One of the side effects of the NFL’s on-going labor strike is this: Without a collective bargained agreement, undrafted players cannot be signed. If and until that’s resolved — or until the league receives a court order to resume pre-lockout rules, which hadn’t happened as of Friday morning — pro clubs can’t contact potential free agents.
That could have a particular impact on football programs from historically black colleges and universities. Only two players from HBCUs were selected by NFL clubs last season: Morehouse offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (Ravens, 6th round) and South Carolina State defensive back Phillip Adams (49ers, 7th round). That was the lowest number since 2004, when just two players — Southern defensive back Lenny Williams and Hampton defensive end Isaac Hilton — were both 7th round selections.
In the hours that followed, however, at least 20 other HBCU prospects made their way into the league, signing free-agent deals after the 2010 NFL Draft was over.
The fact is, often-overlooked black college football programs, perhaps even more than other small schools, have come to rely on this second-chance opportunity. Remember All-America kick returner Leroy Vann, who left Florida A&M in 2009 as the FCS record holder for career returns for scores? He went unselected, but ended up signing one of these free-agency deals with San Francisco.
You can imagine the same thing happening this year, say, to Grambling’s Frank Warren – a record-smashing rusher who topped Walter Payton’s rushing record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Any other year, Warren could still hold out hope. Free-agency stakes are lower for pro clubs, since the contracts are smaller, and they are more willing to take a flyer on a talented player who has somehow avoided wider notice among scouts throughout his college career.
It’s not just HBCUs, of course. Elsewhere in the league, several impact players ended up working their way into the pros after last season’s NFL’s three-day draft event concluded – among them, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory and Sam Shields. Other notable unsigned free-agents over the years have included James Harrison, Kurt Warner and Wes Welker.
The next one is probably out there somewhere. He might even have gone to an HBCU. But until the league’s labor struggles end, his phone won’t be ringing.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2010’S HBCU FREE-AGENT SIGNINGS:
Atlanta Falcons – Rafael Bush, DB, South Carolina State University; Tim Buckley, QB/RB/WR, Alcorn State University
Arizona Cardinals – Juamorris Stewart, WR, Southern University
Buffalo Bills – Will Croner, DE, Howard University
Carolina Panthers – Oliver Young, WR, South Carolina State University
Cincinnati Bengals – Gabriel Manns, OG, North Carolina Central University
Cleveland Browns – Justin Hannah, CB, Tuskegee University
Green Bay Packers – Quinn Porter, RB, Stillman College; E.J. Morton Green, WR, Morgan State University
Houston Texans – Kristian Matte, OL, Concordia College
Jacksonville Jaguars – Terrell Whitehead, DB, Norfolk State University;
New Orleans Saints – Junior Galette, DE, Stillman College; Marcell Young, DB, Jackson State University; Sirjo Welch, DB, Kentucky State University AJ McKenna, QB, Albany State University;
New York Jets – Phillip Kirkland, WR, Bethune-Cookman University Damon McDaniel, WR, Hampton University
San Francisco 49ers – LeRoy Vann, KR, Florida A&M University
St. Louis Rams – Dominique Curry, WR, Cheyney University
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Robert Okeafor, OL, Florida A&M University