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Opt-out proposal creates a real temptation for undrafted rookies

Mike Florio takes a look at whether or not players will be allowed to opt out of the 2020 season, why they should be able to take their time to make that decision and what will happen if players do opt out.

In any year, undrafted rookies have a hard time making it from the 90-man roster to the 53-man roster. This year, that task becomes even more challenging, given the absence of an offseason program.

The current opt-out proposal from the league provides undrafted rookies with an intriguing, six-figure bird in the hand.

As one team executive remarked after reading our item regarding the full opt-our procedures, “If you were an undrafted player who could not make team, why not opt out?”

The undrafted player who gets cut ends up getting nothing beyond his signing bonus, which typically isn’t very much. By betting against making the team, the undrafted player ends up making $150,000.

This approach becomes counterintuitive to the typical mindset of the football player. All of the undrafted players believe they will make the 53-man roster; it’s part of the confidence/hubris/delusion that has driven them this far in their careers. Taking the $150,000 and running would be the equivalent of betting “don’t pass” at a craps table.

Besides, the undrafted player who games the system for $150,000 likely makes it even harder for himself to have an NFL career, since owners, coaches, and General Managers will surely view differently a guy who bets against himself -- and who pounces on a loophole in a system intended to provide relief to players with medical conditions or other legitimate concerns regarding the virus.

There’s another thing to consider: In a season that could have plenty of players out of action after testing positive, players who don’t make the final roster could find themselves on the team, at some point during the season.

The loophole could be closed to a large extent by requiring the player to pay back the $150,000 if he doesn’t make the team in 2021. However, it won’t be easy for a team that has paid out the $150,000 to get it back in a year. Such an addendum also would give a team a way to retaliate against a player who chooses to opt out, cutting him in 2021 and taking back the money.

Put simply, this is another example of the dynamic that has made this entire process of pro football in a pandemic so vexing. Every answer leads to even more questions. At the end of the day, the league, the teams, and the players will have to accept the fact that abuses may occur, whether it’s a veteran threatening to opt out in order to get a better contract, an undrafted rookie pocketing $150,000 he never would have earned, or a team taking full advantage of ultra-flexible IR/NFI/COVID-19 rules to stash as many players as possible.

Getting bogged down in the various what if’s flowing from the various policies and procedures for 2020 will make it harder to avoid the biggest what if of all -- What if there’s no football at all this year?