How the Packers Came Close to Striking Gold on Undrafted Free Agents
Only a select handful of football players know the feeling of being intensely recruited. Not the kind of recruited where another company contacts you about a position with their firm, but when dozens of potential employers all want you and want an answer now, please.
The NFL Draft is a monster event. It shapes, defines and secures the future success of teams and offers the best route to acquire a football player: young and cheap.
How undrafted free agency works
For those who are not among the approximately 250 players drafted, they’re being recruited to join teams as undrafted free agents.
Every team signs about a dozen undrafted free agents, and most deals are done within the first few hours after the conclusion of the draft. Those hours are frenzied – front offices demand a decision on the spot. Take too long to decide and the team may have moved on.
Green Bay has a successful track record with finding undrafted free agents who can contribute immediately, including cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams.
Here are the tales of two star NFL players who were close to signing with the Packers as undrafted free agents.
Patriots WR Julian Edelman
Edelman played quarterback for Kent State, and was an unheralded prospect who would need to transition to wide receiver in order to make it in the NFL.
As the 2009 NFL Draft hits the seventh round, teams and agents began making plans to sign undrafted players.
Still on the board, his prospects for being drafted were slim. His agent, meanwhile, fielded calls. As the round wore on, Edelman made his decision. If he isn’t drafted, he’s going to sign with the Green Bay Packers.
At the time, the Packers have a full stable of receivers, including Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and 2009’s second-round pick Jordy Nelson.
New England drafted Edelman, and the Packers begrudgingly moved on. Green Bay signed five undrafted wide receivers: Iowa’s Andy Brodell, South Dakota State’s JaRon Harris, North Dakota State’s Kole Heckendorf, Colorado’s Patrick Williams and Western Michigan’s Jamarko Simmons.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo
Shaun Herock served as the Midwest-area scout under Ron Wolf, Mike Sherman, and Ted Thompson for 19 years in Green Bay. In 2002, he traveled to Charleston, Illinois to scout Eastern Illinois’ Tony Romo. The quarterback was the first-ever three-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Romo reminded Herock of Brett Favre. The two were of similar build, and ran the 40-yard dash in near-identical times.
Soon after his visit, he filed a scouting report on Romo with a third-round grade. Romo went undrafted, and Herock was begging general manager Mike Sherman to take a chance on the quarterback.
As both coach and general manager, Sherman delegated the evaluation of quarterbacks to offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. Rossley didn’t see Romo the way Herock did, and the Packers never pursued Romo as an undrafted free agent.
A native of Burlington, Wisconsin, Romo grew up a Packers fans and an admirer of Brett Favre. It’s no guarantee Romo would have picked Green Bay, but Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman thinks differently.
“Had Green Bay wanted to sign him to a free agent contract,” Aikman said in 2014, “he’d probably be a Packer right now.”