What is an undrafted free agent and how do the rules work?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

When the NFL Draft ends, it doesn't mean that teams are done searching for talent. Hundreds of draft-eligible players who did not get selected now enter the undrafted free agent (UDFA) pool.

For many with NFL aspirations, their journey will end here. Hundreds of others will be added to summer rosters and will be signed to a practice squad. Meanwhile, a select few will crack the top 53 of regular-season NFL rosters and prove to be impact players.

The Pittsburgh Steelers found one of these undrafted free-agent gems following the 2022 NFL Draft when they signed RB Jaylen Warren. The former Oklahoma State product has been one of the most efficient running backs since entering the league. Some of the greatest undrafted free agents over the years include legendary players like Kurt Warner, Warren Moon, Tony Romo, John Randle, Antonio Gates, and James Harrison.

So what are the rules when it comes to undrafted free agents and when can they sign with NFL teams?

What is an undrafted free agent in the NFL?

An NFL undrafted free agent is any draft-eligible player in a given year who is not selected in any of the seven rounds of the NFL Draft.

When can undrafted free agents sign with NFL teams?

Undrafted free agents are free to sign with an NFL team as soon as the NFL Draft concludes. The most coveted remaining players following the draft are considered 'priority' free agents. They may have offers from numerous NFL teams.

Players who declared for the NFL Draft early but were not selected in the draft retain their college eligibility as long as they have not signed with an agent.

What does an UDFA contract look like?

Undrafted free agents sign standard contracts with NFL teams. The length and salary of these contracts vary, as some may include signing bonuses or guaranteed money. The structure of these contracts often looks different depending on the philosophy of each organization when it comes to paying UDFAs.

How does an UDFA make an NFL roster?

The road to success for undrafted free agents does not come easy. Most UDFAs sign one-year contracts following the NFL Draft. From there, an uphill battle lies ahead as they attempt to climb the depth chart.

NFL minicamps and training camps are essential summer practices in which undrafted free agents can prove their value to the coaches. Because most UDFAs come with no draft investment and very little financial investment (with respect to the team's total salary cap), the road to making an NFL roster is challenging.

To make an NFL regular season roster, undrafted free agents must prove to be one of the 53 most valuable players to the team by the roster cutdown deadline in September just before the start of the season.