SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Labor and Agents

Early numbers show rise in signings of undrafted NFL rookies

Liz Mullen
Back in the spring, when the NFL lockout was in place, the common wisdom in the industry and the media was that when it was over, veteran players with experience would be the big winners and undrafted rookies would be the losers.

In non-lockout years, historically, clubs around the league typically would sign about 450 college players who were not drafted a week or so after the draft, and those players would start learning the team’s system right away. The thinking this year was that many of those players would lose their shot at the NFL because clubs with little time to prepare for the season, because of the lockout, would sign players who had already demonstrated they could play in the NFL — and especially those players who knew a particular club’s system.

Well, early on, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. As of early last week, the 32 NFL teams had signed 615 undrafted rookies, up about 37 percent from the historical number.

There are several factors behind the signings. Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, NFL training-camp rosters expanded from 80 players to 90 players, so there are an additional 320 spots clubs have to fill. In addition, the salary cap this year is at about the same level as it was in 2009, the last capped year of the old CBA, and the new minimum salaries in the NFL are $375,000 for undrafted rookies versus $685,000 for veterans with 5 years of service. That means teams can sign 18 undrafted rookies for the same price as 10 veterans.

“At some point in time, clubs are just going to need bodies. There is no other nice way to put it,” said one agent last week, who added that he signed deals for several undrafted rookie clients but had clients who had played on NFL clubs last year who were still looking for jobs. This agent, who asked for anonymity because he did not want his comments to be used against him in recruiting by rival agents, thinks his veterans ultimately will get jobs while most of his undrafted rookies won’t make teams’ 53-man rosters, but he doesn’t know for sure.

As it is, some of his jobless veteran NFL clients are getting nervous —but they’re also staying active. “I have guys looking at the TV for injuries and saying, ‘Hey, they lost a linebacker. Call this team,’” he said.

Other agents said the short time frame of about a week this year in which most NFL clubs signed players before arriving at training camp, down from five months in non-lockout years, makes it impossible to predict what will happen to rosters this year. “We are in unchartered territory,” said veteran NFL player agent Peter Schaffer.

CAA SIGNS JASON TAYLOR: CAA Sports has signed veteran linebacker Jason Taylor for representation. Taylor, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, was formerly represented by NFL player agent Gary Wichard, who died in March.

AP IMAGES
New Wasserman signee Kevin Tway (right) will wear Nike, just like dad Bob (left).
WMG SIGNS KEVIN TWAY, LANDS NIKE DEAL: Wasserman Media Group has signed for representation golfer Kevin Tway, who turned pro this summer out of Oklahoma State University, and negotiated a multiyear deal with Nike for him.

Tway is the son of longtime PGA Tour pro Bob Tway (also a Nike player) and winner of the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. He will be wearing Nike shoes and apparel, including Nike headwear, as part of the deal, which also includes equipment, said Sam MacNaughton, a golf agent who will serve as Tway’s primary agent at WMG. MacNaughton would not comment on the financial details of the deal except to say, “It is a really nice deal. It is one we are really grateful to have and to be a part of.”

MacNaughton said the fact that Tway is the son of an eight-time PGA Tour winner is a plus, noting that Bob Tway did not push his son to play as much as some parents of other young, elite golfers do. “Bob knows it doesn’t matter what you do at 16. It matters what you do at 26,” MacNaughton said.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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