The gates opened at noon on Saturday.
It was then that the legal tampering period began for NFL teams, three days before unrestricted free agents can begin visiting organizations and signing contracts at 4 p.m. on March 10.
For the New England Patriots, it means contact with unrestricted free agents other than their own can begin. But it also means the likes of free safety Devin McCourty, running back Shane Vereen and their representatives can begin fielding phone calls from other interested teams.
McCourty and Vereen are two of the Patriots’ nine unrestricted free agents, after kicker Stephen Gostkowski was hit with the franchise tag this past week. And both are expected to have their share of suitors, with deep-field safeties and viable receiving backs at a premium across the league.
They are joined by a fellow former draft choice in halfback Stevan Ridley, as well as guard Dan Connolly, defensive tackle Alan Branch, edge-rusher Akeem Ayers, linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Chris White, and also long snapper Danny Aiken as New England’s unrestricted.
As for two others, 11-year veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and first-team All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis will not officially become free agents until their options are declined at 4 p.m. on March 9.
New England can retain them until then.
The 33-year-old Wilfork announced this Thursday that the team has elected not to take on the final two years of his deal. And Revis’ $20 million team option and $25 million cap hit for next season will likely follow suit, as Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reports the Patriots plan to pass on the corner’s option in the confidence of reaching a long-term agreement.
Those variables will begin to unfold both during and after the three-day window. But other variables will take center stage on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.