NFL Draft: Undrafted free agency can be a wild ride for NFL hopefuls

First Published      Last Updated May 06 2017 09:09 pm

NFL draft » For one hour after the draft, the phones light up and the wheeling and dealing commences for undrafted players like Andy Phillips and Chase Dominguez.

On the final day of the NFL draft in late April, one of the loudest cheers in Greg Phillips' office came when a kicker was drafted.

No, it was not his client and son, Andy Phillips. The cheer came for Zane Gonzalez, the NCAA's all-time leading scorer from Arizona State, who went in the seventh round to the Cleveland Browns. He's been a rival of Phillips, in terms of team success and kicking prowess.

Why cheer for him? Because of what's about to come.

Andy Phillips wasn't preparing to be drafted, because if that happens, everything is set: He knows his team, he knows roughly what his contract will be, and he'll know who he has to compete against. What he's preparing for is undrafted free agency — the Wild West when it comes to who wants you and how much you get paid. Most of the deals happen within one hour of the draft, and players and their agents have to be ready to accept or decline, because they never know who else is in the conversation.

The only thing more worrisome than being unsure of a team's proposal is getting no calls.

Andy and Greg Phillips wanted a market for kickers in which Andy can rise to the top of the crop. And with the reigning Lou Groza award winner off the board, Andy Phillips, who will turn 28 in May, looks better.

Both Andy and Chase Dominguez, Greg's other client, expect they'll be undrafted free agents. Many hours of prep have gone into being ready for that one, magic hour when fringe prospects make or break their NFL dreams.

"I'm pretty anxious," Dominguez said. "There's a lot going on."

Get ready

Evan Brennan, an agent with 360 Sports LLC, puts himself on the clock well before the NFL draft begins.

For each of his clients, he puts in at least 10 hours of work to look at the roster for each of the NFL's 32 teams and see who they have at his client's position. Having that info at hand is key to being prepared for undrafted free agency.

When he gets calls to negotiate contracts, he asks each team to explain their roster situation. Simultaneously, he's looking at his own research to check how honest each team is willing to be about what opportunity there will be to make the roster.

"You ask them, 'OK, who do you have there?' " Brennan said. "They say, 'Well this guy is going to be our starter, this is our backup, and these guys are camp bodies.' But then you ask them, 'So if you have all these guys, how do you sign my player?' "

The goal isn't to get into training camp — it's to make a roster.

Being drafted, agents say, is the easiest possible experience: The player knows where he's going, and he knows roughly (based on an NFL Players' Association-negotiated spreadsheet) how much he's going to make.

Free agents, on the other hand, have to be able to make split-second decisions on where they'll go based on who is already on the roster for a given team, who that team has drafted and knowing how much of a financial commitment the team has with current players.

Greg Phillips has stacks of papers in his office of draft day: The kickers and long snappers for every NFL team, the length of their contracts and how much money is guaranteed for the next year. Preferred situations are highlighted in yellow — like New Orleans is for Dominguez. The Saints are somewhat unsettled at long snapper, and they've shown a lot of interest since Utah's Pro Day in late March.

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Utah’s undrafted free agents

Player NFL team

Hunter Dimick Jaguars

Chase Dominguez Saints

Tim Patrick Ravens

Andy Phillps Bears

Reggie Porter Colts

Pasoni Tasini Cardinals

Jason Thompson Patriots