The seven rounds and 253 picks of the NFL Draft received 15 hours of television coverage and countless hours of post-draft analysis about which teams did the best and the worst in finding new talent.
But the most underrated, and perhaps important, aspect of draft weekend happened after the draft ended — the signings from the leftover pool of rookies, otherwise known as undrafted free agents.
Most undrafted rookies are merely training camp bodies and never play an NFL snap. Then again, some big names in NFL history belong in this group: Kurt Warner, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, John Randle, Cameron Wake, Adam Vinatieri, Malcolm Butler, and many others.
And although going undrafted is a huge disappointment for these NFL hopefuls, in many ways it’s better than getting drafted in the seventh round. The undrafted players often get offers from several teams, and get to choose whichever one gives them the best chance of succeeding.
While undrafted rookies all sign three-year, minimum-salary contracts, NFL teams are allowed to give them guaranteed money in the form of signing bonuses and guaranteed salary. This year, each team had $92,021 in signing bonus money to split among its undrafted rookies, and there is no limit on the amount of guaranteed base salary.
The final numbers are in for the Patriots’ eight undrafted rookies, and the amount of guaranteed money given to each player tells a story of how much the Patriots value their skills, how desirable the player was on the open market, and the positions at which the Patriots believe they need better depth.
Here is the amount of guaranteed money the Patriots gave to each undrafted rookie, per NFL Players Association records:
■ CB Jonathan Jones: $35,000 ($10,000 signing bonus, $25,000 salary)
■ RB D.J. Foster: $30,000 ($5,000 signing bonus, $25,000 salary)
■ TE Steven Scheu: $25,000 ($15,000 signing bonus, $10,000 salary)
■ LB C.J. Johnson: $20,000 ($15,000 signing bonus, $5,000 salary)
■ CB V’Angelo Bentley: $17,500 ($10,000 signing bonus, $7,500 salary)
■ CB Cre’von LeBlanc: $17,500 ($10,000 signing bonus, $7,500 salary)
■ DT Woodrow Hamilton: $7,500 ($2,500 signing bonus, $5,000 salary)
■ TE Bryce Williams: $2,500 ($2,500 signing bonus)
Total: $155,000 ($70,000 signing bonus, $85,000 salary)
What does this tell us?
First, the Patriots don’t love their depth at cornerback. They currently have Butler and Logan Ryan penciled into the starting spots, with second-round pick Cyrus Jones the likely nickel corner, and a group of mediocre or unproven youngsters behind them: Darryl Roberts, Justin Coleman, and E.J. Biggers (they also recently released Rashaan Melvin).
So they spent $70,000 guaranteed on three cornerbacks: Jones, Bentley, and LeBlanc.
Jones, a 5-foot-10-inch cornerback from Auburn, is the jewel of the class and clearly had several suitors on the open market. The $35,000 guaranteed he received isn’t far off from the $58,540 guarantee given to Titans cornerback Kalan Reed, who was the 253d and final pick of the draft.
Second, Foster seems to have a decent chance of making the team as a hybrid running back/slot receiver. The 6-foot, 195-pounder totaled 2,458 receiving yards and 2,355 rushing yards in four years at Arizona State, and the Patriots thought enough of him to guarantee him $30,000.
With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola recovering from offseason surgeries, Dion Lewis still rehabbing a torn ACL, and James White having an inconsistent two-year career thus far, Foster could grab one of the final roster spots, especially if Edelman or Amendola begins the season on the physically unable to perform list and misses the first six games.
Third, the Patriots are still looking for tight ends, even after adding Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor. Scheu, a 6-5, 245-pounder, was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt, and his $25,000 guarantee suggests he could push Harbor or blocking tight end Mike Williams for a roster spot.
And Johnson, a 6-2, 225-pounder from Ole Miss, has an opportunity to grab a spot as a backup linebacker and special teamer based on his $20,000 guarantee. The Patriots don’t have great depth at linebacker behind Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, with Jonathan Freeny and Ramon Humber currently occupying the top backup spots. Rob Ninkovich and Shea McClellin can also play linebacker, but are more DE/OLB hybrids.
None of the money given to the undrafted rookies will guarantee them a roster spot; $35,000 is a drop in the bucket for an NFL team, and if Jones doesn’t perform in training camp, the Patriots won’t hesitate to cut him.
But undrafted rookies are incredibly valuable. The eight rookies cost the Patriots $155,000 in guaranteed money, or $23,000 less than the combined guarantee for the three players drafted at the bottom of the seventh round ($178,000).
If even one undrafted rookie pans out — think Malcolm Butler — then it is money very well spent.