NFL rookies are lumped into two categories: Those who were drafted and those who weren’t. The pecking order of the draft picks is pretty clear to the typical fan. First round pick Kelly Jennings will make the team, and could very well be a starter. Second round pick Daryl Tapp is almost certainly a lock to make the team (although you may recall the fullback Owen Gill, who was drafted in the second round in 1985 and was released before the end of camp.)
Yes, the high picks are locks, but the lower picks are fighting to make the roster. 6th round pick Ryan Plackemeier must beat out incumbent punter Tom Rouen. 7th round pick Ben Obomanu must compete with several more experienced wide receivers for the 5th or 6th spot in that group.
Among the undrafted rookies, there’s also a pecking order, albeit much more subtle. Most undrafted players receive a small signing bonus, which can be a good indicator of their chances of making the club. In 2002, D.D. Lewis received a $7,500 signing bonus, tied for the highest that year. Lewis made the team. The other top undrafted player that year was quarterback Ryan Van Dyke, who was competing against a 6th round pick, Jeff Kelly.
2004 was the one year the trend didn’t hold, as defensive end Gabe Nienhuis was the “8th round pick” with a $10,000 bonus. That year, none of the undrafted made the final roster. Defensive back Jordan Babineaux ($5,000 bonus) spent most of that year on the practice squad and became a valuable reserve in 2005.
Last year, fullback Leonard “The Hydrant” Weaver was the 8th round pick with a $10,000 bonus. He clearly beat 6th round pick Tony Jackson for the backup job behind Mack Strong. Jackson was paid $66,000 to sign his rookie deal, but Weaver won the spot on the team.
In 2006, the 8th round draft pick is (drum roll….) Quarterback Travis Lulay from Montana State University. Lulay was paid $10,000 to sign, the most from this year’s crop. He clearly will struggle to beat out any of the three veteran incumbents on the roster, but the money will be well-spent if he shows potential and spends a year on the practice squad.
After Lulay, the undrafted rookie, in order of bonus money, are:
Center Pat Ross ($8,000)
Cornerback Kevin Hobbs ($6,000)
Tight End Matt Henshaw ($5,000)
Guard Kyle Ralph ($5,000)
Defensive End John Syptak ($5,000)
Defenisive Tackle Garrett McIntyre ($3,000)
Center Lance Reynolds ($3,000)
Linebacker Evan Benjamin ($2,000)
Linebacker Lance Laury ($2,000)
Tackle Jeff Bolton (no bonus)
Cornerback Gerald Ross (no bonus)
An interesting name on that list is Kyle Ralph, who was released shortly after the first mini-camp. His $5,000 bonus isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of the salary cap, but it’s a big enough figure that it shows the Seahawks had some serious interest in him. The fact that he was released so quickly is unusual, and suggests there’s “more to the story”. If anyone has the inside scoop, do tell!
The total rookie pool has been reported to be $2,830,866. This figure is the total first-year salary cap that can be allocated to rookie draft choices. A portion of that can also be used to sign undrafted players, with the different in these deals that only the bonus amounts deplete the rookie pool. All of these guys signed two year deals which will earn them the league minimum of $275,000 if they make the team. The total bonuses of $39,000 are pro-rated over the two-year deals, so $19,500 comes off the rookie pool. Only $2,811,366 more to go!
The six draft choices have all received $275,000 tender offers, so $1,650,000 of the rookie pool is already considered in the overall cap. The rest of the rookie pool (about $1.14M) will be given as bonuses to the draft picks, so only that amount can potentially reduce the salary cap further.
The Seahawks currently have about $11.6 million in salary cap space. After signing the rookies, that will go down to about $10.5 million. That’s a lot of dough. Next week I’ll go into more detail about what could happen with those dollars, along with some analysis of the overall cap status of the Seahawks.