The NFL is planning on forging ahead in a “somewhat normal” America as millions of citizens continue to receive shots of vaccine, and even the CDC shows optimism of reaching a herd immunity status for a large majority of U.S. residents. Many teams are already announcing tentative plans for full game attendance in September. However, NFL teams are also running headlong into a brick wall in trying to find enough Undrafted Rookie Free Agent players to fill their rosters and depth charts. Why, you ask. Here are some of my thoughts and observations as an answer.
I am using the Friday, May 14, OURLADS website roster pages for my numbers here. I have found them historically to be more up to date than your average NFL Team’s official website, but clearly this is a moving target. So, let us say that my experience leads me to state that in a normal (whatever that is) year at this time, two weeks after the Draft, your average NFL team has signed about 12-15 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (URFA from here on). Some teams rely on this pool of players to fill the bottom of their rosters with minimum wage players, not to mention more that go onto Practice Squad lists. Others just need some Training Camp bodies to practice efficiently through injuries. That would give us a number somewhere between 384-480 URFA’s scattered around the 32 NFL cities. As of this date, my count shows only 227 URFA’s. WASHINGTON and NEW ENGLAND stand out at the bottom of the list with only 1 URFA on each roster. On the high side, the FALCONS lead the way with 16. This is not surprising because with a new GM and a new Head Coach, not to mention serious Salary Cap concerns, the FALCONS have been purging vets from their roster in large numbers. The LIONS and JETS follow with 13 and 12 URFA’s respectively. Again both of those teams are turning over their rosters under new Head Coaches. My biggest surprise in the teams between these two extremes is the PACKERS organization, who under the TED THOMPSON regime averaged well over a dozen URFA players on their training Camp roster each season. This year, the team has only 5.
Is there an overriding factor leading to the overall low numbers of URFA’s on NFL rosters this May? I would suggest the biggest culprit is the Covid-19 Pandemic and the NCAA’s responses to it. The “elephant in the room” factor was the NCAA granting a “free” year of eligibility to any/all scholarship athletes, even if they played in 2020. Many players chose to go back to school for another year rather than enter the 2021 Draft. In general, I do NOT feel teams are being picky about signing URFA’s. They just don’t have the usual number of leftover prospects after the Draft ends, from which to sign extra players. Don’t trust me on that one… go check out articles referencing player Agents whining about the significantly smaller number of players who signed on with them to participate in the 2021 NFL Draft. Assuming that the vaccines work in curbing/controlling the Covid-19 virus, the list of Draft Eligible players could reach glut proportions by the 2022 Draft.
If you weren’t sure about the limited fresh blood available to teams for 2021 Training Camps, just take a look at the JAGS recent signing of a 32+-year old TIM TEBOW, who is now willing to audition for a TE job. It is also clearly important to remember that a lot of the success new JAGS Head Coach URBAN MEYER enjoyed while in charge of the Gators football program came while TEBOW played QB for him there. If TEBOW shows anything at TE (a position the JAGS failed to bolster in the Draft), he might also have roster appeal as a 3rd string QB for emergencies, or even a sub-package in their Offense. He may also provide a boost to the JAGS attendance on home game weekends in a state rich in Evangelical Christians and college football fanatics. There is more to this TEBOW signing than just a smaller group of eligible collegians.
Just to use another tool to verify that the talent tree is far from ripe with leftover prospects this year, I went thru and checked my own list of Top 320 Prospects that I had ranked prior to the start of the recent Draft. With help from GBN Draft detail expert, par excellence’, Larry Parker, I was able to eliminate another 6 of those as players who chose to return to school for that free year of eligibility from the NCAA. I then went thru and recorded how many of the remaining 314 players were either drafted or signed as Free Agents. And guess what… every single one of my Top 314 is currently on an NFL roster. I am not sure I can ever remember all of my ranked players getting jobs by now. I had a pretty good year with my prospect rankings, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Moving along now…
Last week, I went on a Draft Recap Podcast with Brian Bosarge, the mastermind behind another Draft-centric website, www.deepfrieddraft.com , to discuss the PACKERS Draft effort for 2021. However, before we analyzed the PACKERS average Draft Class in detail, Brian felt obliged (and rightly so) to ask me about my take on the “AARON RODGERS doesn’t want to play in GREEN BAY anymore” development. I began by saying that RODGERS has proven to be a Petulant Diva, as his football fame and glory has grown. I will not debate his talent, because that would be insane, but I think some PACKERS fans must feel like Deja vu all over again, after the end of career shenanigans with one BRETT FAVRE, who RODGERS displaced. The part of RODGERS apparent disaffection for the PACKERS organization which I think is legit, but has been underplayed in the media, is the fact that born and raised Californian RODGERS has a strong hankering to get closer to the West Coast. Not for family reasons, since he has few ties left with his family, but for Hollywood reasons. IMO, you cannot look past his desire to be the next Jeopardy TV host, and his current lady-friend is an actress and executive in film and television. So stay tuned as this drama runs its course from now ’til Training Camp or perhaps beyond. I am tired of it already. You can check out my podcast take with Brian at https://www.pscp.tv/w/1BRKjBvPrBwKw
Back to my roster studies as teams hit practice fields all around the League for OTA’s. Do they call them that any more? Whatever they are, it looks like some semblance of real football to me.