Penny stocks: Bucs invested to land undrafted rookies
When an NFL team's annual payroll is $155-million or so, the minute details of how $100,000 or so is spent in comparably tiny signing bonuses to land coveted undrafted rookies may seem insignificant.
But in today's NFL, late-round draft picks are no lock to make a team's 53-man roster, so evaluating and signing undrafted rookies can help a team's depth and occasionally unearth an overlooked gem, passed over in 253 draft picks.
We've already reported on the largest bonuses the Bucs handed out -- Missouri Western tackle Leonard Wester got a $20,000 bonus, reportedly the largest signing bonus for an undrafted rookie in the NFL this year, with an additional $15,000 of his 2016 base salary guaranteed. Another offensive lineman, West Georgia's Dominique Robertson, got a $12,500 bonus and $7,500 of base salary guaranteed. Safety Elijah Shumate from Notre Dame got a $13,000 bonus, and Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy got a $10,000 bonus.
Again, these dollar figures are pennies by NFL standard, equal for most players to a week or two of practice-squad salary. But they show the lengths the Bucs were willing to go to get an undrafted rookie, which reflects not only the talent level of the player but the relative need at his position. That doesn't mean they're a lock to make even the practice squad -- two years ago the biggest bonuses for the Bucs were DE Chaz Sutton, DT Euclid Cummings and OT Matt Patchan, and none stuck long with Tampa Bay.
Other bonuses we can now report for other undrafted rookies: Auburn RB Peyton Barber ($8,000), Ole Miss DE Channing Ward ($5,000), Memphis OT Taylor Fallin ($5,000), Colorado State TE Kivon Cartwright ($3,000), South Carolina S Isaiah Johnson ($2,500), William & Mary LB Luke Rhodes ($2,500), Memphis FB/TE Allen Cross ($2,000). The rest of the undrafted rookies either had no bonus or were signed after coming on initially as tryout players.
Add it up and it only amounts to $106,000 -- less than a single practice-squad player earns in a season. But if one or two of these undrafted rookies can stick on the Bucs' roster (like WR Adam Humphries last year), it's money well-spent, especially in an NFL economy used to much larger initial investments.