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Open the doors to undrafted free agents

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted May 09, 2011 @ 11:59 a.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Last week, PFW's Alex Mayster talked with Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien, one of the top quarterbacks not selected in April's draft. Tolzien, like hundreds of college players, is stuck in limbo right now. In the normal, non-lockout days of the NFL, Tolzien would have joined a roster by this point and had an opportunity to compete to make a 53-man squad in September.

When six agents told Eric Edholm last week that some teams had been contacting them or their undrafted clients in violation of the lockout rules regarding tampering, one of our readers responded with an idea on our Facebook page. Chris Zanon wrote on our wall that the league should consider an abbreviated signing period for these undrafted free agents.

Chris brings up a very intriguing point. Why not allow teams a one-week period to sign undrafted free agents?

Let's get this out of the way first — it's not happening. The NFL couldn't get away with opening the doors to undrafted players without opening all the doors, let alone the fact that the league would have to find a way of governing this abbreviated period. But that doesn't mean the league brass shouldn't consider the possibility and how it could benefit everyone involved.

One of the reasons the league is pushing for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to grant it a stay is to avoid utter chaos in terms of free agency and trades. Without a Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league would have to decide rules to go by, rules that could be rendered moot if it wins the appeal. It's a "Wild West" situation the NFL is trying to avoid. Meanwhile, fans, players and those of us in the media who would love nothing more than to write about free agency (wink wink) would prefer league doors to open.

By opening doors to undrafted free agents it would avoid the chaos the league is afraid of, and most importantly, it would put the minds of hundreds of college players who deserve the chance to compete for an NFL job at ease.

If teams already are tampering, opening the doors to these players simply would legalize what teams are already doing while avoiding the "Wild West" scenario of free agency for current NFL players or trades.

Giants CB Prince Amukamara, the 19th pick in the draft, told me last week, "I'm unemployed right now." And that's true. The Giants cannot pay Amukamara, let alone give him a playbook. He has to train on his own until the lockout ends. But Amukamara knows where he's going when the lockout ends — the Big Apple. Hundreds of undrafted players have no clue and will enter a chaotic, rushed tryout whenever they are allowed to sign with teams.

Pro Bowlers Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates, Arian Foster and Tony Romo are just some of the household names who weren't drafted. There are future Pro Bowlers sitting out there without a team to go to when the lockout ends.

The fact is, though, at some point — likely the first week of July when the owners get hammered in their appeal — transactions will resume and doors will open. Teams will scramble to trade frustrated veterans (see: Donovan McNabb and possibly Carson Palmer) and acquire a starting quarterback (see: every NFC West team not in St. Louis). They will need to deal with their own free agents, some of whom will be stuck with the restricted label and possibly hold out. In addition to all of that, the teams then would have to bring in undrafted players, all the while trying to get offseason workouts and practices under way. Hello, Wild West.

There are thousands of people directly and indirectly affected by this lockout, and it's unfair to pinpoint one group of people most affected. But all the Scott Tolziens out there who have to sit and wait for a chance to make an NFL team would benefit immensely from the lockout ending sooner than later.

Teams would have one less thing to be concerned with, as they could take "sign undrafted free agents" off an offseason checklist that will have to be completed in a fraction of the time. The league wouldn't have to worry about slapping teams on the wrist for tampering, it would take one part of the "Wild West" scenario out of the equation and hey, it could be a sign of good will in these contentious times.

Is this a pipe dream? Absolutely. But it's not a ridiculous proposition either, as all sides would benefit. I ask for a two-week period where teams can sign undrafted free agents. As was the case with each teams' draft picks, no playbooks can be handed out and the players cannot meet with their new coaches, but at least they can rest easy during these turbulent times knowing that they will have a better shot to continue playing the sport they love.

Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter.

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