The Detroit Lions signed 12 UDFAs (undrafted free agents) following the 2022 NFL Draft, and the details of their contracts are now available. While we already broke down their skill sets, taking a closer look at how much the team invested in them gives us an idea of what the Lions’ front office and coaches thought of them during this draft cycle.
If you’re not familiar with how UDFA contracts operate, let’s take a look at how the process works.
Each team has a limited amount of money they can spend on their rookie class, including both drafted and undrafted players. But within that limited pool of money and cap space, teams can entice undrafted rookies by altering the specifics of their contracts.
There are two primary financial ways teams can persuade players to sign with them: signing bonuses and guaranteeing a portion of their salaries. Both strategies guarantee a player those funds, but each has slightly different implications for the player and team.
For the player, a signing bonus is paid to them immediately once they sign their contract. While a guaranteed portion of salary is paid throughout the duration of the contract or in full at the termination of the contract. For the team’s salary cap purposes, both signing bonuses and guaranteed money are paid throughout the duration of the contract or in full at the termination of the contract.
So, if teams can entice a player with guaranteed money, why don’t teams just fully guarantee a UDFA base salary ($705,000)? The short answer is, for every player that doesn’t make the 53-man roster, those guarantees become salary cap penalties (often called cap hits). Therefore, teams will often only guarantee large portions of salaries—or hand out big signing bonuses—to players they believe has a realistic chance of making the regular season roster.
Let’s look at the Lions’ 2022 UDFA class and the guaranteed money that was given to them in their contracts (via OverTheCap.com):
Looking purely at the contracts, it’s fair to say that Obinna Eze, Kevin Jarvis, and Greg Bell are the most highly regarded UDFAs by the Lions in this cycle, but it’s important to keep in mind, that beyond the cash, nothing will be guaranteed to any of these players.
For example, in 2021, the Lions signed 13 undrafted rookies but only four of those remain on the current roster, and none of them were in the top-four of last year's highest amounts of guaranteed money given.
While AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs beat the odds by making the 53-man roster out of training camp, it’s worth noting that another five UDFAs still made the team via the practice squad. It’s no surprise that those five players were all among the UDFAs given larger amounts of guaranteed money from the Lions, indicating the coaches saw some potential. But in the end, on-field performance is the only thing that matters and that’s why only Brock Wright and Tommy Kraemer earned elevations to the active roster.
So if we apply what we learned from last year’s UDFA class, Eze, Jarvis, Bell, Jermaine Waller, and Corey Sutton all appear to be strong favorites to at least land on the Lions’ practice squad this fall, but you can’t sleep on the Kalil Pimpleton, Demetris Taylor, and the others in the bottom half of the guaranteed money chart.