This has been the most unique offseason in regards to player acquisitions in quite some time. The 2011 NFL draft held last week didn’t change in format but did change in context. In a normal year, free agency would come before the draft and undrafted prospects would be able to sign with teams immediately following the draft. Both of these variables are missing from the equation that equals normalcy in the NFL.
The majority of teams treated the draft as a venue to be more dedicated at acquiring value than need over previous years. The general thinking was that they could draft the best available and fill needs with free agents. What these teams didn’t take into account was the fact that if the league decides to have the 2011 season, there will be a good chance that they play under the 2010 rules. This would mean that players wouldn’t be listed as unrestricted free agents unless they have 6 years of service.
The rules under the old CBA allowed players with 4 years of service to become unrestricted. You may ask “what’s the big deal”? Well, that drastically cuts down the top prospects available at each position. Also, at some positions like running back, the “NFL life” is less than 4 years. That would mean several positions would lose a tremendous amount of value if you’re only allowed to sign players who have spent 6 years or more in the NFL. That could equate up to almost 100 games played in one of the most brutal sports on Earth. Not exactly the cream of the crop.
If there is a 2011 season and the rules fall as I have laid them out, then several teams will be searching the bottom of the NFL barrel for talent crumbs…or they will call on their scouts to be more diligent in their evaluation of overall talent.
The undrafted free agent pool seems to be the best source of filling these needs under this situation, but here lies the problem. Every team will be fighting for the services of the most talented of this group. Unlike the draft, the players are the ones that have all of the power as to which team they go to. The top remaining prospects will weigh out which teams need talent at their position and many also factor into the equation proximity to their hometown. These factors lead to why these prospects are more successful on average than a lot of the day 3 draft picks.
Take Arian Foster for example. Arian chose to go to the Houston Texans, not only because they wanted him, but because they were in dire need of running back talent. Now he’s a Pro Bowler and the reigning NFL leading rusher with 1,616 yards while Knowshon Moreno, Chris “Beanie” Wells, and Donald Brown (the 3 first round picks from the same draft class) all combined for 1,673 yards. This goes to show you the value of these undrafted players and their ability to pick the right situation.
For the casual fans that believe that the only thing to look forward to is the free agency of the veteran players, be sure to go and look up current rosters and see how many of the players were actually undrafted. Steelers’ fans appreciate the value of undrafted guys like James Harrison. Harrison and Foster were both cut from their teams’ rosters.
This brings me to my last point. The NFL’s owners are screwing a lot of people with the lockout right now, but the players who are getting it the worst are these same undrafted players that have become the backbone of the league. On the NFL Network‘s show, “The Top 100 Players of 2011″, there are 11 undrafted players that make up the best players in the league. This is equal to or better than any other drafted round other than 1st round prospects. The NFL continues to lockout these kids that have worked as hard, if not harder, than all the other 254 prospects that have been drafted and know where they will be spending their futures. These kids are left in limbo until $9 billion dollars can be split up or they come to a legal agreement of allowing undrafted players to sign.
Why is it that the NFL will allow 254 college prospects to sign with their teams but these other prospects can’t sign with theirs. There’s no difference in the players as most of the undrafted players have college teammates that were just drafted. Could it be that the NFL draft has become another cash cow for the NFL? Tons of fans tune into the draft and watch the picks get made and it’s become a huge deal, something the league can profit off of. The undrafted players aren’t the biggest well-known names in most instances, so the NFL doesn’t lose anything by leaving these kids high and dry. It’s just another example of the NFL doing what’s best for the league and treating everything else as a commodity.