As the draft wraps up each year, one of the most underreported stories arises from the rampant negotiations conducted and wink-nod agreements reached between players who may not be drafted and teams that want to sign them as free agents. It’s a blatant violation of the rules that goes unenforced and essentially ignored by the league, with every team rushing to strike deals with undrafted free agents while they still may be drafted by another team.
One league source estimated that 90 percent of all UDFA deals were unofficially finalized before the 2017 draft ended. The frenzy puts extra pressure on players and agents to accept the terms or risk having teams move on to other candidates.
It’s similar to the process that unfolds during the early hours of the free-agency negotiation period, when teams insist on knowing whether a given player will agree to terms with a threat/promise that they’ll move on to the next guy on the list. It prevents players from making the best decisions possible, forcing them to either accept a job that may not be ideal at the risk of losing the chance completely.
The problem could easily be fixed, if the league office cares enough to make the process more orderly. By simply preventing any undrafted players from being signed for 48 or 72 hours after the draft, agents and players would have a chance to weigh options. Likewise, teams would have less incentive to launch an unseemly land rush while picks are still being made.
It remains to be seen whether the NFL will ever change the rule. Based on past circumstances involving different rules that were widely broken without consequence, maybe the league will wait to catch one team doing that while every team is doing, make an example out of that team with suspensions and forfeited draft picks, and then finally change the rule.