As a matter of practicality, there are a lot of benefits for a fringe draft prospect to sign with a team as a college free agent rather than as a late-round draft pick. While they don’t receiver contracts that are as strong, they have a significantly better chance of landing with a team with whom there is an opportunity to make the roster. And, after all, if you don’t make the roster, you only get your signing bonus anyway. The rest of the contract is like it never even existed.
I recently talked about former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Chris Hoke and how he recounted to the team’s website that it was something of a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t drafted. His agent understood the Steeler’ situation—they had lost two linemen from the previous season—and knew there would be an opportunity for him. he ended up carving out a nice, long career for himself.
Sometimes, though, it’s about more than that. There is a certain level of prestige that comes with being an NFL draft pick, of which there are fewer than 260 chosen every year. Many of them ultimately do not make rosters, but they will forever be able to claim that they were drafted into the NFL.
It’s an interesting thing for such players, because the fact is that, even though the majority do not get drafted, their phones start to ring as early as the sixth round. It’s teams, some of whom may have already made their final selections, calling up players and letting them know that they want to sign them after the draft.
That didn’t sit well with Tyler Matakevich, the Steelers’ seventh-round draft choice in the 2016 NFL Draft. “The worst part was toward the end of the draft, in the later rounds, people start calling you about free agency”, he said.
“Once you talk about that, you want to get drafted, you had high hopes”, he admitted. “But even of you don’t it’s unbelievable. But when you are a little kid you want to hear your name called at the draft. I thought I was going to be a free agent, but then I got that phone call from Coach Tomlin”.
He called it “unbelievable” to get that draft day phone call, something that undrafted players don’t get—or at least not the same type of call. There is no “sit tight, we’re going to come get you”. It’s “we’ll give you a $10,000 signing bonus if you come into camp with us and compete for a roster spot”. But it’s not fun waiting for either call.
The waiting was “the worst thing” for Matakevich, who was among the final 10 players to hear their name called that year. “You see friends taken. It’s getting later and later. You hope something happens, you get the call. I was so happy when it happened. I couldn’t be happier with where I am today”.
Yes, Matakevich is one of the late-round success stories, one of the final players chosen who is about to play out his rookie contract and has been a meaningful contributor to the team. That might not sound like much, but how many people in the world can really say as much? Plus, he’s earned $1.68 million (before taxes) to date, with another $720,000 coming in 2019. I would settle for that.