While teams are limited in signing bonuses paid to undrafted free agents there are really no limits on what they can offer as a guarantee to a player. Priority free agents can sometimes land big guarantees- 77 players in the last two years have received a guarantee that is larger than the guarantee that will be paid to the final pick in this years draft. Last year there was even a player who received a $180,000 guarantee- basically the same amount committed to an early 6th round pick. With the UDFA firestorm about to begin I thought it might be interesting to look at the teams who have looked at UDFAs the most over the last two years.
Four teams have signed at least forty players in the last two years. The Jaguars, who have been bad, lead the way and I am sure are the team most would have guessed as the most active, but the next three teams probably not. The Ravens, Rams, and Chiefs are the others over 40 and all with a very different approach. The Ras spend very little on their signings with an average guarantee of just $4,700 all coming as a signing bonus. The Ravens are around the NFL average at $15.6K per player. What about the Chiefs? They aim high with over $31K in guarantees per player, 9th highest in the NFL. Also notable is that these four teams are among the lowest spenders on signing bonuses (in large part because the NFL limits the number) so they should have chances to offset these guarantees if cut.
The team that guarantees the most is Dallas and it is not even close. They have averaged $71.4K per player in guarantees, about $15K more than the Patriots who rank number two. Both rank relatively high in bonus spending too and given that they rank in the middle of the NFL in UDFA signings that probably makes these two of the top targets for UDFAs looking for the best offer. The 49ers and Eagles round out the teams who are over $40,000 in guarantees per player.
Who doesn’t really look at undrafted players? The Football team has only signed 17 post draft UDFAs over the last two seasons, the only team under 20. The Bills have 20 signings while the Raiders have 21. The Panthers also have 21 but with a very wild split- 4 signed in 2019 and then 17 last year when Rhule came to the team. Washington may want to take note as they went from 13 in 2019 to 4 in 2020 which is when they brought in the old Carolina office to run the team. Detroit and San Francisco rounded out the bottom with 22 apiece. These teams, however, are very targeted. They are at the top of the NFL in signing bonus money and signing bonuses are the players to keep with no offsets. So they put forth a strong effort in signing.
Who spends the least? While on a per player basis it is the Rams, the Rams at least sign a lot of player. The Bengals rank dead last in total money guaranteed to undrafteds since 2019 by about $50,000. They rank second to the Rams with just $5,300 spent per player though like the Rams its pretty much all signing bonus money so at least there is no offset. Other teams that aim low- the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Chargers are all under $7,000 per player.
None of this means that all of these teams will or will not continue to spend but it helps give an idea as to why certain teams do seem to stand out with some of the UDFA signings. Money talks and often means opportunity.
It is important to note that teams do only have 90 roster spots to work with. Teams like the 49ers, Giants, Panthers, Jaguars, Texans, and Football Team are near those limits and may not be that interested in signing players. If they are it also means a number of players, those who likely signed futures deals, will be cut to make room. The fact that the NFL is having an offseason program that many are not attending it might make it easier for the team to consider releases for complete unknowns.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the Falcons, Seahawks, Saints, Chargers, Bucs, and Bears with minimal players under contract and in many cases very limited cap space. These are the kind of teams that need undrafteds for the summer and to compete for roster spots with veterans as the low cost is highly beneficial for the teams.
Here is the guarantee data (includes signing bonus money) for the last two years. The column headers should allow you to sort if you click on them.
|Team||2019 UDFAs||2019 Guarantee||2019 Avg Guarantee||2020 UDFAs||2020 Guarantee||2020 Avg Guarantee||Total Signed||Total Guarantees||Avg. Per Player|
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.