What is an NFL undrafted free agent and how do the rules work?

Let's look at how the rules work in the National Football League for those players who will go undrafted.
Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals
Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

Every year, hundreds of former college players find their hopes of being drafted by an NFL team dashed after going unselected in the annual seven-round event. However, dozens of those players will end up earning further opportunities with teams as an undrafted free agent despite the frustrations over draft weekend.

An undrafted free agent (UDFA) is a player who is eligible to be signed by any team in the league but was not selected in the NFL Draft. Every year, many talented college football players go undrafted for various reasons, such as injuries, lack of exposure, character concerns, or poor measurables,

UDFA Eligibility

Any player who is not drafted in the NFL Draft is automatically eligible to sign with any team as an undrafted free agent—otherwise known as a rookie or priority free agent. Players who declared for the draft early but were not selected retain their college eligibility if they haven't signed with an agent.

The UDFA Signing Period

The signing period for UDFAs begins immediately after the NFL Draft ends, a three-day event typically held at the end of April. Following the seventh and final round on the Saturday (final day) of draft weekend, teams work the phones in a frenzy in order to sign players who were on their draft board but went unselected.

UDFA Contracts

Undrafted free agents sign standard NFL contracts with the team they choose. These contracts can vary in length and salary. Some may include signing bonuses or guaranteed money, but typically they are not as lucrative as those signed by drafted players.

A Strong Track Record

UDFA signings are often an important part of a team's strategy for building depth and finding hidden talent. Some notable NFL stars, including Hall of Famers, were undrafted free agents. From Kurt Warner to Warren Moon, undrafted free agents have included some of the biggest stars in NFL history, and even in Chiefs Kingdom, they've played a strong part in the past and present. Consider franchise greats like Emmitt Thomas and Dave Grayson who went undrafted.

The Road Ahead for UDFAs

NFL teams must cut down their final rosters to 53 players before the regular season begins—down from the 90-man rosters allowed during the offseason and preseason. Undrafted free agents face tough competition during training camp and preseason, and not all of them will make the active roster. However, teams can also sign undrafted players to their practice squad, providing another path for development and potential promotion to the active roster during the season.

In essence, being an undrafted free agent in the NFL means you have another chance to prove your worth and earn a spot on a team, even if you weren't selected in the draft. It's a challenging path, but many players have succeeded and carved out successful careers after going undrafted.