ITP Glossary: Undrafted Free Agent

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From honey hole to 3 technique, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Undrafted Free Agent

An undrafted free agent (UDFA) is a player who was eligible but not selected in the NFL Draft. At the conclusion of Day 3 / Round 7 of the draft, teams are technically allowed to contact players about signing with their franchise as an undrafted free agent. This frenzied market will actually start prior to the conclusion of the draft, with teams working long into the night negotiating with players and agents to secure priority undrafted free agents.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement limits contracts for these players to three years and created a cap on the signing bonus money teams can offer (around $85,000 total for all UDFA), which means that the recruiting of these players takes on a different look than most free agency periods. Some teams split the bonus pool and target five-10 players with equal bonuses, while others eschew bonuses altogether. The final clump of teams find ways to circumvent the rules, guaranteeing base salaries to incentivize the player.

A true UDFA differs from those who are invited to rookie minicamp tryouts as they have a signed contract in hand.

Each season, quality NFL players slip through the cracks of the draft scouting process for one reason or another. These players are free to negotiate with any club. The teams can offer up to $86,957 (as of May 2015) in signing bonuses for UDFAs. These players will then be placed on the 90-man roster.

Some recent, prominent examples of undrafted free agents include longtime Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, defensive back Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots, and Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman La’el Collins. Each had a unique path to the NFL and represents a type of undrafted free agent pursued by teams.

Despite a productive career at Kent State, NFL teams ignored Harrison because of his lack of prototypical size (6’0″ and 240 pounds) for an outside linebacker. Teams typically have a tight range of acceptable measurements for prospects, and when a player without a high profile fails to meet the physical criteria, the player can slide out of the draft. These players make for excellent UDFA prospects as teams without a rigid expectation of physical traits can scoop them up for cheap after the draft.

Butler went undrafted because of his low-profile as a prospect. Attending West Alabama, Butler was off-the-beaten path for prospects, and did not attract much attention from scouts and evaluators in the lead up to the draft. The New England Patriots found and scouted Butler, taking the chance that leaving him undrafted would allow them to add him as an undrafted free agent.

Butler received no signing bonus or guaranteed salaries, so he did not see a penny until he made the roster in 2014.

Finally, there is the undrafted free agent example of Collins, who was considered a first-round talent until allegations of a crime broke days before the draft. Because teams were unable to confirm if Collins had been involved, and because of the reticence of teams to draft players with criminal histories, Collins was removed from draft boards and slid to undrafted free agency. The Dallas Cowboys took the chance that Collins was not involved – and he was not – and secured the services of a very talented player as an undrafted free agent. They beat out other interested teams by guaranteeing the entire three-year contract, which came in around $1.6 million.

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Dan Hatman wrote this entry. Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hatman

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