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Saivion Smith and Others Should Have Listened to Saban. What an Undrafted Rookie Earns

Do you know what an undrafted free agent makes? What about a second or third rounder? Read why it’s better to build your draft position like Saban says.

Photo: Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Saivion Smith and Others Should Have Listened to Saban. What an Undrafted Rookie Earns

By: Larry Burton

Your mom and dad beat this into you since you were a kid, “Stay in school!” But the lure of the NFL makes many juniors jump too early into the league and it they pay dearly for it. Quite literally pay for it in salary.

Latest case in point, Saivion Smith, a defensive back who had just one year at Alabama who showed glimpses of greatness but also showed signs of needing more coaching, polish and experience. Saban took some criticism, even from his own former player Ronnie Harrison, another ex Alabama defensive back, for saying some folks cost themselves a lot of money by leaving too early and getting stuck with a bad deal for years to come.

Had Smith stayed at Alabama and progressed through staying in the process another year, many think he could have gone as high as the second round with a great year.

Here’s Smith’s reality now: As an unsigned rookie he will make the unsigned rookie salary of about 570,000 per year. according to Sportrac. He may make about 70,000 in a signing bonus and he’s stuck with that contract for three years and only IF he makes the team. Nothing may be guaranteed but he can keep his signing bonus. So in three years he’ll make 1.7 million.

A middle round second draft choice this year is expected to earn about 1.7 million dollars a year plus a 2.7 million dollar signing bonus. So his haul in three years is 7.8 million dollars. ( A drafted player signs a four year deal compared to an undrafted player’s three year deal, but for comparison’s sake, we’re only going use a drafted player’s three year range) That’s 6.1 million dollars more money or more than two million dollars a year more than what he’ll make as an undrafted free agent. In other words, a second round players makes more in one year than an undrafted free agent player makes in three years. Plus he has guarantees and that signing bonus if things don’t work out.

But let’s say Smith stayed and was a middle third round pick, something he may have made under a more worse case scenario. That salary for a middle third round player averages to about 922,300 a year, plus an estimated signing bonus of 885,750 dollars. In three years he would have made 3,652,650 instead of his 1,780,000. That’s a difference of 1,872,650. So just as Saban had said, leaving early when you aren’t assured of a high draft pick is indeed a very costly decision.

A middle third round pick makes over twice as much per year cash as an undrafted free agent makes. You must also figure in the harsh reality that the average NFL player has just 2.8 years in the league. That’s not my facts, that’s the NFL Player’s Union number.

So if both a middle third round pick and an undrafted free agent both play three years the third round pick leaves to start his second career with almost two million more in earnings over Mr. Undrafted. Now can you see that despite the criticism Saban took, after being called greedy in wanting his players to stay, that he was really just looking out for their own best interest? Saban is not “greedy” and has advised junior who were sure first rounders to take the NFL route. He has never told a sure first second rounder that it would be foolish not to stay for his senior year.

I’m sure Saivion Smith wishes he could go back and undo what he did now, but then we all wish there were mistakes we could undo.

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Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at



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