Could the NFL Draft expand beyond seven rounds in the near future, and what would that mean for the league and the players? Here’s a look at where things stand, and how an expansion might affect the draft in future cycles.
Could the NFL Draft Be Due for an Extension?
In the NFL‘s early days, the NFL Draft was a fluid event that experienced many changes through the decades. Midway through the 20th century, the draft had as many as 20 rounds. But the merger of the NFL and AFL brought along a reduced number of 12. And since 1994, the NFL Draft has had the standard seven rounds each year.
The past three decades, in that sense, have given the NFL a sense of stability on the draft stage. But could things be due to change again? Nothing is set in stone, or even in motion at this point. However, it has been speculated by some, including Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, that the circumstances of the modern NFL might invite an extension.
One of the reasons to consider an extension on the draft’s traditional seven-round slate, Florio says, is the undrafted free agent process, which has become somewhat chaotic in recent years. Because of the rush to sign UDFA prospects after the draft, teams and agents are often forced to scramble and get unofficial deals in place, while the draft is still happening.
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Why is it so important for teams to be proactive on the UDFA front? Because there’s always quality talent still available, especially considering the variance between each team’s board in the Day 3 range. In the 2023 NFL Draft, 10 prospects in PFN’s Consensus Top 150 went undrafted, and 25 in total of PFN’s Top 200.
Good players slip down the board each year, and gems are found in the undrafted free agent pool each cycle. But this does beg the question: If there’s so much talent at the top of the UDFA pool, why not extend the NFL Draft to better reflect the volume of talent and allow teams to take a deep breath and keep things on schedule?
Pros and Cons of Extending the NFL Draft
The primary benefit of extending the NFL Draft is just that: More control and order. PFA targets would become eighth or ninth-round picks, and teams would be able to draft their preferred options without having to go through the free agency process.
In the scenario of an extended draft, there’d also be an opportunity for players who’d otherwise be UDFAs to make more money and have more contractual security.
Draft picks are universally signed to four-year deals from Round 1 to Round 7. Seventh-round picks tend to earn between $628,873 and $638,424 in annual salary. In comparison, the best UDFA deals often top out at just half of that.
A valuable example is Vikings UDFA Andre Carter II, who signed one of the biggest UDFA contracts in recent memory — a $300,000 base salary commitment with a $40,000 signing bonus. Looking at those ranges side-by-side, there’s room for prospective eighth and ninth-round picks to fill the gap, if the incremental scale were to continue for two more rounds.
An extended NFL Draft would give upwards of 64 prospects more financial security, and give teams more clarity at the tail end of the draft process. But there are reasons to be opposed to a theoretical extension as well.
UDFA prospects have less financial security. But one thing they do have — and drafted prospects don’t — is the freedom to choose their NFL landing spot, mulling over multiple UDFA offers. An extended draft would take away that freedom from dozens of prospects.
To be clear, very few prospects are ever disappointed with being drafted. But that freedom, to choose both ideal locations and ideal schematic fits, is a perk for priority UDFAs. As Florio speculates, that freedom is also something that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) might seek to preserve.
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There are also logistical questions that come with any extension. When will the extra rounds take place? Day 1 and Day 2 both run very late as it is, and Day 3 is an all-day affair. Will the rounds be broken up differently? Will an extra day simply be added — perhaps ending Round 8 and Round 9 midday, so there’s more time for UDFA processions?
The logistical questions are predicated on an extension taking place, so for now, we don’t need concrete answers. But that’s another wrinkle that the NFL would have to sort through.
In the simplest sense, an NFL Draft with eight or nine rounds would bring additional order. If the NFL and NFLPA were to discuss this, a simple answer might be a compromise: Extending the draft to only one round as opposed to two, so that NFL teams have more capital and time, while many UDFAs still maintain their autonomy and freedom to choose amongst their available options.
Whatever the case, we do know that the NFL Draft classes are getting deeper, and there is the volume of talent necessary to consider an extension.
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