It was not lost on Eagles executive Joe Douglas that when the starters took the field in the Super Bowl, there were six players who went undrafted out of college.
The Eagles’ leading receiver in the Super Bowl was rookie running back Corey Clement, who went seven rounds without hearing his named called last April. Their leading rusher was LeGarrette Blount, who was not one of the 255 draft picks in 2010. The Patriots’ 100-yard receivers in the Super Bowl included Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan – both undrafted.
For all the attention that will be devoted to the draft this week, another part of the Eagles’ team building will also come on Saturday evening when the draft is finished and the scouts will be dogged in trying to lure undrafted players to Philadelphia on free-agent contracts.
One problem: Douglas expects the process to be more challenging this year. One would think that with the Eagles owning only six draft picks, undrafted players would see more opportunity in Philadelphia. There could be less competition to compete with for roster spots, unless the Eagles accumulate more picks in the draft. But Douglas worries that players and agents would see a deep, playoff-caliber roster and think there’s more opportunity elsewhere. Douglas wants his scouts to combat this perception.
“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl and we don’t have a second- or third-round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make your team. It’s going to be a challenge for us, and we know it, and we’re going to attack it, and I think our guys are going to do a great job recruiting some of these guys who slip through the cracks like we did last year. But it is going to be a challenge because there’s going to be some guys who think there’s a tougher shot of making the team.”
One way the Eagles can combat this is by being aggressive with guaranteed money offered to undrafted players, which they have done in recent years. All 32 teams are restricted by the same total signing bonus they’re allowed to distribute, known as the “undrafted rookie reservation.” But there’s no restriction on how much of a rookie’s salary they can guarantee. In 2016, the Eagles offered two of the league’s three largest guarantees to undrafted players, according to ESPN. In 2017, Clement received the second-highest guarantee of any undrafted player, according to USA Today.
The risk in offering large guarantees is that undrafted players face long odds to make the team. If they’re not on the roster, the team is on the hook for the guaranteed money. However, because of offsetting language, the team’s obligation would be diminished by the salary of a contract a player signs if he joins a roster or practice squad elsewhere. So if the Eagles identify and sign undrafted rookies who are NFL-caliber players, they can mitigate the risk.
“When you look at the percentage of rosters taken up by undrafted free agents, outside of first-round picks, I think it’s the highest percentage of players on rosters,” Eagles executive Howie Roseman said in 2016 about the guaranteed money the Eagles offered to undrafted players. “For us, we felt like we needed to throw darts at that pool of guys that we liked. And it’s hard to recruit undrafted free agents after the draft. You are competing against 31 other teams. We looked at the amount of resources we put into that and if we can get a couple guys out of it, how it would work for us. We’re hopeful that it’s not just now that it works, but going forward some of those guys are guys that can contribute to our football.”
Throwing darts is an appropriate analogy, because it’s hard to hit big on undrafted free agents. In the two years of the Roseman-Doug Pederson regime, the Eagles have kept five undrafted rookies on their initial 53-man rosters. The Eagles’ 2018 roster will feature key players that were overlooked on draft day; players like Jason Peters, Michael Bennett, Chris Maragos, Rodney McLeod, Paul Worrilow and Clement, among others. Even Pederson carved out a 14-year career after going undrafted in 1991 and maintains a soft spot for undrafted players.
When the draft is finished on Saturday, the Eagles will look to add to that list.
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