Twenty-three of players in last season’s Pro Bowl entered the NFL as undrafted free agents (UFAs), including Wes Welker, Arian Foster and Miles Austin. This statistic, along with the recent ESPN documentary Brady 6, serve as a reminder that scouting for the NFL Draft is an inexact science.
Typically, NFL teams begin signing priority UFAs immediately after the end of the Draft. But, in light of the lockout, NFL teams cannot sign any players. UFAs are left to either wait for the lockout to end, or sign with the UFL. This year, both options are flawed.
UFAs waiting for the NFL lockout to end face an uncertain future. Although a briefing schedule on the NFL’s appeal of Judge Nelson’s decision on the players’ motion for preliminary injunction has been set, there is no telling when the NFL will be back in business. The longer that the lockout proceeds, the less time UFAs will have to learn a scheme and catch the eye of a coach. Given the potentially short timeframe to prepare for the season, teams may rely more on veterans than rookies, therefore fewer roster spots may be available. Nevertheless, the NFL will likely offer more money and the chance for players to pursue their dreams of playing at the highest level of professional football.
The UFL on the other hand appears well-positioned to benefit from the NFL’s labor issues. The league offers players the opportunity to play immediately, at their offensive or defensive positions (rather than only special teams) and also provides, for the most part, coaches with NFL experience including Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Marty Schottenheimer and in Hartford, Jerry Glanville. However, the UFL has experienced financial problems of late, calling into the question the stability of the league. In addition, after the past UFL season players had difficulty transitioning to the NFL until the UFL dropped its transfer fee from $150,000 to $25,000. Players and their agents considering the UFL would be wise to inquire as to the transfer fee for 2011.
Some UFAs, of course, may not have the option of choosing which league they’ll join. But for those who do, recognizing and understanding the issues with both leagues in 2011 will be crucial.