Immediately after the draft ended and Mr. Irrelevant was announced, teams began to hit the phones with a fevered pitch of a two minute offense. In fact you can probably count on the fact that many teams started way before that, contacting football agents moments after their own last pick.
Take for instance Kellen Moore. The Boise State QB and college football’s all-time winning signal caller was a Detroit Lion before both ESPN and NFL Network had said their goodbyes. The importance of jumping on the college free agent market can’t be understated as more CFA’s, along with 1st and 2nd round draft choices, comprise the majority of the 32 two deep rosters in the National Football League. Shocking but true, a greater percentage of NFL players come from outside the boundaries of the annual draft than from individual rounds 3 through 7.
Hit it hard and fast
To effectively utilize this portion of the talent pool, teams need to have a sound and solid system in place way before the finish line. There are a number of ways to attack this window of roster building. Many teams will fill at their 80 shooting for quantity. Scouts and assistant coaches are given the opportunity to pick from the remaining litter if a favorite happens to remain on the board. It’s not unusual to see clubs add upwards of 20 players through the post draft process.
Signing bonuses will range from $1000 to perhaps $5000 per player. After taxes and the football agent cut, the player has just enough to stock his fridge and fill his tank once he hits his new team’s city. This is the very definition of “filling out your roster” and many clubs feel if they throw enough against the wall, something will eventually stick.
When I was the GM in Denver, we took a different approach. Our philosophy was to add about 5 high quality players that were draftable in the eyes of both our scouts and the coaching staff. These players were bypassed out of needs elsewhere on the depth chart, but were well thought of by the Bronco organization. I would set aside a little over $100,000 a year to handle the enticement of bringing these players on board. Most were given bonuses of $20,000, at the time not too far behind the end of the 7th round.
Our point was to show the player that we valued them as much as a draft choice in the big picture, and that we would prove it through upwards of four times the guaranteed money that other clubs were willing to offer. This would net us about five, maybe six players total. But we knew they were talented and had a legitimate shot at making our club. In reality twelve draft choices instead of seven.
Rounding out the roster was done in a different fashion and we were as aggressive in this market as any club during my tenure. The Reserve Future market usually hits with very little fanfare from the media or even the clubs. This portion of the talent pool is one that might be the most difficult to endure as a player, but can be the most rewarding from a “second chance” perspective.
These players have already made their way through the system. They might be former late round draft choices or college free agents from a season already passed. Most were identified through the evaluation process focusing on the preseason from the year before. As the list grew, each position was called in on “tryout Tuesday” and put through a complete workout at the Bronco facility. Most of our evaluation was comprised of an NFL Combine style eyeballing of the player, and I would task our staff to literally pick the “best of the rest”.
We’d monitor perhaps one or two at the position throughout the season, usually placing them at the top of our Emergency List. If the player went unsigned, we immediately contacted them at the start of the Reserve Future signing period. Now you might ask why tap this market?
I found that these players were more apt at creating a competitive NFL Training Camp than a bevy of College Free Agents. They had already been through the cruel reality of what can be professional football. They were hungry to show that they belonged and willing to do it for usually nothing, no bonus. These players didn’t spend the first week getting acclimated to a new experience, they’d already done that. They weren’t awe struck or wide eyed at the thought of going up against a Pro Bowl veteran. They’d already done that as well.
Most, if not all had come off our own board from the previous year as draftable talent and we’d already had the opportunity to evaluate them against next level players. It was a quiet way to accumulate some excellent talent and make for an even more competitive NFL Training Camp. Might be why we had one of the most successful six year runs in club history.