news becomes public through the media, the NFL has threatened to conduct a tampering investigation that could result in penalties.

The net result: While reports of players being linked with teams will continue as the start of free agency approaches, such information will probably come in a trickle rather than through what some had speculated would be a flood of contract agreements verbally accepted over the weekend.

The “tampering window” was instituted by the NFL this year in hopes of reducing the amount of rampant dialogue that was being done illegally between teams and agents well before the signing period opened.

It would be naïve to think that this move would completely put the kibosh on tampering. As per usual, such contact quietly continued between teams and agents last month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

However, an official 88-hour negotiating window before the start of the signing period at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday should help set the market value for a slew of players and generate quicker contract agreements either with the current team or elsewhere.

Teams do not have to wait until Tuesday to re-sign their own free agents. Also, club officials still cannot speak directly with players under contract to other clubs before free agency begins.
Alex Marvez

What's next for Abraham? — 10:16 a.m. ET

The NFL’s active leader in sacks probably won’t be out of work much longer.
Defensive end/outside linebacker John Abraham has taken free-agent visits with Seattle and San Francisco following his recent release by the Atlanta Falcons. Profootballtalk.com reported that New Orleans and Tennessee could be his next stops with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also showing interest in a 13-year veteran with 122 career sacks.

Here is a look at how the 34-year-old Abraham would fit with all five franchises:

Seattle: Because of the lousy playing surface at Fed-Ex Field, the Seahawks lost top pass-rusher Chris Clemons to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in January’s first-round playoff win over Washington. Clemons is expected to make a full recovery but it’s too early to tell whether he’ll be completely healthy by the start of the regular season. Abraham has experience playing the hybrid LEO position (outside linebacker/defensive end) that ex-Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley says suits the athletic Clemons to a T. Abraham also would serve to bolster the outside pass rush in rotation with Clemons and 2012 rookie standout Bruce Irvin.

San Francisco: Three of San Francisco’s top defenders (Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks) were banged up entering the postseason. Aldon Smith didn’t have a sack in San Francisco’s final six games after notching 19.5 through Week 15. The decline stems from a shoulder injury as well as the torn triceps that limited Justin Smith’s effectiveness in paving lanes to the quarterback for his teammates. Abraham would join Aldon Smith and Brooks as a trio of pass-rushing threats at outside linebacker.

New Orleans: The Saints are switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan. Junior Galette, who was re-signed to a three-year contract Saturday, is being converted from defensive end to man one of the outside linebacker positions. The other OLB spot is up for grabs, although Abraham might not be ideally suited as an every-down starter at this point in his NFL career.

Tennessee: The Titans notched 39 sacks last season, but adding depth at defensive end would be attractive. Derrick Morgan (6.5 sacks) and Kamerion Wimbley (6) led Tennessee’s pass rush in 2012 after the team failed to make a successful run at signing Mario Williams in free agency.

Tampa Bay: Defensive end Michael Bennett appears headed for free agency after a nine-sack season in 2012. Tampa Bay has the salary cap room to re-sign Bennett so either the Bucs knows something that interested suitors don’t or have made a poor talent evaluation. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers were Tampa Bay’s first- and second-round draft picks in 2011. Clayborn is coming off a season-ending knee injury; Bowers was arrested this offseason in Queens, N.Y. for bringing a loaded gun to the airport. Abraham would provide insurance in case there are issues with either player and serve as a nice complement off the bench in pass-rushing situations.

— Alex Marvez

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