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5 Things to Know about NFL Free Agency

Much of the focus of the football world is on the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, which kicks off later this week in Indianapolis.

But the league's free agency period isn't far behind, and is slated to start almost immediately after the combine is complete.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman met with reporters last week and gave a peek inside the Vikings mindset as a free agency approaches.

"What we did in free agency this year, because we have to get better, is we went through each position, our coaches were in here, our scouts were in here, we read the reports, and if there were any discrepancies or feelings that people weren't on the same page, then we put on the tape, so we did group studies on tape," Spielman said. "The best way to assess, you're comparing the free agent market to what you have on your current roster, so what we did was, take Player A from our roster who is an unrestricted free agent and all of the potential guys that we would replace him with and stack it like it was a draft board.

"When there are disagreements in the room, we stop right there, put on the tape and watched three or four games on our guy and then three or four games on the next guy and the next," Spielman added. "We sat here for seven hours one day going through the process like that because I believe when you sit there and watch it back-to-back-to-back like that, you can truly get a sense of how these guys stack up with each other."

It remains to be seen what happens with the Vikings, but here are five things to know about the NFL free agency period:

1. Nuts and bolts

Free agency officially begins at the start of the new league year, which is at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 9. But teams and players' agents can discuss potential deals during a negotiation period that starts on March 7. Contracts cannot become official until the start of the new league year.

2. Current free agents

The Vikings have 16 players scheduled to be free agents, a list that includes running back Matt Asiata, linebacker Audie Cole, tight end Rhett Ellison, linebacker Chad Greenway, quarterback Shaun Hill, tackle Matt Kalil, fullback Zach Line, punter Jeff Locke, tackle Jake Long, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, cornerback Terence Newman, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Justin Trattou.

While the aforementioned players are all unrestricted free agents, the Vikings also have a pair of restricted free agents in wide receivers Adam Thielen and Charles Johnson.

3. What's the difference?

Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any team, but Thielen and Johnson are in a separate category. The pair are restricted free agents (RFA), meaning they have completed fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

If the RFA signs an offer sheet with a different team, his old team can match the offer and keep him. If the old team does not match the offer, they can receive a draft pick based on the amount of the offer.

Teams can also designate a "tender" on players for what draft value they think the player is worth. If a player is given a first-round tender by his old team and signs with a new team, his old team receives a first-round pick.

4. A peek at the past

The Vikings received solid contributions in 2016 from a handful of players acquired through free agency over the years. Minnesota agreed to deals with left guard Alex Boone and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur last offseason, and brought in center Joe Berger, Munnerlyn and Newman, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph in the past.

5. The franchise tag

This may not apply to the Vikings, as the organization has used the franchise tag just twice in its history, but it's something every NFL team can use. Teams have until March 1 at 3 p.m. (CT) to tag a player.

The franchise tag is basically one-year contract at a pre-determined salary that is the average of the top five salaries at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is greater. Quarterbacks usually have the highest annual rate, followed by high-demand positions such as wide receivers or defensive ends.

Minnesota last used the franchise tag in 2011 on Greenway.

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