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They rarely garner headlines once the NFL draft is complete and 259 players have been selected, as there were this year.
“They” are those that were involved in the mad rush for teams to sign undrafted free agents once the draft ends.
As of June 6, there are 434 of those players, an average of 13.6 per team, currently on rosters and hoping to get noticed as OTAs and minicamps wrap up in the next week.
One reality is that priority free agents are identified and there is often hot competition between teams to sign the most sought-after players.
After the last player was selected on April 29, Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort told reporters, “We’ve been cranking away here since the draft ended on undrafted free agency. The guys are upstairs trying to get some things ironed out with that. That’s always another part of the draft that sometimes goes unnoticed, but it’s an area that we put a lot of work into this year and we’re intentional with the guys that we were adding. We’re excited to get a few new guys in here to add to our rookie class.”
There’s not a lot of guaranteed money to go around for undrafted players, but those in demand will often receive a comparatively nominal signing bonus plus a portion of their rookie-year base salary of $750,000 guaranteed.
The Cardinals agreed to terms with 10 undrafted players immediately after the draft and then added another, wide receiver Brian Cobbs, on May 19.
Of the 11, nine received guaranteed money with only Cobbs and linebacker Marvin Pierre not getting any guarantees.
TE Blake Whiteheart: $215,000 guaranteed ($200,000 base/$15,000 signing bonus.
DL Jacob Slade: $200,000 guaranteed ($180,000 base/$20,000 signing bonus.
WR Daniel Arias: $87,000 guaranteed ($75,000 base/$12,000 signing bonus.
S Kendell Brooks: $80,000 guaranteed ($70,000 base/$10,000 signing bonus.
TE Joel Honigford: $75,000 guaranteed ($65,000 base/$10,000 signing bonus.
RB Emari Demercado: $70,000 guaranteed ($55,000 base/$15,000 signing bonus.
LB Kyle Soelle: $60,000 guaranteed ($50,000 base/$10,000 signing bonus.
LS Matt Hembrough: $7,000 guaranteed ($7,000 signing bonus)
CB Quavian White: $5,000 guaranteed ($5,000 signing bonus)
That totals $799,000 guaranteed, $695,000 of which are base salaries plus $104,000 in signing bonuses.
Coach Jonathan Gannon is pleased with the players added to the rookie class.
“The main thing that we wanted to get right was their football character and I think we did a good job of that so far,” he said. “So they got a long way to go, but I like how all of them are consistent, they’re self-aware, they’re team-first guys and they’re just working to submerge in with the vets and everybody and carve out a role for themselves on the team.
“And some of them are going in between ones, twos, threes, special teams, playing different positions. But they’re all versatile pieces that; they really care about the team first and that’s a huge piece to how we’re going to do things around here.”
Some examples of the character Gannon spoke about are Arias graduating with a degree in strategic communications and Whiteheart majoring in communications with a minor in entrepreneurship. Demercado was a two-time All-Academic selection in the Big 12, while Whiteheart was on the All-ACC Academic Team in 2022.
TCU coach Sonny Dukles said of Demercado, “When he’s done playing football is when he’ll really be successful because he’s just a brilliant guy. And he’s going to be an incredible businessman when he’s done with his football career. Twenty years, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be hitting him up for a job, saying, ‘Don’t forget about me.’ See if he’s got a small role for me in some company that he’s running.”
Of course, what they are able to do on the practice field will be paramount if they are to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or on the practice squad where many undrafted rookies land.
Demercado is one of only five running backs on the roster, so there is a job that could be won barring more additions to the group.
The NFLDraftBible analysis said he “is a well-built, compact runner with thick powerful thighs, making him hard to bring down. His combination of size, speed and strength immediately stand out as he has shown the ability to lower the shoulder on would-be tacklers on numerous occasions. The California native also demonstrates nice cutback ability, as he often puts linebackers on roller skates, can easily rip through arm tackles and owns a strong stiff-arm, making him a dangerous yards-after-catch runner. Demarcado also owns kick-return experience, a role in which he seemed to thrive during his 2022 campaign.”
Lance Zierlein of nfl.com added, “Demercado is a well-built runner who plays with good balance through contact. He has the ability to finish with forward lean. His vision and operation time are just average, which limits his ability to rip off chunk runs, but he does a nice job of getting what is there. His kick-return experience and third-down potential could give him a slight advantage if he goes head-to-head for the RB4 spot on a roster.”
The Cardinals are also seeking depth at tight end behind Zach Ertz, who is returning from a torn ACL and was running well on a side field at Monday’s OTA, and Trey McBride. Expected to play more two-tight end formations this season, Whitehead and/or Honigford could be in the mix as blockers.
In a receivers room looking for height, Arias is 6-foot-3 and showed his ability at Colorado on 50-50 balls. He owns a 39-inch vertical and 10-7 broad jump, was a gunner on punt coverage and a willing blocker.
Slade is undersized, which accounts for his undrafted status, and Zierlein wrote, “You won’t see standout measurables or exciting production from Slade, but you will find a squarely built powerhouse with the ability to play with terrific pound-for-pound strength and contact balance. He might need to add more weight to his frame, but he is already tough to move and has the upper-body strength to knock blockers around.”
Asked this week about all the rookies, including the draft choices, Gannon said, “They’re working how we want them to work and they’re pretty much acclimated right now with how we do things around here. We talk to those rookies, they show up on that tape … what not to do.
“But that’s a learning process for those guys. I always say the greatest form of learning is a mistake made, really in a game, but then second best is in practice. There’s a natural progression of guys getting comfortable and making a certain amount of mistakes. Like we say: That’s expected, but we don’t want you to make the same mistakes twice, so that’s what we’re working on right now.”
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