It might be better to be an undrafted free agent than a seventh-round NFL draft pick. It's more myth than fact. On rare occasions — Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley is a good example — it might be better to choose the team you sign with to enhance your chances of earning one of 53 roster spots. Most times it's better to be drafted. "Draft picks are treated differently and preferentially in camp,” said Kelli Masters, an NFL agent. "I think you have a better chance to make the roster as a draft pick. I've seen it play out that way time and time again.” Hartley, who signed a free agent deal with Denver, is an example why it's sometimes beneficial to be a free agent. In the short term, you make less money. In the long term, you might benefit. This year, the NFL minimum salary will be $295,000. Matt Prater is No. 1 on the Broncos' depth chart but has made only one field goal in an NFL regular season game. If Prater stumbles, Hartley could earn the starting job. That's vastly differently than being a free agent, competing against Indianapolis All-Pro kicker Adam Vinatieri. That's why you still hear analysts, even NFL coaches and scouts, claim being a free agent has advantages. "Everybody's been telling me that it's the best thing,” said Oklahoma State running back Dantrell Savage. "Tampa Bay called me and said the seventh round is basically like being a free agent.” Savage is being sold a line. He must first receive a free-agent contract. An all-Big 12 running back who rushed for 1,272 yards last season, Savage will work out with the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend in hopes of landing a free-agent contract. Even if Savage is given a free-agent deal, the money — and opportunity — most times are vastly different. According to NFL sources, the average signing bonus for seventh-round picks last year was $45,000. That's vastly more than undrafted free agents who usually receive a signing bonus between $2,000 and $8,000. "I've done this before where I'd have a list of five guys to call,” said Pat Jones, a former assistant with Miami and Oakland. "Unless you're a priority guy, when you call the first guy on the list, you give him about 30 seconds to make up their mind. If they don't sign you go to guy No. 2 on the list.” There are different levels of free agents. A "priority free agent” like Oklahoma State fullback Julius Crosslin, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys an hour after the draft ended on Sunday, has an advantage over other free agents. "Unless you're a very high-rated free agent, someone you had a fifth- or sixth-round grade, they're just bringing you in to be a body for training camp,” Jones said. Jones has seen rare examples where someone was brought in to fill the 80-man training camp roster only to surprise and make the 53-man regular-season roster. One year the Dolphins brought in Greg Jerman, an offensive lineman from Baylor. "We just wanted a body for camp,” Jones said. "One of our guys mentioned Jerman. No one had heard of him. He not only made the roster, he was a pretty decent player. He was better than some of the guys we drafted.” German played four years in the NFL, appeared in 20 games and started four games. But those stories are rare. "If they draft you it's because they feel you can help them,” Masters said. "You don't get as much of a signing bonus as a free agent, even a priority free agent. "The only advantage is you can compare four, five or 10 teams, if that many are interested, to see your best chance to make a roster.” Jake Trotter contributed to this story.
Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley, center, might have fallen into the perfect situation by being able to pick the team he will sign a free-agent contract with. By StEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN