As the draft comes to a close, a second type of draft begins which is the chase for the undrafted free agents. The UDFA’s are the players who did not get drafted and now get a chance to choose a situation that suits them best. For the most part their contracts are already made for them- the NFL limits their contracts to 3 year terms and puts a salary cap pool on all undrafted free agents a little bit over $75,000. While teams can exceed that amount they rarely do because then it hurts what they can pay their drafted players. That being said this is a big day where having a good agent shows its worth.
Teams have their own systems in place for UDFAs. Some the like Raiders rarely give bonuses. The Jets value most players at the same bonus value, around $7,000 per player, and give little negotiating room. Others like the Dolphins vary their bonuses from as little as $500 to as much as $10,000 depending on the player. And then there are teams like the Patriots who give a small signing bonus and also guarantee base salary as a way to avoid the $75,000 limitation. Knowing these systems is important to getting the largest guarantee possible.
But there is a lot more importance to planning than just getting an extra $1,000 in the players pocket. The biggest goal for a player is to make a roster and earn their full $405,000 salary. It is much better to have a chance to earn $405,000 and get a $1,000 bonus than not earn $405,000 and get a $10,000 bonus. At the least you want to have a good chance to make the Practice Squad, earning close to $100,000 if you can last a full 17 weeks.
The one benefit to not being drafted is that you get to choose the situation you go to and it is critical to find the situation that suits you the best. In the NFL opportunities are limited and when you have no draft cache at all sometimes one chance is all you get. To maximize your chances you need meaningful preseason time or a spot on a teams Practice Squad which are scouted by the other 31 franchises. Even then there is no guarantee of a second chance.
An agent needs to know a teams roster inside and out. They need to know what positions are not only open this year but what ones may open next year. Teams are already planning for 2014 and you need to take advantage of that. Find a situation where your UDFA might be able to become the plan for 2014. They need to understand team trends with UDFAs and low drafted players. Do they hold onto them or do they routinely cut the players? Does the team often sign UDFAs to the PS or do they usually just keep maintaining their groups of PS eligible players from year to year? What positions did they just draft? To just field a phone call and say “deal” is doing a disservice to the player they represent and themselves.
What might be some good landing spots? Without knowing players available I would think the Raiders are a perfect spot for a player. The Raiders need bodies and have limited players under contract for 2014, the lowest total in the NFL. They are going to look for talent anywhere they can get it and their GM comes from a system where they take as many picks and possible in a draft with the feeling that they can find talent somewhere. The Bears might be another good destination. This is a team undergoing a facelift with a very short window for their current starters. The Jets are clearly in the midst of a massive rebuild and have kept UDFA’s before and often will place such players on their Practice Squad.
This is planning that had to begin in January and will potentially pay off for players today. A lot of work yes, but necessary. And those who did it will be placing their clients in the best possible situations to let them continue their dream of playing in the NFL.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.