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The Hard Life of an N.F.L. Long Shot
December 6, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

What it's like trying to crack into the National Football League.
posted by Chrysostom (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
how will johnson did it (via)
posted by kliuless at 8:18 AM on December 6, 2012


This was a great read.
posted by onwords at 8:37 AM on December 6, 2012


Wow. So now I'm rooting for...injuries? Go Pat go!
posted by riverlife at 8:50 AM on December 6, 2012


I don't watch football, but that was a fantastic story.
posted by 256 at 9:08 AM on December 6, 2012


Here's the situation. There are 53 active roster spots per team in the NFL, and 32 teams, or 1696 active roster slots. There's 8 practice squad slots, or another 256. There's typically about 50 players who are on the injured reserve list.

So, there are about 2000 professional football players in the NFL. Roughly about 10% of them leave the game a year, so there's roughly 200 slots.

The Division One Football Bowl Subdivision NCAA schools (Formerly Division 1-A) have no real roster limits. They do have an aid limit, though, and you can figure anybody with a reasonable shot at a pro career is going to get a free ride. In the FBS, you have a limit of 85 players on financial aide, in almost all programs not on some sort of probation, all will be full rides. In 2012, there were 124 FBS schools, four in transition to full membership. That's 10,540 slots. Roughly a fourth of these will leave the college game a year, most as graduating seniors, some as dropouts or exceptional prospects moving to the pros, and the same number enter. So, you have roughly 2600 FBS players finishing their college careers. We'll elide the FCS -- there are about as many FCS schools as FBS, but far fewer of the FCS finishers will make the NFL.

So, to become an NFL pro, you have to get out of high school, get one of the roughly, oh, call it 2750 slots available in either an FBS school or an FCS school that's scouted by the NFL.

Then, as one of those 2750 leaving college football, you hope you're one of the 1500 or so that the NFL scouts actually look at. Of those, you have to be either one of the 250 who are drafted. If not, you're hope to be one of the about 600 undrafted but are as good as the 5th-7th rounders who are drafted, who are signed to camps -- either spring or fall. For this, you get a shot at one of the 250 slots that open every year. You're competing not only with that class, but the class of already existing players on practice squad contracts, and that vast body of undrafted who didn't move up, but got another camp shot the next year -- plus the few very wild cards, like CFL and Arena players who are invited. And, worst of all, you're competing against the high draft picks. Andrew Luck and RGIII had very little trouble making the active roster, but every one of those first rounders making the team on signing is one less slot you have to fight for.

It does happen. James Harrison of the Steelers was cut at least three times and spent two years on practice squads and a year in NFL-Europe before landing an active slot with Pittsburgh. Two years later, with Joey Porter being cut for salary cap reasons, he landed a starting slot in 2007, and had a pro-bowl year, his first of four.

Kurt Warner was signed undrafted by the Green Bay Packers, released, played for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena Football League. But even after he was signed by St. Louis, he was originally sent to the Amsterdam Admirals, then spent 1998 as the #3 QB for the Rams (behind Tony Banks and Steve Bono.) After 1999, those two left, and Trent Green was signed as the #1 QB for the Rams. He tore his ACL in the preseason, giving Warner the window he needed, and won both League and Super Bowl MVP. His record in the big game was 1-2, but he holds the record for most yards passing in a Super Bowl -- and his two losses are the #2 and #3 most.

But really -- if you're not drafted, you're one of 600 or so new guys fighting for maybe 10 slots, and it may be years before that slot opens up.

That's the math. Almost all the first and second rounders will get an active slot in the NFL. That's 64 slots, out of 2700 some every year. The 3rd-4th rounders have about a 50% shot at a first year active slot, that's another 32. The rest?

The rest fight -- and with 200 slots open, and 96 of them going to high draft picks, the odds are long and against.
posted by eriko at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


And luckily for the hero of our story, he seems to be have a realistic understanding of those numbers. I think that kid will do alright in life, whether or not he ever makes it in the NFL.

I didn't realize the practice squad guys made that much. I always assumed they got enough to eat and that was about it.
posted by COD at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2012


A timely article and post, because Pat Schiller went to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. NIU is in the 2012 BCS Orange Bowl vs Florida State, and this has caused no end of consternation among the gilded football class and big school gatekeepers.

Great reply erico, but a slight (and really meaningless to the other gold in your post) clarification to FBS roster sizes.....

Limit on Number of Participants—Bowl Subdivision. [FBS] In bowl subdivision football, there shall be a limit of 105 student-athletes who may engage in practice activities prior to the institution’s first day of classes or the institution’s first contest, whichever occurs earlier.

Exception—National Service Academies. [FBS] There is no limit on the number of student-athletes who will be attending a national service academy and who may engage in practice activities prior to the institution’s first day of classes or the institution’s first contest, whichever occurs earlier
.
posted by lstanley at 9:58 AM on December 6, 2012


See also Jorvorskie Lane, who had given up and was delivering furniture when his chance came. Love me some J Train.
posted by resurrexit at 10:04 AM on December 6, 2012


“Dude,” he said, as I stood staring at his dresser. “I swear to God, if someone tells me right now there’s some miracle body cream out there that would make me feel 100 percent and prevent me from getting hurt but that could also cause cancer or liver damage down the line, I’d use it in a heartbeat. I would.”

Not sure what to make of that..
posted by dabug at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2012


That's the math. Almost all the first and second rounders will get an active slot in the NFL. That's 64 slots, out of 2700 some every year. The 3rd-4th rounders have about a 50% shot at a first year active slot, that's another 32. The rest?

The rest fight -- and with 200 slots open, and 96 of them going to high draft picks, the odds are long and against.


So, you're saying there's a chance?
posted by inigo2 at 10:30 AM on December 6, 2012


It's a well written article. I am ambivalent at best about most NFL things. No means a fan, and realistically it's been 2 years since I watched a full game with who knows how long before that. It is a fun thing to watch though, they have certainly crafted a slick looking package for viewers. The Kurt Warners and long shots get promoted all to hell and back again as part of the dream...

But hell, the game is a meat grinder for the overwhelming majority of players. Yes, most of them go into it knowing this and it is their choice... but so is smoking crack, or driving without seatbelts or any number of dangerous activities.

I hope Schiller does well, he sounds like a pretty ok guy... but I don't really look at the NFL with anything but sadness nowadays, opportunity comes predominately from the injury of others and the monopolistic control creates the scarcity to drive folks like Schiller to effectively ruin their bodies and sometimes their minds to pursue a brief moment in the limelight.

I can't fault the players for wanting it, I can't fault people for wanting to watch it - it is a grand spectacle - but it still feels excessively exploitative and I wish Schiller would have gone and been a great teacher rather than a football player.
posted by edgeways at 11:44 AM on December 6, 2012


I wish Schiller would have gone and been a great teacher rather than a football player.

Perhaps he still will. It's hard to tell someone not to pursue the thing they grew up loving; because it was developed before a modern understanding of head injury, and the interaction of physical trauma and aging generally, and with that in mind has been twisted by capitalism beyond any sensible tradeoff.

This is just idle rumination from someone who knows little about football behind the scenes, but:

...thinking about this story--and the kickoff post--might it help to expand rosters, maybe for allowing exceptions to the salary cap for players paid under X dollars? (I don't know much about NFL team rules, i.e. whether there's a numerical cap as well as a salary cap.) The trainer talking about Arena football said that when it was popular players passed up questionable NFL training camp invites to take Area team spots at under $100k/yearly.

So maybe let teams pick up a ton of rookies, and not count them against the cap if paid less than $100k--with a limit on downs or minutes or something so the Player Assoc doesn't freak out about the mandated $390k floor. And put an eligibility limit on it--two seasons, then into the cap either way.

More people would get to stay on the team at the lower ranks (twos, threes, whatever), they get paid a little less than now, and see more field time during real games as a group but perhaps less individually (because you can experiment with more than one or two hopefuls). I'd guess the Players Association might be against it (but you'd expect a split between the superstar upper ranks and the rank-and-file interchangeables plus rookie hopefuls on that.)

Although, if a compromise like this was workable or desirable from both sides, it would probably already exist. So maybe I'm missing something.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:44 AM on December 7, 2012


snuffleupagus: "I don't know much about NFL team rules, i.e. whether there's a numerical cap as well as a salary cap."

There is a numerical limit. It's a little complicated, but during the regular season, you can have 53 "active" players (i.e., eligible to play in a game), and an additional 23 other players (including practice squad, seriously injured and unable to play players, and a host of other weird categories).
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2012


Thanks! I saw the 53-player roster in the story, and see the salary cap in the news from time to time, but figured there was a bit more to it than that. So maybe its simpler even than above: add non-roster rookies to the excepted category and enlarge it? Teams could cut fewer players, take longer to try them out in practice etc....
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:10 AM on December 7, 2012


Or, on reflection, just enlarge it--as the last minute call after the draft, and the post-cut meeting recall in the article suggests that the practice squad already serves this purpose.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:17 AM on December 7, 2012


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