It is the day before rookies are scheduled to report to NFL camps. Only one problem ... nobody is under contract.
Well, OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole to make a point. In fact some NFL draft picks have signed. Some, but not alot.
With just one day left before rookies are supposed to report, approximately two of every three 2020 NFL draft picks remain unsigned. More than 70% of the first round picks are not under contract. What’s that you say? Not unusual you say? The top picks often negotiate contracts right up until the last minute, and sometimes beyond, right? Fair enough.
How about seventh round picks? When was the last time you heard of seventh round picks holding out until the last minute en masse? Never happens, right? Never ... until now. Nearly 75% of seventh round picks are unsigned. Almost 60% of fifth round picks are unsigned. Pick a round, any round, and all you see is a vast sea of unsigned players. This never happens.
The Jets are slightly ahead of the curve here. Second round pick Denzel Mims, fourth round pick La’Mical Perine, fourth round pick Cameron Clark and fifth round pick Bryce Hall are signed. First round pick Mekhi Becton, third round pick Ashtyn Davis, third round pick Jabari Zuniga, fifth round pick James Morgan and sixth round pick Braden Mann remain unsigned.
COVID-19 has profoundly impacted nearly every aspect of life in the U.S. The effects on NFL rookie signings seem trivial when we view the broader picture. But for better or worse, we cover what’s happening as it relates to the NFL and the Jets here. And in that context, COVID-19 is messing with the NFL process in ways we’ve never seen before.
Where do we go from here? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps we will see an avalanche of rookie signings in the next 24 hours, but I doubt it. I suspect when the time comes tomorrow for rookies to report to training camp, a whole lot of them still will not have contracts. For the first round picks it will likely be largely a question of when, not if. But what happens to the late round picks? Will teams just walk away? In a time of huge uncertainty, with revenues likely to be devastated no matter how the season plays out, will teams decide it is not cost effective to pay rookies at the back end of the draft who will likely have no impact this year, and historically likely to never have much of an impact? Will rookies without contracts show up anyway, hopeful they will eventually get paid and risking injury in the meantime? Who knows?
This year was always going to be a difficult one, especially for rookies who have had no opportunity to go through the usual OTAs and mini-camps. If they remain unsigned as camps begin to open, the situation becomes increasingly untenable. Risking injury with no assurances they will ever be signed is not an attractive option, but holding out and missing practice time is also far from ideal, particularly with lower round picks who may never get another shot at this. Any rookies who never sign a contract this year will re-enter the NFL draft in 2021. That also seems like less than an ideal outcome.
These are extraordinary times. The uncertainty that comes with these times ripples through every strand of the fabric of life. NFL rookies, like everyone else, are caught up in events beyond their control. In times like these, what is said to be a traditional Chinese curse comes to mind: “may you live in interesting times.” These times are nothing if not interesting. NFL rookies are probably wishing about now they were living through something a little more boring.