Jaguars Draft: What is an undrafted free agent and how do the rules work?

• The Jaguars have unvailed several undrafted gems the last 10 years.
James Robinson rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns in 35 games played for the
James Robinson rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns in 35 games played for the / Corey Perrine / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every year, hundreds of players declare for the NFL draft but only 259 end up being selected. Those who didn't hear their name called during the three-night event could still latch onto a team but they'll have to do so as undrafted free agents.

This begs the question, what exactly is an undrafted free agent (UDFA)? How do the rules work?

Many players will go undrafted in the 2024 NFL Draft

The NFL draft consists of seven rounds and a total of 259 picks. Once the draft is over, teams will rush to call dibs on players who didn't get chosen. One advantage undrafted players have is that they'll have a chance to pick the club where they'll play if there's demand for their services. Meanwhile, players who were drafted can only report to the team that picked them.

On the other hand, more often than not, undrafted free agents (UDFAs) have a lower chance of making a 53-man roster than players who were picked in the first four rounds of the draft. Then again, it's not unheard of to see players make the cut. Heck, around a third of active players in the league began their career as UDFAs.

How much money do undrafted free agents make?

Unlike players who were drafted, UDFAs don't get many guarantees beyond a signing bonus. This isn't outrageous when you take into account that not many of them will make it past training camp. That said, teams offer bigger signing bonuses to lure priority free agents, those who had a draftable grade.

For example, last year, the New England Patriots gave quarterback Malik Cunningham a record-breaking $200,000 in guaranteed salary and a $30,000 signing bonus. Not long after, edge rusher Andre Carter II signed a guarantee of $216,000 with a $30,000 signing bonus with the Minnesota Vikings.

Cunningham and Carter are not the norm, though. More often than not, UDFAs sign for the league's minimum salary ($795,000 in 2024), and their contracts can last from one to four years.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, for their part, aren't afraid to pay undrafted talent. In 2022, they spent more than $1 million in base salary guarantees. It's also worth noting that clubs there's no cap on how much a team can invest in its undrafted free-agent pool.

The Jaguars have a good track record of identifying free agents

As bad as former general manager Dave Caldwell was at identifying talent during the draft, he had a penchant for spotting diamonds in the rough once it was over. His latest finding was running back James Robinson, who totaled 1,414 yards from scrimmage in 2020, the most in league history by an undrafted free agent.

The former Illinois State Red Bird seemed like a start in the making before an Achilles tear in 2021 derailed his career.

Before Robinson, Caldwell signed safety Andrew Wingard in 2019. Dewey signed a three-year extension in 2023 and was named team captain. While he's better suited for a backup role, he's a huge locker-room presence. On top of that, he'll make plays every now and then that will help the Jaguars come out on top.

Other UDFAs Caldwell signed are offensive guard Tyler Shatley (2014), safety Jarrod Wilson (2016), and cornerback Tre Herndon (2018). More recently, Caldwell's successor, Trent Baalke, brought in wide receiver Elijah Cooks, who made the 53-man roster in 2023.

Baalke also signed wide receiver Tim Jones as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State in 2021. Jones spent his rookie year in the practice squad but has made the initial 53-man roster in back-to-back seasons.

It will be interesting to see how many undrafted free agents sign with the Jaguars in 2024 and how many ultimately make the team.

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