One major reason why the competition for undrafted free agents is so fascinating: every team gets the same amount of money to use for bonuses on undrafted rookies, and it is not much. Per the CBA, the bonus pool was $75,00o in 2011, and it has grown at the same rate of the salary cap since.
Thanks to a report from Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, we have a sense of how one team allocated their undrafted rookie bonus dollars this spring. According to Hodkiewicz, the Packers gave Oklahoma State offensive guard Lane Taylor $7,000 to sign. Five other players, per the Press-Gazette, received $5,000 bonuses. However, at least two players didn’t receive a bonus whatsoever, according to the report.
The job opportunity itself is what matters for undrafted players. The upfront money, if you can get it, is nice, but it’s really not much. Every undrafted player signs a non-guaranteed three-year deal and works to make it into something more.
And something more isn’t that far outside of the realm of possibility. An undrafted free agent can sign a new contact after his second season, per league rules. Even if that doesn’t happen, the player will likely be an unrestricted free agent no later than after his fourth NFL season — right in the player’s prime earning years.
For most rookies, the bonus money is tantamount to a comped meal at a casino. It is nothing to sniff at, but the real shot at riches is out on the floor with all the bright lights.