IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo talked to the media on Tuesday for the first time since the 2012 season ended with a loss in the final winner-take-all game for the division title against the Washington Redskins.
COMMENTARY | Minicamps and OTAs have begun, and training camp is beginning to appear on the horizon. So it's time to determine who is going to win the most pivotal positional battles for the Detroit Lions.
The New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams each spent over $100,000 in guaranteed money on their class of undrafted free agents this offseason, according to a source with knowledge of rookie salary data.
NFL teams could spend a maximum of $78,170 in signing bonuses on undrafted rookie free agents this offseason, but there are no limits to the amount of guaranteed money teams can include in the standard three-year contracts signed by undrafted free agents. Seven NFL teams have spent more than the $78,170 signing bonus maximum in guaranteed money, with New England leading the way by spending $140,000 in guaranteed money on their undrafted free agents.
The largest individual guarantee among the Patriots undrafted rookie free agents belongs to Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe, who received an $8,000 signing bonus and will receive $22,000 in fully guaranteed base salary regardless of whether or not he makes New England's 53-man roster for a total of $30,000 in guaranteed money. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Moe excelled in the three-cone drill at the 2013 combine, posting the second-fastest time among all invitees. As explained here by Christopher Price of WEEI.com, the Patriots have shown a tendency to target players who perform well in that particular agility drill, so that Moe was a "priority free agent" for the Patriots does not come as much of a surprise. (Had Moe played at Rutgers, the Patriots might have requested that Foxborough officials award him the key to the town or make him an honorary selectman.)
Behind Moe on the Patriots' list of large guarantees is Nevada tight end Zach Sudfeld, who received the team's largest signing bonus ($12,000) and also has a $5,000 base salary guarantee for a total of $17,000 in guaranteed money. Sudfeld, who a month older than Rob Gronkowski and a few months older than Aaron Hernandez, caught just two passes in his first five seasons at Nevada catching 45 passes with eight touchdowns after being granted a medical redshirt for the 2012 season. Offensive lineman Elvis Fisher, Moe's former teammate at Missouri, received $15,000 in guaranteed money from the Patriots, while guard Josh Kline ($14,000), fullback Ben Bartholomew ($10,000) and linebacker Kanorris Davis ($10,000) also received five-figure guarantees.
The Cowboys ($104,500), Rams ($103,100), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($94,670) and New Orleans Saints ($88,500) round out the top five in guaranteed money on rookie free agents. The Jacksonville Jaguars ($86,000) and Philadelphia Eagles ($82,000) have also exceeded the signing bonus limit. The Chicago Bears ($29,500) and Green Bay Packers ($35,500) are the two NFL teams to spend under $40,000 in guaranteed money on undrafted rookie free agents.
For the Patriots, Cowboys, Rams, Saints and Jaguars, committing larger-than-required amounts of guaranteed money to undrafted rookies is nothing new as each club spent $85,000 in guaranteed money or higher on undrafted free agents in 2012, as well.
The Cowboys, Patriots and Saints spent over $200,000 on undrafted free agents last season. Those guaranteed amounts were inflated as each team signed a single player to a contract with over $200,000 in guaranteed money. For the Cowboys, they paid undrafted offensive lineman Ronald Leary as if he were a fifth-round pick, guaranteeing him $214,000 ($9,000 to sign, $205,000 base salary guarantee). The Patriots' total was pumped upwards when they guaranteed Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps $211,000 ($11,000 to sign, $200,000 base salary guarantee) following the London games.
As the first seasons of Leary and Demps show, large financial guarantees are not an indicator that the player will make an immediate impact in the NFL. Demps spent last season on injured reserve and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third day of the 2013 NFL draft. Leary did not make the Cowboys' 53-man roster, spent 15 weeks on Dallas' practice squad and was inactive for the two games he was promoted to the team's active roster.
For the second consecutive season, the Cowboys handed out the largest individual guarantee, signing former Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee to a contract that includes a total of $70,000 in guarantees, including $65,000 in fully guaranteed base salary. The second-largest guarantee on the Cowboys belongs to safety Jakar Hamilton, who pocketed a $10,000 signing bonus. The Rams' large guarantees were made to offensive tackle Braden Brown and safety Cody Davis, each of whom received $20,000 in guarantees. Linebacker Jonathan Stewart was third with $17,500, while linebacker Phillip Steward and running back Benny Cunningham received $15,000 in guaranteed money.
Update: Romo will be out three weeks after undergoing minor surgery to remove a cyst from his back, the Dallas Morning News reports. "If this was the regular season and I had to play next week, I could," Romo said.