In a normal year, Matt Beardall wouldn’t have to worry about not getting drafted. As a four-year starting long snapper at Marshall, who was on the Senior Bowl watch list in 2019, Beardall would have certainly been invited by a team to try out at its rookie minicamp the weekend after the NFL Draft. A tryout can lead immediately to a roster spot, or, at minimum, a spot on a team’s emergency backup list.
But 2020 is not a normal year, of course.
While the draft went on as planned last weekend, the pandemic has canceled all practices and on-field work indefinitely. With no rookie minicamps this weekend, undrafted players such as Beardall don’t have an opportunity to compete.
“I’m kind of just waiting to hear a call from a team right now. It kind of sucks,” Beardall said from his home in Merritt Island, Fla. “Just waiting on an opportunity and trusting the whole thing.”
While 256 players got drafted this year, nearly twice as many will sign with teams as undrafted free agents to fill out the 90-man offseason rosters. And hosting tryout players at rookie minicamps has become a significant part of the NFL draft ecosystem, as teams essentially hold competitions for the final few spots on the 90-man offseason rosters.
Last year, the Jaguars signed five tryout players after their minicamp, swapping out five players that they had signed immediately after the draft. The Redskins signed five tryout players as well, and the Bills signed four players. In 2017, the Redskins invited 40 tryout players to rookie minicamp.
Titans receiver Adam Humphries came into the NFL as a tryout player. Same with Buccaneers offensive tackle Demar Dotson. And the most famous tryout player of all may be Malcolm Butler, who was operating the fryolater at a Popeye’s restaurant when the Patriots called him with a tryout opportunity in 2014. Nine months later, he made one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history.
Maybe at some point this spring or summer the NFL will allow teams to open their facilities and host workouts and practices, but that time does not appear to be close. Commissioner Roger Goodell has stressed competitive equity throughout the pandemic and does not want to open facilities until all 32 teams can do it.
Until then, hundreds of undrafted hopefuls can only stay in shape and pray that the tryouts will eventually come.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that these kids can get a chance if everything opens up and teams run rookie minicamps,” said Beverly-based agent Sean Stellato, who has five rookie clients that he would expect to get tryouts this year. “That’s an important part of the process — getting guys in that had a grade, getting that opportunity to come in there and compete and get an evaluation. If you go in there and open eyes, maybe you don’t sign that weekend, but any injuries, any hiccups off the field, you’re the first one they’re calling.”
It has been a double whammy for under-the-radar prospects who didn’t get invited to the Combine, Senior Bowl, or East-West Shrine Game. Most didn’t get to hold their Pro Days after the NFL shut down all travel March 13, and now they don’t get to showcase their skills at rookie minicamps.
Stellato said that Jason Maher, a tight end/fullback from Division 3 Framingham State, spoke to eight to 10 teams during the pre-draft process. Maher added 20 pounds since his last game in November, and likely would be getting tryouts with multiple NFL teams now.
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