The calls started to pick up early in the sixth round last Saturday afternoon for former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. Any disappointment from the growing reality that he wouldn’t hear his name called in the 2013 NFL Draft took an immediate backseat to a hectic and important decision in front of him. Golic had the rare luxury of picking his first post-college employer.
Mike Golic Jr. signed a free agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers after going undrafted.
The 300-pound offensive guard chose the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the handful of teams that showed interest in signing him as a free agent. Golic is one of three former Irish players that found a home shortly after the draft came to a close last weekend. (Cierre Wood landed in Houston and Braxston Cave signed with the Cleveland.) The brief extra waiting period may give those players a few advantages that their teammates selected in the late rounds don’t have.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of a say in where you end up,” Golic said. “Obviously you’re still at the mercy of what teams are getting in contact with you. But as opposed to getting taken in one of the late rounds and being stuck with whatever situation, you get to — not necessarily shop because that’s not the right connotation — but you get to make the most educated choice that you can to give yourself a good opportunity.”
Roster spots aren’t guaranteed for any rookie. Late-round draft picks like Theo Riddick (Detroit, 199th pick overall) and Zeke Motta (Atlanta, 244th overall) will have to battle other new players in the coming months to keep their spots. They don’t get the benefit of choosing their competition.
Motta, for example, was scooped up by the Falcons with one of the final 10 picks of the draft. He was the fourth defensive back Atlanta picked and will have to prove himself against three higher-ranked players. Golic selected Pittsburgh, a team that drafted no one at his position this year and has only one guard who has been in the NFL longer than two seasons.
The final few hours of a long weekend for bubble players and their agents are a frenzy. Eugene Lee, a Notre Dame graduate who runs the ETL Associates sports agency, said it’s the only time all year his voicemail inbox is filled to capacity. Lee said he spends countless hours before the draft preparing depth charts and analyzing the teams that give free agents the best shot.
“It really starts to pick up about halfway through the seventh round,” Lee said. “You have to track which players were selected in which rounds and cross reference that with the depth charts and your position. You want to put your client in the best possible position.”
Lee and Golic both agreed it’s preferable to be drafted no matter how late. Even a seventh-round pick brings a little more leverage to the negotiating table when working out a contract, and teams are a little more invested in giving their draft choices a chance to succeed. The biggest selling point of getting drafted though is the reward of getting that phone call and seeing one’s name scroll across the television screen.
“There’s an emotional significance to getting drafted. … I’m of the mindset that getting drafted is always better unless you’re in a situation where a team is stacked at that position,” Lee said.
There is also a relatively significant difference in a player’s bank account. Lee said most high-priority free agents will receive signing bonuses between $5,000 and $15,000 at the high end. Seventh-round picks generally are in the $50,000 guaranteed price range. That extra money up front pales in comparison, though, to the long-term salary of a player who gets a better chance to make a team. The NFL’s minimum salary for a player on the 53-man roster is $405,000.
“I tell my clients it’s about getting the 405,” Lee said. “Would you sacrifice some up front to get to 405? And the answer is always yes.”
Golic said he decided on the Steelers because of the organization’s good reputation and because it gave him the best chance to make the roster. He’ll start his effort to earn that spot Friday at the team’s rookie camp. Two weeks later, he’ll move to Pittsburgh to begin Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
He said he’s looking forward to spending the summer logging as much time as possible inside the team’s training facility. He plans to pick the brains of starting center Maurkice Pouncey and former Stanford guard David DeCastro, both of whom are former first-round picks.
Golic said he’ll get the chance to meet his new coaches this weekend and dive into the Pittsburgh playbook, which is an opportunity he feels lucky to have.
“There is part of a pride in saying that you were a draft pick and yada yada. At the end of the day, being able to find a good situation and being fortunate enough to end up with a great situation like the Steelers is all I could have hoped for coming out of the draft,” Golic said. “It’s a huge blessing and a great opportunity.”