By Paul Wanecski
As the undrafted free agent signing period rages on, La’El Collins has found himself in an unusual position; he is a first round talent with major pending legal issues. As the law in this country is written, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Of course, the court of public opinion has been in session for some time in regard to Collins and the verdict isn’t great for his future. Teams all around the NFL are in love with talent and at the price (now that the draft is over), how could you not be intrigued? We are going to keep a distance from the discussion as to if teams, specifically the Buffalo Bills, should sign him. What we will discuss is what kind of offer could be made to sign him.
When it comes to undrafted free agents (UDFA), teams will offer contracts to players in a flurry of activity. Players need to decide which team has the best offer, both in dollars and opportunity. Just because a team offers you the most signing bonus money doesn’t mean they offer the best chance to make a roster. It is a daring and tumultuous time for young athletes. Collins is wise to tread lightly when making a decision. The caveat is that a team has to feel comfortable enough to make him an offer.
The NFL allows only a limited amount of signing bonus dollars per season dedicated to a team’s entire UDFA class. The Bills are working with approximately $86,800, a figure that is up from just over $80,000 in 2014. This allotment is for all UDFA signings that season per team. Could a team exceed that amount? They can and the rules surrounding that are exceptionally complicated. To make it simple, you can exceed the UDFA pool, however, the money that you use in excess of the allotment must be subtracted from the amount of signing bonus money you can give to the players you drafted that year. Yes, the players selected in the NFL draft have a bonus pool as well but that is a topic for another day. Given the Bills are now at the 90 man roster limit, someone would need to be released in order to make room for Collins if he were to sign. Each team is allowed 14 UDFA signings. The Bills still have one spot remaining.
Jason Fitzgerald from OvertheCap.com wrote a solid explanation last year of how base salaries and bonus pool work. I have updated the figures to apply to this year’s rookie contract scale:
For the most part their contracts are already made for them- the NFL limits their contracts to 3 year terms and puts a salary cap pool on all undrafted free agents a little bit over ($85,000). While teams can exceed that amount they rarely do because then it hurts what they can pay their drafted players. That being said this is a big day where having a good agent shows its worth.
But there is a lot more importance to planning than just getting an extra $1,000 in the player’s pocket. The biggest goal for a player is to make a roster and earn their full ($435,000) salary. It is much better to have a chance to earn ($435,000) and get a $1,000 bonus than not earn ($435,000) and get a $10,000 bonus. At the least you want to have a good chance to make the Practice Squad, earning close to $100,000 if you can last a full 17 weeks.
In the 2015 season the base salaries be $435,000, $525,000 in 2016, and if applicable $615,000 in 2017.
Taking a look at last year as an example, we can review what kind of bonuses were offered to that UDFA class and try to gauge how the Bills do business. Some teams keep this simple and offer each UDFA the same bonus money, as the contract is basically set in stone with base salary. This season, UDFA Tyson Chandler signed with a $7,500 bonus. Previously, players like Jeff Tuel ($5,000), Kenny Ladler ($7,500), and Deon Broomfield ($5,000) were given a range bonuses. Last year, the Bills signed UDFA Derek Brim who was given a $1,000 signing bonus, so clearly they do not see all UDFA’s at the same value. The problem with that bonus is if/when you cut them the team has to take the salary cap hit in the form of dead money, even if you are releasing them so they can be placed on the practice squad. As an example, against this seasons salary cap the Bills have $1,668 dollars in dead money from releasing Jeff Tuel so he could be placed on the practice squad last year. So if the Bills were to offer each of the 13 UDFA’s they have signed a $7,500 bonus, they would exceed the bonus pool by almost $10,000. Obviously, they are not going to do that this year. If the Bills were to have offered each of the other 12 UDFA a $5,000 bonus, combined with the confirmed $7,500 already reported to Chandler, the total would be $67,500 leaving about $19,300 under the limit. If last year is any indication, the Bills have shown they will sign players to varying bonuses and this year will be no different. These numbers are all speculative since the dollars that newly signed players were offered are not yet released by the league. The Bills can offer something more than most teams, the opportunity to start. Could Cordy Glenn be moved into guard in the last year of his contact? Well, it would be a lot simpler to replace him at guard than tackle. Signing Collins gives them the chance to test his make up at an NFL level and determine if Glenn is worth a longer term commitment.
Could they have enough room to make Collins a solid offer? That depends on two variables; what do the Bills have left to offer based on the UDFA signings and what do other teams have to offer after their UDFA signings. It is conceivable that the Bills are not the only horse in this race. UDFA signing bonuses are not official at the time of this article to compare but it will be something to watch develop. Other teams may have been shaving dollars with other UDFA signings hoping to swing a decent bonus to Collins. This is a player who was discussed as a top 10 selection, so securing his services for league minimum with a low signing bonus is an opportunity a lot of teams will look into. The issue isn’t the player. The issue may not be the money. The issue will be the circus that comes to town with him.