The draft belongs in April
Every single NFL GM, coach, scout, director and agent I’ve spoken to lately CAN’T STAND the fact that the draft was moved back two weeks. As one GM put it to me yesterday, “these two weeks have thrown off the yearly cycle. It just doesn’t feel right having this thing in May.”
We all know that the NFL Network, NFL.com, 32 team sites and the NFL broadcasting partners get an economic boost by having content to stretch out into May. But for the players it’s just another two weeks of agonizing waiting while every media outlet gets into “picking apart mode”. As another GM put it to me a few days ago, “Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton did it right by going to Vegas for a weekend and clearing their heads. I wish I thought of that!”
The recruiting of undrafted free agents has already begun
Under the salary cap, undrafted free agents are an extremely valuable commodity. If a team can find starters from this group, it’s the cheapest player money can buy and it adds flexibility to the overall salary cap for a team. Teams are well aware of this and the recruiting wars are reaching new heights.
I have two clients (out of five) this year that may be undrafted. Both of them, and myself, have been getting recruiting calls from scouting directors, area scouts and position coaches. The calls consist of making a case as to why they should sign with their team if undrafted.
Recruiting styles vary from team to team. Some teams let their area scouts do most of the talking, as they know this group the best. The area scout will call the agent and player and make the pitch. Some are doing it now, others during the draft (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), and others wait until the last round to begin.
Some other methods we are seeing this year:
There is an AFC North Division head coach who is texting players every day, and has been for a few weeks. This team is also sending out t-shirts and gloves to players along with a letter. Several teams around the league are using similar tactics. They will start calling players/agents about the sixth or seventh round.
The most frequent method of recruiting is simply built on relationships between front office execs and the agent. Nothing is more potent than someone you trust making an early pitch for one of your players. It really comes down to trust. A good agent will ask tough questions about position depth and available roster spots. Some deals may already be done if the player is not drafted.
The Seahawks are making their innovative pitch directly to the agents and backing it up with retention and playtime numbers. On Tuesday of this week they sent out a breakdown of stats of what happens to any undrafted free agent they have signed since the dynamic duo of HC Carroll and GM Schneider has taken over (the last 4 seasons). Here’s a summary;
Average Preseason playtime of an Undrafted Free Agent (Off. & Def.):
2013: 36.2% (Seahawks ranked #1)
Undrafted Free Agents on Active Roster since 2010
– 68 total signings with 15 making the active roster
– 22% of undrafted free agents made the active roster in Seattle since 2010 (Ranks 8th in the NFL over that span)
The Seahawks are making a very powerful statement to agents with these numbers as the best place for any undrafted free agent they call on to sign.
Seasoned agents will already have a short list of teams that best fit their clients’ skill set. The list is based on opportunity in place at a given team. For example, the Buccaneers have a new GM, Head Coach and staff. Therefore, they have a clean slate and every player in camp will be a new face to the decision makers. The tendency of new GMs and head coaches is to clean house. So the Bucs may be a good landing spot for an undrafted free agent this year that fits either their offensive or defensive scheme. And not to mention, with only 6 draft picks and only room to sign about 10 free agents based on their current roster size, each player can get an $8,000 signing bonus on average under the rookie pool cap.
I usually place all teams with a brand new regime high on the short list if the opportunity is there at my client’s position.
2014 is the “character draft”
This year more emphasis will be put on the draftees' character than just about anything else (with the exception of medical). For decades, character flaws were usually overshadowed by height, weight, speed and production. Not this year. After the mess in Miami, the Hernandez situations, and other high profile social and domestic slip-ups by several players, GMs will err on the side of begin cautious. I know that several teams are developing a zero tolerance policy towards players with character issues. Others are moving highly rated players way down the board because of suspicious activity in college and/or high school.
One AFC South team is going the extra mile in checking the background of players on their draft board. They are asking for social security numbers and really going way back and digging deep. If you see a player slip, it may be because of a medical issue or that there was a skeleton found in his closet.
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