The preparation, organization and execution required for the NFL draft is long, arduous and well documented. The circumstances are much different for undrafted free agency. Though the preparation and organization are relatively the same, the time sensitivity when it comes to executing is critical in landing the undrafted rookies your club has labeled a priority.
In 2019, the Bills landed eight undrafted rookies and some were easier to sign than others. The pursuit of Buffalo’s undrafted rookies kicks off Episode 3 of Buffalo Bills: Embedded "Learning the Process" and GM Brandon Beane outlined how they do their best to organize the chaos.
“We divide it up where we pair a scout with a position group and then we divide up whether we want coordinators to help recruit guys or Sean (McDermott) or myself,” Beane said. “Terry (Pegula) even got in on one of them this year.”
That one was West Virginia’s David Sills. The wide receiver was a highly sought-after free agent after he went undrafted. More than a dozen teams contacted Sills’ agent in an effort to land him.
Knowing that most undrafted rookies look for the best situation to make a roster, Buffalo’s free agent signing of Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts certainly didn’t make the Bills appear like an easy roster to make for a wideout.
So the Bills had some heavy lifting to do in terms of convincing Sills that Buffalo was where he needed to be.
“It just depends on how hard you have to recruit with the people you’re interested in,” Beane said. “We spread out our resources, but we have a plan. We pick an order in how we’re going to attack, how many we need at each position, and having the knowledge of when to move on because the guy is playing you and isn’t really in. Because if you wait too long you’ll miss on the next three on your list at that position.”
That was a risk the Bills were taking in their lengthy pursuit of Sills. Other undrafted receivers were signing with other clubs while Buffalo put the full court press on Sills, who had 33 touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons.
They had Assistant GM Joe Schoen, Director of Pro Personnel Malik Boyd and members of the coaching staff all make their pitch including head coach Sean McDermott. When that wasn’t enough to close the deal, Beane had quarterbacks Josh Allen and Matt Barkley call Sills together.
Fortunately for the Bills, Barkley had traveled in some of the same elite quarterback development circles as Sills, who was a QB phenom as a youth.
The phone call from Allen and Barkley certainly helped, but it wasn’t until Pegula hopped on the phone with the undrafted rookie that the deal was ultimately closed.
Undrafted free agency is essentially a free for all. NFL executives compare it to trading shares on the stock market floor. All 32 teams have their entire personnel departments calling agents to land the best of the undrafted talent pool.
When an undrafted rookie agrees to terms with the Bills, it is delivered on foot to Senior VP of Football Administration, Jim Overdorf and Director of Football Administration Kevin Meganck in the draft room to know exactly how many spots remain and when position number requirements have been fulfilled.
“The coaches are all in their offices with a scout and we have one guy assigned to keep up with the offensive coaches on the signings and on the defense,” said Beane. “I don’t leave the draft room too much during that time because once a guy is signed they’re given to that offensive or defensive runner and brought into the draft room. You have your allotted signing bonus that you can’t go over.”
The money for the undrafted pool is a pretty finite number. Though there is some flexibility, the figures for the undrafted signings as a whole must be kept up to the minute.
“That’s where it gets risky,” Beane said. “Can we offer this guy another five-thousand dollars to get him? You just make sure you don’t overcommit yourself. You’re constantly tracking that.”
Undrafted free agency might not match the importance of veteran free agency in the NFL but blows it away in terms of competition because there are 32 teams battling to land a small number of players at the top of the undrafted market and it doesn’t greatly affect a team’s bottom line.
“It’s cheap. It’s a lot less impact,” said Beane. “It’s like penny stocks. Everyone feels they have a shot.”