Every NFL Draft has a direct impact on veteran players. For every rookie who makes a team, one fewer veteran of at least one season will fail to make a roster. When factoring in college free agents, that amounts to hundreds of players every year. Last year, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers had eight rookies on their initial 53-man roster, and that is probably on the low end league-wide, or at least in the mid range.
But the 2020 NFL Draft will affect at least one class of veterans differently than normal: specifically, any veteran player who has agreed to a contract or has been a part of a trade that has not been finalized will now be at risk of having his deal terminated before it is ever consummated.
Because of the peculiarities of this offseason as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we still have many deals that have been reported that have not yet been consummated, primarily because teams have been unable to satisfactorily arrange physicals. Even among players who have completed deals, their contracts may include clauses that stipulate their team can come after their signing bonus if they later fail a team-issued physical, while the rest of the contract remains valid.
Neither of these circumstances are likely to apply to the Steelers. All of the deals that have been reported have already been announced by the team, so there should be no Michael Brockers situation (at least four reported contracts have already been terminated, and this was as of a few weeks ago), nor are they the sort of team who would put such a clause in a contract.
But it does apply to likely many other teams. The Los Angeles Rams, for example, have acknowledged that reported deals for Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson have not yet been finalized. Since those deals were made, they also brought back Brockers. If they should add players to their positions during the draft, it would give them incentive not to finalize those deals.
That is just one example. There are likely a number of teams throughout the league who have similar circumstances as they head into tonight’s draft, and they surely know what they’re doing. In some cases, it may not be a coincidence that they have yet to go through a neutral physical to at least consummate a signed contract.
It’s almost like a way for teams to put players in their shopping cart and reserve them, waiting to see if a better or cheaper alternative comes along when the new market opens up. Well, the market opens up its doors today, and will remain in business for a few days.
How many items will be removed from shopping carts around the league in the days and weeks following the draft? One additional incentive that hasn’t yet been noted is that teams can influence their compensatory pick formulas if they choose not to sign players who would qualify in the event that they draft a comparable player.