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Tough time to be undrafted free agent in NFL

June 26, 2011

Jamie Silva goes over a drill during his football camp on Saturday at Pierce Field.

Let’s break away from the daily grind and wrap our minds around the following hypothetical scenario.
It’s April 2011 and the NFL Draft – the one piece of business green-lighted during the labor dispute – is taking place. Emotion is a universal language at these types of events, from the tension of waiting to hear your name called to a sense of relief once it is. In a split second the clenching of fists and sweaty palms give way to a smile, the realization that your long sought-after dream has come true.
Then there are those given the cold-shoulder treatment on draft day. They don’t feel the rush associated with the selection process. In any other offseason, such a snub wouldn’t be a big deal. The phone rings with a NFL team on the other end, inquiring about their services. It’s still something.
To date those calls have yet to happen, since the NFL has decreed “no contact” may exist between teams and players. Instead of improving their odds, hundreds of undrafted hopefuls now wonder whether they will receive an earnest shot – especially with the lockout still in place roughly a month before training camp generally starts.
What if Jamie Silva was fresh out of college and attempting to find NFL work in 2011? What if the East Providence lad was counting on all his accolades and accomplishments at Boston College shining through, hoping they’re enough to merit a chance? What if Silva was trying to avoid disappearing into thin air at a time when the NFL is soiled by confrontation between billionaires (owners) and millionaires (players)?
If there’s anyone who can sympathize with the current crop of football long shots, it’s Silva, the long-locked safety bypassed by all 32 NFL teams in 2007. Waiting for potential employment didn’t prove nearly as agonizing since Silva signed with the Indianapolis Colts in the hours after the draft concluded – proof that hope is not lost in the event of getting spurned.
His path to the NFL might be viewed as unconventional given his undrafted status, but at least it contained a launching point. Those desiring to follow in Silva’s footsteps? Best of luck in a job market that figures to border on slim pickings if and when a resolution is reached. One figures that teams are going to prioritize signing free agents with accomplished NFL backgrounds and the draft picks harvested this past April, which in turn figures to leave aspiring hopefuls even more on the outside looking in.
What if this was the reality confronting Silva? Would the prospect of suiting up for a club in the United Football League or the Canadian Football League become more enticing the longer the NFL lockout lingers on? It’s still football and a paycheck, right?
Or do you simply get in touch with reality and start putting to use the college degree you earned, realizing that waiting around for something that may never happen is not going to put food on the table or pay the bills?
“I probably would stick [try to land a job] with the NFL, at least at first,” said Silva, speaking after the completion of Saturday’s session of his second annual youth football at Pierce Stadium. Such a remark probably speaks about Silva’s unequivocally belief that he possesses the necessary ingredients to play in the NFL.
Still, for those presently in limbo, there is a reality to confront, one that one of Silva’s ex-Boston College teammates is trying to make sense of. Mark Herzlich, whose recovery from bone cancer is a source of true inspiration, is playing a game of cat-and-mouse after going undrafted in April. The UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks selected the linebacker in the 10th round in early May, though Herzlich to waive that option, choosing to cling to the hope that a NFL team will give him a shot.
“I’m sure Mark would have been signed right after the draft had there not been a lockout,” Silva points out. “I’ve talked to him and he said he’s still working out, planning as if he’s going to play come the season.”
Guys like Silva are feel-good stories. They defy the stereotypes that leave them classified as fringe candidates to get picked. Earning a contact not only validates their status, but it opens doors others behind them. NFL teams are limited to 53 players, plus eight on their practice squads. Surely there’s another diamond-in-the-rough lurking, just waiting to receive a chance to show he’s worthy of a roster spot.
Thanks to the lockout and its accompanying side effects, the opportunity to make a favorable impression on the coaching staff is dwindling with each passing day. The next Jamie Silva may remain hidden, which in turn figures to send numerous would-be NFL types scrambling into another direction.
The prolonged length of the lockout has produced one expected benefit, that of granting Silva, poised to become a free agent once the ban on player transactions is lifted, additional time to rehab his torn ACL. The scar on his right knee shows what the former Townie has been through 10 months post-surgery, yet Silva admits that he likely would have begun training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
“Some days I feel better than others,” admitted Silva. “It would be nice if (rehab) was over and the knee was full healed, but it’s not so I need to keep grinding away.”

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