One thing that always fascinates me about the NFL is that, well, there are a lot of inefficiencies when it comes to player evaluation. Everyone takes a slightly different road to get to the same place, but because no one knows exactly what others are doing, it’s very hard to measure which methods are successful and which aren’t.
This is especially true of the post-draft undrafted free agency signing chase. This topic is one I’ve been studying over the past week, trying to find a consensus on how teams do things. Only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be one.
Take the selection and signing process. Several former scouts I talked to said their teams tended to use their position coaches to ‘close’ players, so I thought I’d found a common thread. With that in mind, I sent this text to Jon Kingdon, former Director of College Scouting for the Raiders, and Miller McCalmon, who was an area scout for the Redskins and Texans and headed the Lions’ pro department: “When you were going through the undrafted free agent process, were your area scouts focused on players from their areas, that they had scouted, and trying to get them signed, or were they assigned a position they had to fill, like OL or QBs or whatever?”
Jon’s response: “All this was discussed ahead of time. We liked to use the people that had historically done contracts that personally knew the agents who represented the specific players. If we did use a scout to negotiate with an agent, we would try and use the scout who wrote up the player so he could speak knowledgeably about the player to the agent which would make the agent perceive this as a greater interest in his player.”
Translation: The Raiders liked to go through the agent, leveraging the team’s cap guy’s relationship (or future relationship) with that agent. However, if the scout could speak so credibly about the player that it might sway the agent, then they’d go that route. Interesting.
Here’s Miller’s response: “I have seen it done both ways! But a lot times the area scout knows the players in his area and possibly has a relationship with them, which helps in recruiting a player. That is what that process is, it is recruiting players for as little money as possible!”
Translation: Once again, whoever has the most perceived leverage with the player (or his agent) is the one charged with getting him on board. In Miller’s case, the teams he worked with seemed to lean on the scouts.
Given that there was no real consensus, I reached out to Matt Manocherian, who was the Browns’ Northeast area scout after spending several years with the Saints. He said the Saints, for example, assigned scouts to handle certain positions, but I found out the true ‘closers’ were the team’s big-name coaches.
“Usually the coaches can connect to the kid a little bit better,” he said. “Probably like twice a year (Saints head coach) Sean Payton was used as a closer. He would be like, ‘Don’t bother me,’ then ‘Oh, that kid? Let me talk to him!’ Also, (defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan with the Saints is great. He would trust the scouts, and he would give them a type of guy he wanted, and would trust the scouts to find that player, and he would be very willing to close. He was like, ‘Whoever you guys think the best players are, let’s go get them and let me know what I can do.’ ”
I guess, at the end of the day, a team is going to do whatever it can to get the job done. Maybe it’s equally as hard for teams to gather information and come to a consensus as it is for me.