I spent most of last week talking to some friends who were formerly in scouting, mostly about their experiences after the draft. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I get overwhelmed by the day-to-day hype about Jameis, Marcus and the like, and it’s fun to me to learn more about the nuances of the draft that come with working in the game. So the post-draft frenzy to sign ‘scratch and dent’ players, hoping to find the Wayne Chrebet, James Harrison or Tony Romo in the bunch has a certain fascination to it.
Most teams don’t do things exactly the same when it comes to their focus on undrafted free agents, but these seem to be the common threads.
- Most teams identify the players they expect to slide through the draft and start calling them about two weeks before the draft takes place. In other words, they’re doing that right about now. My understanding is that they’re tactful but direct about their intentions: the players they’re calling are, by their evaluation, not draftees, but interesting nonetheless. Scouts have the difficult task of damning them to the nether regions of the draft, but expressing their sincere interest in them, hoping that their calls will flatter and not enrage. Based on what I wrote last week, it seems they bat about .500 on that.
- Once the draft starts, scouts begin their calls anew, usually around the start of the sixth round. Their pitch is very similar: ‘if you don’t get drafted (and there’s a great chance you will, but let’s say you don’t), we would love to have you, and we have a scarcity at your position and/or we’re old at your position, and you would be a perfect fit for our organization.’ Also, ‘we love undrafted free agents and you will compete on an even field with our draftees (which isn’t entirely true, of course, but they have to say that; the team that regularly cuts its draftees better have some awesome undrafted free agents to replace them).’
- Once the draft is over, you better make sure you don’t get off the phone without a deal, and that’s especially true if your client doesn’t play one of three impact positions: offensive tackle (not guard or center, just tackle); quarterback; or defensive end/linebacker, i.e., pass rusher. The four scouts I spoke to last week all had stories of how some agent eager to squeeze another grand out of a team said, ‘We’ll call you back.’ Well, as soon as those words were spilling out of the agent’s mouth, the scout was moving on. Very rarely is that offer still available when the agent comes back. Very often, the scout won’t even take the agent’s call. I realize that’s a bitter pill to swallow for an agent who’s spent thousands of dollars training a player, but it’s still true.
- Most scouts agreed that once the draft was over, it took them about two hours to sign the 10-12 players they were taking to camp with their draftees. After those two hours, the money’s pretty much spent and they’re just trying to fill in the cracks with leftovers. To me, that means agents need to set their watches and understand that once 120 minutes is up, you’re in scratch-and-claw-to-get-whatever-you-can territory.