While last Monday’s announcement of the end of the NFL lockout marked a big day for the professional football players of the world, it also proved to be a huge moment for a few undrafted, former college players who have had to wait a lot longer than any before them to get their shot at living out their dreams.
After more than 120 days of negotiation and posturing, the lockout was lifted Monday afternoon. Tuesday, the NFL’s 30 teams were allowed to return to business, which meant negotiating with player representatives, tracking free agents and scouting possible personnel moves.
Tuesday morning, cornerback Chris Harris flew to the Mile High city and signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos. A little later that day, former KU offensive lineman Brad Thorson agreed to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
And Thursday, former defensive end Jake Laptad announced, via Twitter, that he was getting his crack with the Chicago Bears.
None of these players are guaranteed anything more than a shot from their chosen NFL franchises, but, according to a couple of pro scouts who spoke with the Journal-World last spring, Harris, Laptad and Thorson were the top three pro prospects on KU’s team last season.
It’s clear that, regardless of how slim the odds of them becoming big-time NFL players may be, these guys are thrilled to get their shot and believe that all the hard work and preparation will pay off.
“First practice today,” Harris said on Thursday. “Finally here.”
The players weren’t the only ones excited about the recent developments.
“We signed 17 college free agents this a.m.,” Tweeted Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway, the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations. “It’s a talented class we feel great about — will add depth and competition.”
The reason so many teams sign so many free agents is because they never know when they’ll find that diamond-in-the-rough who’s capable of helping out, be it on offense, defense or special teams. Last year, former KU defensive back Justin Thornton was a surprise free-agent signing of the Pittsburgh Steelers and he made it all the way to the team’s final cut, one cut away from being a part of a team that reached the Super Bowl.
In order to stick, Harris, Laptad and Thorson will have to survive a series of cuts and earn a spot on their squad’s active roster or practice squad. Each player reported to his respective training camp earlier this week and all three already have participated in workouts with their new teams.
In all, there are 11 former Jayhawks currently participating in NFL training camps.
After being allowed to bring in as many fresh faces as they like during the opening weeks of camp, teams are required to trim their active rosters to 75 players by the end of August and again to 53 by Sept. 4.
A couple of other former Jayhawks are still hoping to get scooped up by a team in the next few days. Included among them are: punter Alonso Rojas and wide receiver Johnathan Wilson.