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.

  • Fgo Tim

    Thanks. Great explanation. You guys always do a tremendous job breaking things down. Now, Spielman…go get this guy if his name is cleared…he could start right away for MN at LG and who wouldn’t want to block for the best RB in the league, possibly ever.

  • Erie Adams

    why wouldn’t he just sign with the cowboys then since they have A great OL already that would make him better already and even look better if he doesn’t play as well as he is projected too

  • ThenAtlasSpoke

    This is actually better for him. He gets to choose which situation is better for him and which team to play for. Additionally, there is nothing to keep any team from paying him like a second (or even first) round draft pick. Of course, he doesn’t get that up-front signing bonus, but he can make that up in salary guarantees and/or roster bonuses. It’s not like the legal issues made this probable first round talent turn into a chump overnight. Once the dust settles legally, he is still a first round talent and SOME team is likely to pay him as such (or near). THEN he gets to hit free agency sooner on top of that.

    • Kirk Vollmer

      Ehh but that up front money is pretty important in a league where one injury can either ruin your value or end your career. However I am intrigued by the idea that he could basically get a full salary guarantee which would protect him.

      • ThenAtlasSpoke

        The signing bonuses are just a tool used in the NFL to guarantee salaries and spread those guarantees over the life of the contact for cap purposes. If the team guaranteed the salary and was in good cap shape, it would be doable without the big signing bonus. The question is if the “rookie pool” is a minimum that must be spent or a maximum that can be spent on rookies.

  • ACViking

    Jason – fantastic work

  • McGeorge

    I hope the investigation is resolved quickly.

    If he didn’t do it, its unjust that he should miss out on a large part of his future earnings.
    And why should the police announce that they want to question him. It’s weird that this happens right before the draft. Almost like someone wants to smear him.

    On the other hand, if he did it, I hope they implicate him quickly, so he doesn’t get any money from a team, and has more time to hang out with his new friends, people similar to Aaron Hernandez.

    • Jim

      I think it’s being a bit over-simplistic “if he did it” or “if he didn’t do it”. Mere association with murder is enough to question someone’s character. Knowledge of the event before it happened, the person who did it was a friend/acquaintance, etc. Kind of like being the car with someone who is driving drunk. Sure you didn’t “do it”, but it really casts shadows on who you are as a person. For whatever it didn’t seem to faze the Ravens view of Ray Lewis, but… I don’t know, maybe that means Baltimore is the place to go for him.

      That said, maybe he has no association whatsoever with the even or with “whoever did it”, and this whole thing is bizarrely coincidental, in which case it’s pretty unfortunate for him. Though obviously not as unfortunate as the women or child that was killed, which is the forgotten tragedy in the situation.

      • Angela Smith

        Association with a victim is grounds for questioning someone’s character?

        • Jim


      • McGeorge

        How is he associated? He wasn’t near the place. It’s not like he was at a bar and someone was killed 5 feet from him.
        He had a girlfriend and they broke up. Later she was murdered.
        Suspicious – possible.
        But likely guilty??!?! No proof yet.

        It’s not that the woman or baby is forgotten, but don’t screw people without proof.

        Why should the police tell anyone who the suspects are who who they want to talk too. That’s official police business. They should swiftly investigate and talk to anyone they want to, but not announce the details to the media until they are ready to indict someone.

        The NBA player Chris Anderson was accused of child porn. He was cut by his team. Turns out it was made up by some woman.

        False charges, and speculation hurt innocent people. The police shouldn’t make this information public.

        The police should question Collins and supposedly he agreed to a DNA test. If the baby isn’t his then there is much less reason for him to have wanted to kill her. But even if the baby is his, thats not proof that he was involved.

        Its BS that the media and some people think that someone should lose their livelihood because it’s possible they committed a crime. Get the proof and then take action.

        The culprits here are the police for releasing this information to the media.
        Some copy did a favor for his pal in the media by giving this information, and it cost Collins millions, if he is innocent.

      • McGeorge

        How is this guy associated with murder? He knew someone who was murdered, thus he shouldn’t be able to get a job?

        Where does it say he knew who murdered her, or knew that she was going to be killed? You are making that up.
        The guy did nothing that we know of, so the police shouldn’t have publicly released this information.
        Its a great way to tarnish someones reputation. Their name is forever tied to a murder, despite them having nothing to do with it.
        That police department should be sued.

        As for the murder victims, they don’t benefit from an innocent person having their name tarnished. They also have nothing to do with this discussion – an innocent person having their name tarnished.

        • Jim

          How is he associated? The Baton Rouge police said he’s “a ” /person of interest”. That’s an association. (http://nypost.com/2015/05/03/controversial-lsu-tackle-lael-collins-goes-undrafted/)

          “Where does it say he knew who murdered her, or knew that she was going to be killed? You are making that up.”
          Making what up? I never said he knew any of those things. Did you read my last paragraph? What I am saying, is “did he do it, yes or no”, isn’t the only question here. If he had any other knowledge, that’s important to clear up. There’s a reason that all 32 teams didn’t draft him in the first 3 rounds, even when it was widely reported that he was not in the same vicinity when the murder took place, thus absolved of the act of “pulling of the trigger”. There’s more to it that needs to be cleared up.

          You say “I hope the investigation is resolved quickly”. I hope that it is resolved *correctly*. Things take time, “get it right” is the priority, not “get it done fast”. More important things are at stake then a guys football career.

          “The guy did nothing that we know of, so the police shouldn’t have publicly released this information.” / “That police department should be sued.”

          Why, because he’s a football player? Because they interviewed him? He’s not a minor, this is public information. You’d be better off trying to sue Adam Schefter, ESPN or even Twitter, they broke the story. The police didn’t call for a press conference to announce this to the world, the media did.

          • McGeorge

            “The guy did nothing that we know of, so the police shouldn’t have publicly released this information.” / “That police department should be sued.”

            >>Why, because he’s a football player?

            Because he is innocent until proven guilty, and by smearing him he gets convicted in the court of public opinion. Will he ever get endorsements? Does this affect his chance of getting a job outside of football? What if this was just an ordinary college graduate. Would GE hire someone that could have been involved in a murder?

            The FBI did something similar during the Anthrax attacks. They released a guys name (Hatfield) and said he was a person of interest.

            He couldn’t get a job for several years. He turned out to be innocent. He sued the government and won and they paid him millions.

            All of that would have been avoided if they quietly investigated the matter.

            >> Because they interviewed him? He’s not a minor, this is public information.

            How is it public information? XXX was killed, we interviewed these people (A – Z). When do you see this information released?

            Why should the police smear people when they don’t know if the person was involved?

            Here’s one for you – several years ago a guy on my block committed suicide with a hand gun. The police did their due diligence and spoke to everyone, including me and my wife. Our names didn’t appear in the paper, nor did anyone elses. Maybe any time there is a death, everyone who knew the person should have their name printed. Just in case one of them did it. That way they can have a hard time getting a job.

            >> You’d be better off trying to sue Adam Schefter, ESPN or even Twitter, they broke the story. The police didn’t call for a press conference to announce this to the world, the media did.

            The police released information as a favor to a buddy in the media. That’s very common.

            There are 2 crimes and 2 victims.
            Murder of a woman (that resulted in the death of her child)
            Slandering an innocent person (Collins).

            Murder is far worse, but just because she was murdered doesn’t mean you treat innocent people like garbage.

  • theowl

    I don’t know about you guys, but if Collins isn’t charged with anything, this is going to be a gift to some team. The NFL should change the requirements and allow some discretion for eligibility to enter the Supplemental Draft. The Seahawks playing him at guard or tackle and Saints playing him at guard seem to be the ideal fits. Although
    if playing time PBP is what Collins goes after, then I guess a weaker team
    might be more appealing.

  • Spenser Blevins

    Supposedly Cincy is saving a lot of it $86,970 UDFA pool to give him a signing bonus. They have only signed 11 guys.

    • votingmachine

      Cincy drafted tackles in the first and second round of the draft. They would be one place that makes no sense for La’el to go.

  • lgherb

    What happens if Collins spurns the NFL that spurned him and goes to play in the CFL for a year (not signing a UDFA contract)? Does the CBA have a rule that requires a certain number of years after someone puts their name in the draft before they can be a true unrestricted free agent?