Special to The Sports Network
Birmingham, MI - At the end of the 2011 NFL Draft, there were 254 dreams that came true. After years of collegiate football, months of specialized training to prepare for the NFL Combine and college pro days, these players reached some closure when they were selected by one of the 32 teams.
In an ordinary league year, over 400 collegiate players would sign contracts immediately following the draft. However, with the current NFL lockout and the hard-line rule that teams are not permitted to speak to free agents, all undrafted free agents are sitting in a land of uncertainty.
I currently have several undrafted free agents who are waiting for the NFL to open their doors for business. There is much frustration amongst my clients not knowing their future and where or when they will sign a contract. My clients understand that just because they weren't drafted doesn't mean they can't have a successful career in professional football. In 2010, 239 undrafted free agents played in the NFL and 51 were on opening day rosters. A recent report showed that 23 Pro Bowl players last season were originally undrafted college free agents.
As an agent, it has been my duty to keep my clients abreast of the NFL lockout. I have informed my clients that the one silver lining of the lockout is we have more time to determine what NFL team will provide the best opportunity to make a 53-man roster. The issue most agents have during the undrafted free agent frenzy immediately following the draft is that we have to make quick decisions, sometimes within a 15-minute period. The process is incredibly flawed. For a player to decide his future in the time it takes to order a Big Mac at the drive-through window is an unsettling feeling.
The uncertainty has become an emotional and physical burden on my clients. They are at a complete disadvantage the longer the NFL Lockout tolls. Undrafted free agents do not have playbooks, cannot attend the organized player workouts and are in a financial hardship. If the lockout lasts through training camp, the reality is that undrafted free agents will lose reps and veterans will be counted on heavily because of their familiarity with the playbook and the environment of NFL games.
I have instructed my clients that they should strongly consider the United Football League (UFL) and the Canadian Football League (CFL) as options for the upcoming season. I would much rather have my clients playing a full season of games, receiving paychecks and establishing game film which is vitally important in their marketability to NFL teams in the future.
My dealings with the UFL and CFL this season have been considerably different than years past. Roster spots in these leagues are at a premium and the competition amongst players to earn a roster spot is at an all-time high. I have several players who have decided to bypass the NFL this season to play in the UFL or have signed contracts in the CFL, which will prevent any chance of playing in the NFL for two seasons because of the option-year rule. My opinion on taking a UFL or CFL contract instead of waiting out the lockout is that, as a graduating senior, a player is going to be paid a decent salary in a down economy, and, at the same time, he could be progressing his professional football career while others are working out in a gym waiting for the lockout's conclusion.
For my players who have remained steadfast in waiting for the NFL to end the lockout, I have remained optimistic that even if an undrafted free agent's chance of making a NFL roster is harmed the longer the lockout goes, the reality is that with so many injuries throughout the season, teams will have no choice but to tap into the undrafted free agent marketplace and fill those voids. While these players may be behind several steps in the process, their desire and determination to play in the NFL will provide for a speedy learning curve. There is no question, that once the NFL plays again, you will see many undrafted free agents playing a vital role in each team's game plan.
This year will definitely go down as the worst year ever to be an undrafted free agent. However, with proper planning and education, my clients will realize that they are one step closer to achieving their dream of playing in the NFL ... no matter what path they take to get there.
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