The NFL draft might be the biggest event of the offseason, but there’s more going on here than just the players getting selected in the draft. As soon as Mr. Irrelevant’s name gets called on Saturday afternoon, NFL teams will move quickly to sign undrafted free agents (UDFAs), the players who didn’t make the cut in the draft but will get a chance to make an impact in training camp.
Many UDFAs will never amount to anything in the NFL, but a select few every year tend to break out and become valuable players for their teams. Thus, NFL teams embark on a feeding frenzy every year, with everybody trying to find the next Tony Romo or Wes Welker. It’s a fun period to be following in the news, even if it doesn’t have the glitz or glamour of the actual draft.
How does the UDFA system work?
It’s pretty simple, really. As soon as the draft is over, teams have the greenlight to sign as many UDFAs as they please. There are no limits as to how many UDFAs teams can sign — they only have to stick to the 90-man offseason roster size.
Once UDFAs are brought into the fold, they’re treated like any other player, going through the offseason program and training camp and being subjected to roster cuts like everyone else.
What’s the UDFA salary structure?
UDFAs are subject to the same rookie wage scale that impacts draft picks, so naturally, players who don’t get drafted will have among the smallest contracts in the league. Currently, Spotrac estimates the 2018 UDFA salary to be $570,000.
What’s the upside of going undrafted?
The biggest positive is freedom to choose your destination. By the time the draft gets into the sixth and seventh rounds, the difference in rookie salaries is negligible. Once most players slip into that range, in some cases they’d rather go undrafted and get to pick and choose which team to sign with.
Also, this might be a backhanded compliment, but UDFAs can benefit from lowered expectations. Without the burden of being a draft pick and seen as a wasted resource if they don’t work out, UDFAs can simply come into camp and try to impress coaches on their own merits.
Players like Doug Baldwin wear the UDFA label as almost a point of pride, using it as a chip on their shoulder throughout their entire careers. This is not to say that draft picks don’t have the same drive, but football players will find motivation wherever they can. And if UDFAs become stars, they’ll rarely let people forget that they succeeded despite going undrafted.
Who are some notable UDFAs in the NFL?
Quite a lot! Let’s go over just a few of the most famous names.
QB Warren Moon: He was the captain of the Houston Oilers prolific offense and a trailblazer for black quarterbacks in the NFL.
WR Wes Welker: After nondescript runs with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, Welker got traded to the New England Patriots in 2007, and the rest is history. He ranks 21st all-time with 903 receptions.
TE Antonio Gates: One of the best tight ends of all-time and a Hall of Fame lock. He played basketball in college, in case you haven’t heard.
QB Kurt Warner: Warner’s a two-time MVP, one-time Super Bowl champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Not bad for a former grocery bagger.
RB Priest Holmes: The running back is a household name among both Kansas City Chiefs fans and anybody who got into fantasy football in the mid-2000s.
CB Chris Harris Jr.: A premier playmaker on the Denver Broncos defense, Harris is currently pairing with Aqib Talib to form one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
LB James Harrison: Still going strong at 38 (turns 39 on May 4).
K Adam Vinatieri: Oh, all he’s done is hit multiple Super Bowl-winning field goals. Nothing special, really.