After the NFL Draft is complete, teams can sign players who have not been drafted after three days and seven rounds. For the majority of franchises, coaches and front office members start calling players in the seventh round, making it known that they are interested in signing them as a free agent if they are not drafted.
The NFL allows each team to spend a pool of money on a class of rookies, both drafted and undrafted players. This amount is set according to the salary cap and is generally not disclosed to the public.
Since drafting player contracts and signing bonuses is part of a slotted process, teams will have an overall idea of how much money they have left in the rookie compensation pool to spend on undrafted free agent contracts (UDFA) and signing bonuses.
The UDFA base salary is the league minimum and teams will use bonuses to persuade a player to join their roster. If teams are competing for a player, their signing bonus offers may increase depending on the market for their services.
Additionally, since funds for signing bonuses are scarce and competition for players is huge, teams have recently started presenting part of their salary as guaranteed money in order to get players to to sign an agreement.
Free agent calls start in full force right after the draft concludes, and offers start rolling in a few hours after the seventh round ends. Players are free to start signing contracts with teams as soon as the draft is over.
This Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) states that the NFL has two days to notify the NFLPA after receiving a signing notice from the teams. Offers are usually defined within hours of the draft.
Notable NFL UDFAs
There were players who weren’t called up on draft day but went on to have great careers, even Hall of Fame careers. Quarterback Warren Moon was undrafted but played 17 seasons in the league, including 10 with the Houston Oliers, and was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Then defensive tackle John Randle played 14 seasons in the NFL, 11 with the Minnesota Vikings and three with the Seattle Seahawks. He had 137.5 career sacks and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Recently, linebacker James Harrison played 14 of his 16 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was not drafted from Kent State. He was Defensive Player of the Year in the 2008 season with 16 sacks. He also made five Pro Bowls and had 84.5 sacks in his career.
Finally, quarterback Tony Romo was not drafted from Eastern Illinois, but was signed as an UDFA by the Dallas Cowboys in 2003. He started 127 games over the course of his 13 seasons with Dallas, throwing for 34,183 yards and 248 touchdowns. He also made the Pro Bowl four times.
With 2022 UDFAs like Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, there’s still a chance for a great NFL career.