Undrafted free agents will be victims to lockout tonight

By the fifth and sixth rounds in most drafts, NFL teams typically are buzzing on the phone lines with players they are interested in but don’t want to commit a pick to selecting.

Scouts are telling the players – and their agents – how they’ll be a good fit for their organization and how they have a chance to stick on the 53-man roster or the eight-man practice squad. It’s fast-paced recruiting with the players and agents shopping for the best offer and the best fit. The undrafted free agents can command small signing bonuses and while that’s a driving factor, agents keep an eye on the prize – they want their clients in the best place to make a roster and start earning real money.

Because of the lockout, NFL business will conclude when Mr. Irrelevant is announced this evening as the final pick of the draft. That will leave the hundreds of undrafted free agents signed every year out in the cold. For now. Most teams sign at least six and as many as 12 or more undrafted free agents. It’s where Houston Texans running back Arian Foster came from. The undrafted ranks produce terrific players and that class will have to wait now.

“This is a great injustice to these young men who have to sit for three days and not hear their named called,” agent Jack Bechta, a founder of the National Football Post, said. “We are talking about 400 players who would normally be signed immediately after the draft. But with the lockout, they have to dangle in the wind, wait and wonder indefinitely about when they can be signed.

“If this group of players has to compete with current NFL free agents during the same period, it could get ugly. I hope to see this group get a chance to sign before the start of free agency.”

It’s an interesting point. Certainly the veteran free agents would view the situation differently. They feel they are losing roster spots right now to draft picks. Ultimately, every team needs to fill an 80-man roster before training camp so jobs will be available.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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