What Can La’El Collins Earn as an Undrafted Free Agent

With the draft over, we hit the fast and furious UDFA signing period, which is where La’El Collins now sits. So let’s take a quick look at the rules regarding the signings, specifically in regards to Collins.

Every undrafted rookie is locked into signing a three year contract. The three year contract will contain the minimum Paragraph 5 salary in each year, which will equal payouts of $435,000 in 2015, $525,000 in 2016, and $615,000 in 2017. These are the same numbers as rookies drafted after the 3rd round and many of the players drafted in the third round, so it is not a major loss for Collins of any player who was not projected to be a 2nd round pick.

The UDFA’s are very limited in terms of signing bonus money. I don’t have the final number in front of me but IIRC each team can spend, in total, about $88,000 on all their undrafted rookies. That usually means a large number of players receiving signing bonuses that will not exceed $8,000. So that is a limiting factor for a player who is not drafted. The smallest signing bonus a 7th round pick will receive likely to be about $52,000. So that is a pretty big loss considering for many players the bonus is the only salary they will ever receive.

At the end of the three year contract, every UDFA will be a restricted free agent while a drafted rookie will have a fourth contract year. Teams select from one of three RFA salaries for the UDFA’s. The smallest tender for that year will be $1.785 million. Every drafted rookie (except punters and kickers) is also eligible to see their contracted salary rise to the smallest tender level based on playing time. So if Collins does not have a great career but is ok he will basically trail every drafted rookie that is ok by the signing bonus. However if he excels and earns the 2nd or 1st level tender he will earn at least $2.73 or $3.88 million in the final year. No drafted rookie can do that, so that would allow him to move his overall salary take back into the 2nd round level of the draft.

Every UDFA is extension eligible after just two seasons, so a very good player can get extended much earlier than the draft pick who must play three years. If I was Collins agent and that was a goal of mine I would strongly consider signing with a team like the Bengals, 49ers, Packers, or Patriots among others. These are the teams that typically like to extend talent early if possible and you may get that quicker extension from them if you do play like a first rounder. Similarly teams like the Texans and Giants have already proven they will avoid the RFA process for great talent like Arian Foster or Victor Cruz. Those are the kind of teams you may get that faster value from.

Now there is nothing in the process that prevents a team from guaranteeing large amounts of salary to  UDFA. This is how many teams lure a UDFA while complying with the signing bonus rules. It is not uncommon to see a UDFA receive a salary guarantee equal to a Practice Squad salary (slightly over $100,000) and in some cases double that. For Collins that presents an opportunity to attempt to receive a three year guarantee of $1,575,000. That guarantee would be equivalent to a late 2nd rounders guarantee through his signing bonus and salary guarantee.

I doubt a team would be willing to make that investment now, but if Collins waits until the summer to sign they might if his name is cleared. In theory that could also give him time to see how teams depth charts are beginning to shape up and where he will get the most opportunity to play. This is also important because if e starts he would likely be a leader in Performance Based Pay which is based on playing time relative to your cap charge. Last year the league leader received nearly $375,000 in PBP. He would certainly earn more than highly drafted players further shrinking the gap.

So the avenues are there for Collins or any UDFA to make up for losses by not being drafted if they carefully select the team and are quality NFL players. UDFAs are never given the opportunity of a draft pick nor do they usually get the financial security, but they will be rewarded if they prove the NFL scouts wrong for pushing them out of the draft.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc