NFL Free Agency is into its second week and some major activity has already captured the headlines of sports pages across the country. Just in the first 24 hours alone there were 49 players grabbing $358,040,000 in guaranteed money over contracts valued at a total of $879,075,000. Again, this was just on DAY 1!
The anticipation and excitement leading up to the first 24 was nothing short of the same fanatical frenzy that drives many of us (including myself) to drop a couple extra dollars in hopes of striking it rich in Power Ball. Imagine all the things you would do if you could just hit those magical 5 numbers and that elusive red ball. Never mind the odds of winning the Grand Prize are 1 in 175,223,510. “I’ll take a gallon of milk, a bag of Cheetos, and 5 “Quick Picks” please.”
When you’re working in the front office of an NFL franchise, it’s very apparent the number of players that come and go on rosters across the League. I first became aware of the total number of draft eligible players when sorting through the some 750 annual reports generated by National Football Scouting, Inc. that pointed Personnel Departments in the direction of the potential prospects. At the time it was roughly over 11,000 players. That’s just “draft eligible” seniors and didn’t account for a total number well higher than that made up of redshirts, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors (prior to declaration) that participate at the collegiate level.
Declaring in record numbers
Heading into this years NFL Draft is a record number of entries from that last group as nearly 100 underclass NCAA athletes declared their eligibility for the 2014 selection process. That number alone means that a junior would have to be taken with almost every pick of the first 3 rounds before the pool dried up. Don’t get me wrong, no contract is a bad contract when it comes to professional football. Very few jobs (if any) take a 21 or 22 year old college graduate (but many w/o a degree) and offer a starting salary at a minimum of $420,000. I sat on the NFL Underclass Advisory Committee for years and there was a time when juniors wouldn’t even consider coming out if they weren’t rated at least a 1st to upper 2nd round selection.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement and its corresponding curbs on Rookie Contracts appears to have changed the mindset for many young athletes. The “risk vs reward” is just too much to ignore and so they drop their last season of eligibility for a chance at playing Power Ball. There will be a good number that pass that first round threshold and land a corresponding deal commensurate to “Hot Lotto Sizzler”. But as the total number continues to grow much of the player pool will be watered down with declared juniors going anywhere from 1st to undrafted, and many senior eligible players getting pushed out all together.
Odds are stacked against you
I use that word “many” loosely because we actually know that it’s an extremely small number of players in relation to the now 15,000+ that hope to cash in on the chance at a mega-million payoff. The hype and circumstance that goes into the coverage of NFL Free Agency filters through to the 310,000+ high school seniors that participate every season in prep football. These lofty expectations begin to multiply at a very early stage for the most talented prep players and perhaps send the wrong message. Consider that number immediately dwindles to around 20,000 of incoming freshmen at Division I (or whatever they’re calling them now) institutions. Attrition further reduces the entering NFL pool of players down to the aforementioned 15,000.
“Wait, I dominated in high school. I’m All-Conference in college. Why shouldn’t I take a stab at playing those odds?” And so a growing number of young high school players spend to attend summer training camps and college eligible prospects drop their own money to participate in one of the NFL’s Regional Combines, all in hopes of becoming one of those first day Free Agent lottery winners.
Enjoy football for what it is. Chase your dreams? Absolutely. But stay grounded in the reality of the numbers. Even if you’re a lucky one, the chances of making it past a 3 year NFL career to even get to Free Agency are slim at best. It’s the game within the game.
The odds in all of this are about as good as 2, 5, 34, 51, 58, and 9. Save your money, invest in yourself first. Then who knows, maybe the balls will eventually drop in your favor.
Chart from NCAA.org – September 2013